Monday, December 26, 2011

God's Still Working on Me!

It's the night after Christmas.  And I can't sleep. 

There is pain in my heart.  And joy in my soul. 

I have no clue how to process these emotions. 

There is a tremendous void in my life that I want to be filled by a little girl named Caroline Grace.  I want to hold her more than anything right now.

The reality is that Caroline's spirit is no longer here on earth.  Her spirit is now in Heaven for eternity while her earthly remains are still here on earth.  But our minds naturally focus on the temporal and not the eternal.  We complicated matters because we are a hedonistic culture.  We want to do what feels good and run from what doesn't feel good.  Choosing the difficult path is not usually our first choice or preference.  We find pleasure by wallowing in our self-pity.  But then, we finally wake up and realize this is not healthy!  So, when we are faced with adversity, we are significantly challenged to shift gears, especially with tragedy. 
One way we try shifting gears is by crying out for help.  

The problem is that Satan knows this.  "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the  heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12).  Satan knows our weakest points.  Marriage and parenting are not easy to begin with...Satan knows this too.  And he is trying to drive Emily and me crazy, and apart, by dealing with our loss in such a way that pokes at each of our frailties.  We are not dealing with our loss in the same way.  And it is far too easy for spiritual warfare to take a foothold in our marriage.  Emily and I are not the first couple that Satan tried to ruin.  It all began with Adam and Eve when Satan tempted them to eat fruit from the Garden! 

To further complicate things for Emily and me....losing Caroline Grace has also had a significant impact on other emotional baggage we have been carrying around for years.  I am confident that Satan has had a hand in this, too.  For instance, my relationship with my own dad is a very sore subject.  I definitely love him.  I talk to him, but it is not nearly as often as it should be.  I probably haven't seen him in 2 or 3 years, maybe longer.  Not only is this painful, but it is also even more difficult right now because I know that I cannot call him and ask him for advice.  I feel as if my back is against the wall, the world is weighing down on my shoulders, and Dad is supposed to be helping me hold up that weight.  He is supposed to have all of the answers.  He is supposed to help me fix my problems....but he is not here.  I talked to him today for the first time in a couple of months.  I was thankful for our conversation.  But at the same time, it hurt to talk to him because it reminded me of all the things I need/want to ask him, but I know that I can't.

So, I have had to rely upon my Heavenly Father as a substitute for Fatherly advice.  Not a bad sub if you ask me!  God has provided for me in ways that I cannot even put into words.  The Holy Spirit has prayed for me even when I had no clue what to pray to God for!  "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express."  (Romans 8:26 - NIV)

God's help and his unconditional love never cease to amaze me.  How in the world can I grow closer to God and love God more when I know that God is the reason that I lost my baby girl????  This does not make sense.  I must be crazy, right??  Actually, I am not crazy.  I only know love, because God showed me how to love.  In the book of 1 John, in chapter 4, verse 19, the Bible tells us, "We love because he first loved us" (NIV).  The only reason we know love is because God created love!  He loves us so much and knows exactly what Emily and I are experiencing!  He lost his baby boy, too!  "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16 -NIV).  "For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit" (1 Peter 3:18).  You see....God allowed His only child to die because you and I have sinned against him.  Our hedonistic culture is the reason why God lost His Son!  And yet He still loves us the same!!  

God meant for us to work through our struggles, even when we lose our own children, with Him at the center.  He set the example for us to follow!  He wants us to love each other just as He loves us.  Emily and I will continue to persevere in our journey with anencephaly.  It has not been a very pretty journey...but I can assure you that we will not become another statistic to fall into the category of "Couples Divorced Due to Infant Death."  Instead, we will rise up because we have love each other and have hope in the Lord!!  God promises us in the book of Isaiah, "those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint" (40:31).

You can have this same hope.  If you are feeling hopeless, I know a God that can give you everything that you need!   Please e-mail me if you'd like to talk about this!  I cannot promise you that it will be easy.  But I can guarantee you that God will never leave you or forsake you!  It is because of His love that I am able to face tomorrow....I've been "facing tomorrow" with Him for 20 years now....but I am still far from perfect.  I still have many flaws.  But I am faithful to Him and I know His love is unconditional....and He is STILL working on me!!!

We grieve with hope!!!!  Thank you, Jesus!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Life Insurance Policy

God is good.

Evidently, the military changed the laws regarding stillborn children and their life insurance policy.  As long as your child weighs 350 grams and is born after 20 weeks, you are allowed a life insurance policy.

I never thought I would ever have to file for life insurance for one of my children.  But I am thankful that it is there now that we need it. 

Sigh....this part sucks.

(I feel bad for saying "God is good" and "this part sucks" at the same time.  But this is how I really feel...just a mixed bag of all kinds of emotions right now.)

I can't tell you how many times I've heard the phrases "Death Certificate" or "Time of Death" or "Deceased"...I'm sure there are others, but these are the most often used.  Why is it that each phrase sounds like a nail being pounded into my heart??  Ugh...can't we use better words?!  Why can't people say "paperwork" or "time that she passed away"?!  Everything has to be so clerical, stiff, and void of emotion.  Well, I am NOT void of emotion!  It is days like this that I wish I COULD BE void of emotion. 

So, like many days like today, I go to a song for help!

"Homesick" by Mercy Me

"You're in a better place, I've heard a thousand times
And at least a thousand times I've rejoiced for you
But the reason why I'm broken, the reason why I cry
Is how long must I wait to be with you

I close my eyes and I see your face
If home's where my heart is then I'm out of place
Lord, won't you give me strength to make it through somehow
I've never been more homesick than now

Help me Lord cause I don't understand your ways
The reason why I wonder if I'll ever know
But, even if you showed me, the hurt would be the same
'Cause I'm still here so far away from home

I close my eyes and I see your face
If home's where my heart is then I'm out of place
Lord, won't you give me strength to make it through somehow
I've never been more homesick than now

In Christ, there are no goodbyes
And in Christ, there is no end
So I'll hold onto Jesus with all that I have

To see you again
To see you again
And I close my eyes and I see your face
If home's where my heart is then I'm out of place

Lord, won't you give me strength to make it through somehow
Won't you give me strength to make it through somehow
Won't you give me strength to make it through somehow
I've never been more homesick than now"

Thursday, December 22, 2011

We saw Caroline again, today.

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011.  The Funeral Director met us at our house.  He showed us Caroline's baby casket.  It's pearly white and teeny tiny.  And the casket cover has a cross with a ray of light shining from behind the cross.

He discussed a lot of the details regarding arrangements and paperwork.  Then, we took a ride to the hospital to transfer care from the hospital to the funeral home.

This was not my favorite part of the journey, to say the least.


Then, today...Thursday, December 22nd, 2011...we met our Funeral Director at the Funeral Home.  And we had the privilege of identifying Caroline's earthly remains.  We did not want to taint our good memories of her that we had from her birthday.  So, we weren't sure if we wanted to see her this way today.  I knew I could handle it better than Emily if Caroline did not look the same.  And we were unsure how Emily would react.  So, I walked to the casket first to check out things.  And once I saw that she still looked like our little Caroline, I assured Emily that it was safe for her to look, too.  She came to meet me at Caroline's casket and we both rejoiced that she is in Heaven and our hearts cried that we cannot hold her anymore.  We were pleasantly surprised, even impressed, at how well Caroline was preserved and cared for in the last week.  And we also received her death certificate.  However, this too, was not my favorite part of the journey.

We have even more difficult days ahead.

But God has continued to shower us with His grace while we deal with losing Caroline Grace.  Our friends, church, and families have been so supportive.  So far this week, our church has fed us every night!  We have had roasted chicken, Chili's take-out, Chicken Caesar salad, Beef Barley soup, and baked ham.  Yummm!!!  We are running out of room in our fridge for left overs!  And I'm running out of places to put flower pots!  These are good problems to have!

Tomorrow, I have to file for Caroline's life insurance policy.  And Emily and I will be making more decisions for which songs, scriptures, and prayers we want to use for Caroline's Memorial Service.


The Memorial Service will be held at 7 p.m. on December 29, 2011, at the following address:
Weems Creek Church
600 N. Bestgate Rd.
Annapolis, MD 21401


All are welcome to attend!  Please join us as we celebrate our Caroline's eternity!!


Probably the Largest Group EVER allowed in a delivery room!!



(Taken by "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep" Photographer David Hartcorn)

(Taken by "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep" Photographer David Hartcorn)

(Taken by "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep" Photographer David Hartcorn)

(Taken by "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep" Photographer David Hartcorn)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Our Caroline Bunny

Now that Caroline is in Heaven, we are left here on earth dealing with our loss.

Emily's dad had a few memorable quotes this past week.  First, he said, "she got the easy way out!  She's in Heaven while we're still here!"  And then he said, "it is our role as parents to share the gospel with our children.  We are responsible for loving them and teaching them Christ's love so that they will have eternal life.  And on day one of your parenthood, you already have a child in Heaven!!  You can't get any better than that!"

We are absolutely at peace knowing that our baby girl is walking with Jesus in Heaven.  That's the easy part!  The difficult part is dealing with her loss while we are still on earth.  Not having her to hold is still painful.


Yesterday, Emily's aunt and uncle sent us a stuffed animal in the mail.  It is a pure white bunny and has "Caroline" embroidered in pink on its ear.

It may sound silly, but ever since we got it in the mail, Emily and I have taken turns holding our Caroline bunny.

Monday, December 19, 2011

My Role as a Daddy

Ever since Caroline's diagnosis, I have struggled with what my role is as a Dad.  Because she was in the womb, I could not hold her.  And I could not do anything to fix her.  I felt helpless and lacked purpose.  It became even more painful because she is our first child.  I do not have any other children (yet!) that I can hold tighter or love harder.  (This just means that our next kid is in trouble already!!  They won't know what hit 'em, because we are going to love them beyond all understanding!) 

I had no problem knowing what to do as a husband.  And I feel very prepared for being a Dad to a child that lives here on earth.  However, I have this huge void in my heart that cannot be filled by being Caroline's daddy here on earth. How do I process these emotions?  What do I do?  Hmmm...

While Caroline was with us, Emily carried Caroline for 7 months.  For the last two months, I had to fight myself to get out of bed in the mornings and leave Emily and Caroline so that I could go to work.  Leaving Emily and Caroline was so hard for me.  Each day, I thought, "maybe I could just stay home today!  And just not go to work."  This went on for about 2 months.  But even though I went to work, I was late almost every day for those two months!!

While I was at work, Emily had the privilege of spending that Mommy-daughter time with Caroline.  I thought this was would actually make it harder for Emily.  However, through God's grace, Emily embraced this time with Caroline and made special memories with her.  We kept praying for a healing miracle, but we also knew God's plan was perfect and He may not give us THAT miracle, but give us another miracle.  Feeling her kick (which was awesome by the way!), feeling her stretch, talking to her, playing music to her, reading with her...just a few of the things Emily was able to enjoy with our little angel.   I had the joy of doing a few of these things too, but I just wasn't connected to Caroline the way a mother is during pregnancy.  Some days, I just felt left out.

It was very painful for me, thinking that I would not get a chance to carry her while she was alive (unless we received a miracle and she WAS born alive).  Well, I never got to hold her alive.  And I never got to provide for her like Daddy's do for their children.  But that's okay.  Because I can provide for her now.

In the next few days, I have the privilege of calling multiple pastors and multiple funeral homes and arranging plans to celebrate her life.  Some may think this is a huge burden.  I know.  That is how I felt at first.  But when I got to really thinking about it, I realized that this is my role as her Daddy.  I was not able to carry her alive, but I can honor her by providing the proper arrangements so that her life is celebrated in a beautiful ceremony (or two!).

So, the arrangements will be as follows:
-One service in Maryland
-One service in Texas
-One reception in South Carolina

Being a military family, we have moved around quite a bit.  Emily is from Texas.  I am from South Carolina.  We live in Maryland (for now).  And this complicates things because we want to lay Caroline to rest in Texas.  So, things have to happen between now and Texas in order to fully complete the closure process.  First, we have to transfer Caroline from the hospital morgue to the local funeral home.  We will have a memorial service for Caroline on December 29th, but her casket will not be at the service.  We made this decision because this service is meant to honor her time here on earth and celebrate her eternal life with Jesus in Heaven.  We feel that if we have the casket at the service, the focal point will be her earthly remains.  And the reality is that, though her body is still in the casket, she is not here anymore.  She is in Heaven.  Her body is just a shell that her soul lived in while she was in the womb.  As for the service in Texas, her casket will be there, but this is for obvious reasons.  It will be our intention to still focus on celebrating her eternal life.  We will also visit with our friends and Emily's family for quality time and closure.  Then the reception in South Carolina will also be to visit my family for quality time and closure for all.

I embrace all of these things, despite how emotionally charged they may be, as my role as Caroline's Daddy.  She is my little girl and I will do whatever I can to protect her and lay her peacefully to rest.

I love you, Caroline!  Please tell Jesus we love Him and we will all see Him soon!!  You are so precious to us. 
"I thank my God every time I remember you."  -Philippians 1:3

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Healing Begins

This morning was a brisk 30 degrees.  A little windy.  But beautiful!  I woke up this morning by taking a walk beside the river.  Walking and talking with Jesus...like father, like daughter.  She is walking and talking with Him on streets of gold...but I have to settle for streets of pavement with potholes.  I can make do, though :-) 
Good morning, Caroline!  I love you!
The Light Meets the Dark - Where the Healing Begins
After taking this photo, this song came to mind (It's "Healing Begins" by Tenth Avenue North.  I've posted it before...but I like it that much!):

 So you thought you had to keep this up
All the work that you do
So we think that you're good
And you can't believe it's not enough
All the walls you built up
Are just glass on the outside

So let 'em fall down
There's freedom waiting in the sound
When you let your walls fall to the ground
We're here now

This is where the healing begins, oh
This is where the healing starts
When you come to where you're broken within
The light meets the dark
The light meets the dark

Afraid to let your secrets out
Everything that you hide
Can come crashing through the door now
But too scared to face all your fear
So you hide but you find
That the shame won't disappear

So let it fall down
There's freedom waiting in the sound
When you let your walls fall to the ground
We're here now
We're here now, oh

This is where the healing begins, oh
This is where the healing starts
When you come to where you're broken within
The light meets the dark
The light meets the dark

Sparks will fly as grace collides
With the dark inside of us
So please don't fight
This coming light
Let this blood come cover us
His blood can cover us

This is where the healing begins, oh
This is where the healing starts
When you come to where you're broken within
The light meets the dark
The light meets the dark
We have definitely been healing a lot in the last few days.  God has answered all of my prayers where I have asked him for something.  And He has answered prayers that I didn't even know to pray...so whoever out there prayed THOSE prayers for us, thank you!!!  We have been absolutely surrounded by love, support, and healing.  I wish I could respond to each and every comment on Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, text messages, etc., but there is literally not enough time in the day.  In time, I will respond to each and everyone...but please don't feel like your comment was not meaningful if I haven't replied yet!!!  We have cherished each and every one.  God has a unique way of giving us everything we need, especially when we don't even know what to pray.  He gives us others to pray as intercessors for us!  And he wraps his arms around us and holds us so tight.  His love is abundant.  His grace is sufficient.  And He is ALL that we need.  Our God is an awesome God!!!  Thank you for continuing to share your support and encouragement in our journey with Caroline.  We love you all!

You are Invited to the After Party!

Today was a day for decision making.

Pretty productive day.  Second very productive day in a row.  We gave life to an angel Thursday.  And we gave business to a couple of funeral homes today!  

God has been amazing through all of it.  Talk about amazing grace!!!  Wow.  Because Emily carried Caroline, God carried us.  And continues to do so.  Words cannot express how much He has strengthened us.  God is so gracious.  Caroline's grace will be present for the rest of our lives, including our lives in Heaven.  And so shall Caroline Grace.

We have already begun celebrating her life.  The life of an angel!  I cannot wait to hold her and kiss her once again.  Our rejoicing here on earth pales in comparison to the after party we will have when we all get to Heaven!!  Will you be there?  I hope so :-)  Jesus says, everyone is invited!  "Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” -John 3:15-16


One of my favorite hymns, "When We All Get to Heaven" by Eliza Hewitt, goes like this: 
"Sing the wondrous love of Jesus,
Sing His mercy and His grace;
In the mansions bright and blessed
He’ll prepare for us a place.

When we all get to heaven,
What a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus, (and Caroline Grace!)
We’ll sing and shout the victory!

While we walk the pilgrim pathway,
Clouds will overspread the sky;
But when trav’ling days are over,
Not a shadow, not a sigh.

Let us then be true and faithful,
Trusting, serving every day;
Just one glimpse of Him in glory
Will the toils of life repay.

Onward to the prize before us!
Soon His beauty we’ll behold;
Soon the pearly gates will open;
We shall tread the streets of gold."

God is so good to us!!  He has demonstrated how much He loves us all through Emily's and my journey.  And He is now dancing with Caroline Grace on those streets of gold!!

Thanks to everyone for your love, too!
We have already received lots of hugs, prayers, e-hugs, e-mails, texts, tweets, FB posts, phone calls, flowers, and cards.  Thank you to ALL of you.  You have all been a tremendous blessing to us.


Sweet Caroline Grace and her own blankies

A Duck...for a Duck.  (see Emily's blog post:  I'm a Duck)

Me Holding Caroline in a blankie my Great Grandma Shelley made for me as a little boy
Still holding our Caroline

Emily, her "twin" sister, and Caroline

Pointing to our Texas soil...we placed it under the delivery bed so she could be born over Texas soil :-)

Proud Texas Grandparents:  "Honey" and "Pi"

Emily and our Sweet Caroline

Kissing an Angel

And I danced with Cinderella....

Our Family Photo. 
We invite all of you to continue in our celebration of her birthday and her eternal life in Heaven....through tears of joy and tears of grief...joy for her eternal life and grief because we can't hold her here on earth anymore.


Locally, we will be celebrating her angelic little life by holding a local service in Caroline's honor on December 29th.  Specific location and time to be determined.

In South Carolina, we have tentatively scheduled plans for a reception.  Due to the transporting requirements, we will not be able to hold a service, but please come and share our joy through photos, hand/foot molds, and other keepsakes.  Time, date, place to be determined. 

And in Texas, we have tentatively scheduled plans for a Houston service for January 7th.
 
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to any of the following organizations who have been instrumental in our journey with Caroline Grace:

Address:
The Life Center -Perinatal Program
Attn:  Heather Silver
445 Defense Highway
Annapolis, MD 21401
Please make checks payable to:  "The Life Center" and include "Perinatal Program" on the check's memo line.

Address:
AAMC Foundation
Perinatal Loss Fund
2001 Medical Parkway
Annapolis, Maryland 21401

Please make checks payable to:  "AAMC Foundation" and include "Perinatal Loss Fund" on the check's memo line.

Address:
The Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep Foundation
2305 E. Arapahoe Rd., Suite 220
Centennial, CO 80122
Please make checks payable to:  "The NILMDTS Foundation."

Please keep the prayers coming.  God's grace has been overly abundant!!!  We cannot thank y'all enough!! 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Happy Birthday Caroline!!

Caroline Grace Hayes was born today, December 15th, at 1:58 a.m.  She weighed 1 lb, 11 oz and was 12 inches long.  She immediately left this world to go be with her Heavenly Father.  I have no doubt that she is smiling down from Heaven and is watching over us right now.  And she has a perfectly perfect little body right now.  She is my perfect little angel!!

Emily and I went in for an unscheduled check-up at 8 a.m. yesterday morning (Wednesday).  The nurse and Dr. informed us, much to our surprise, that Emily having contractions every two minutes (she could not feel them yet).  They admitted her to the delivery room around 1030 a.m. as she was dilated 1 cm.   At 10:40 p.m., she was 3 cm dilated.  By midnight, she was 5 cm dilated.  And by 1 a.m., she was fully dilated.  At 1:58 a.m., the end of the beginning of our journey was here.

Emily was a trooper.  Through all of this, she took no drugs for labor pains and I am so proud of her!  She inspires my faith!!

We had a very tough, long day.  We cried.  We rejoiced.  We cried tears of joy that she is with Jesus in Heaven.  And we cried tears of pain that she is not with us.  We took lots of pictures of our baby Caroline.  We held her, loved her, made some good memories, and finally entrusted her care to the hospital staff.

We left the hospital at 8:30 p.m. and are home now.

Thank you all for your heartfelt prayers, unswerving support, and hundreds of posts on Facebook.  My blog had 4,000 visitors today alone!!  Y'all rock!  Please keep the love and support coming!  God is so good.  And has given us a miracle in Caroline Grace.  Her little life has touched so many, including mine.  And he continues to give us strength through all of this and we have felt His healing miracle power all day.  It feels good to be a dad!  And I am so proud of my little girl!  I love you sweetie!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Comedy of Errors

Have you ever had a day when you should have just stayed in bed?

I have.  The last 24 hours have been one of those days.

After I got to work yesterday, Emily called me to say that she failed her glucose test.  Usually, this would not be cause for much alarm.  However, as a dad who is already having daily panic attacks due to my daughter's condition, this escalated into something huge.  I am so worried about Emily having gestational Diabetes.  My Papa and my uncle both have Diabetes.  And my sister-in-law also has Diabetes.  So, I am aware of the complications that result from this medical condition.  And my nerves are already shot.

After getting home from work, Emily and I went to our Grief Counseling appointment to discuss Caroline's Birth Plan.  This is the plan we are writing to communicate to the entire OB-GYN staff, Hospice staff, and counseling staff what our intentions are for Caroline.  In this Plan, we are including information about our preferences for vaginal birth vs. Cesarean-section, comfort support vs. life support, and resuscitation vs. no resuscitation as well as our plans for making memories with plaster molds, photographers, videographers, etc.  We have our rough draft written and have labored over these decisions for several weeks now.  We both feel prepared for this stage.  As you can imagine, we are still very emotional when talking about these things.  So, about 15 minutes into our meeting, I was already emotional exhausted.  And then....the conversation shifted to our Death Plan.  This I was not prepared to discuss.  Talking about these decisions caught me so off guard that I completely shut down.  Evidently, it was very obvious as both counselors said something about it.  Hmmm...I guess I can't refute that one!  But yes...my heart was overburdened and my head could not process anything more.  When we got home, it was about 7 o'clock.  I skipped dinner and went straight to bed.  I thought, "when I wake up, today will be over and tomorrow will be much better!"

I was so wrong!!  I have recently begun meeting a wise and trusted friend every Tuesday morning at 6 a.m.  I am usually very excited about these meetings and look forward to them very much.  But after an evening like I had, I wasn't exactly crazy about waking up before 5 a.m.!

My day started out by oversleeping.  So, I rushed through my breakfast and shower, already frazzled for a second day in a row.  (It's silly to me when I realize that something as small as waking up late changes my entire outlook these days.  But this is my new "normal" as I know it.)

As I was rushing out of the door, I realized that I could not find my keys.  I looked all over the house and still could not find them.  Yeah...great way to start my morning.

On my way out of the house, I tipped over my coffee mug, spilling some of my precious morning gold....not good!

Then, I got to my truck and I tried to open my frozen shut truck doors.  My hand slipped off of the door handle.  This sudden motion caused me to drop my iPhone onto the driveway.  Sweet!

Then, I realized I forgot my wallet.  Can this day get any better?!?

Finally, I got on the road and made it to Panera safely....only to realize that I forgot my iPhone in the driveway!!  Ha!  Wow.

So, after a great visit with a great friend, I drove back home to pick up my iPhone....only to discover that I had managed to drive over it with my truck that weighs 5, 600 lbs.  I can still make phone calls on it....but....that's about it.

I got to work 30 minutes late.

Through all of this, God has given me the strength to go on.  James 1:2-3 says, "the testing of your faith develops perseverance."  I already consider myself to be pretty strong in the perseverance department...so, my question is, "Lord, what are you preparing me for next?"  This scares me.  At least I'm still alive to laugh at my blunders, right?

Monday, December 5, 2011

I'm going to be a Dad!!!

When I first saw the two pink lines, I was elated!  I was so proud to be a future dad!!  I didn't care if it was a boy or a girl.  I was happy to have either...boy...girl...didn't matter!  I felt like I was walking on air, man!  Such a great feeling being on top of the world!

I was bragging to everybody I saw.  Once we had our first sonogram picture, I carried it with me to work, church, gas station, doctor's office, grocery store...I showed EVERYBODY!  I wanted the world to know I was going to be a dad!!  At 18 weeks, we found out our baby was a girl!!  So excited.  Without hesitation, we named her Caroline Grace.  Then, we called everybody to tell them!  I had 18 weeks of pure bliss!  My baby girl....

Then, we got the worst news I have ever received in my life:

"We are concerned about the development of your daughter's brain."

Within 24 hours of bragging to the world that we were having a baby girl, we were faced with sharing the tragic news that our baby girl would not live unless we received a miracle.

Consider this:  When you ascend a mountain, you can get altitude sickness if you climb too quickly.  When you scuba dive, you can get decompression sickness if you dive too quickly.

From the highest mountain peak to the deepest depths of the sea...this is the road that I traveled within that 24 hours.  The human body is just not prepared for such drastic changes without feeling pain and sickness. 

My heart is still broken.  And will remain broken for a very long time, I'm sure.  I have had chest pain, shortness of breath, and no energy.  Apparently, there is a syndrome by the name of "Broken Heart."  According to the Mayo Clinic, Broken Heart Syndrome occurs during times of dire stress as "a part of your heart temporarily enlarges and doesn't pump well, while the remainder of the heart functions normally or with even more forceful contractions....it's also referred to as stress cardiomyopathy, stress-induced cardiomyopathy or apical ballooning syndrome.  Broken Heart Syndrome symptoms can mimic a heart attack. Common symptoms include:
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • An irregular heartbeat
  • A generalized weakness"

On top of my emotional pain, I was also experiencing a difficult time processing the meaning of Caroline's diagnosis.  For the last 5 weeks, I have suffered through the pains of "what might have been."  The many thoughts that went through my head included such horrible things like the following:
-Caroline WAS going to be our first child
-Caroline WAS going to be my mom's 3rd grandchild
-I WAS going to be a proud Dad
I felt robbed.  I was even ashamed.  I dreaded the questions people would ask me.  How do you answer the question, "do you have any children?"  All of these precious moments and special memories were ripped right out from underneath me.  I have been so physically burdened that breathing has even become difficult.  It is as if someone is standing on my chest, collapsing my lungs, and I have to struggle to breathe in enough oxygen.

This all changed in the past two weeks (except for the broken heart bit...I've still got that).
It was as if God hit me over the head with a 2x4 and said, "Wake up!"  Then, I realized:
-I AM STILL going to be a Dad...and a very PROUD Dad at that!

No matter what the outcome is of Caroline's life, she will always be my baby girl.  And I will love her just the same.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Caroline's First Thanksgiving

During this time of Thanksgiving, how could anyone in our shoes be thankful for a baby that doctors say will die?  Let me be the first to tell you why!

It goes without saying that life is precious.  According to the book of James from the Bible, "you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away" (4:14, NASB).  Life is so short.  We must make every second count!  Some of us live to be 92.  Others never know life outside of the womb.  Either way, in the realm of eternity (and not the temporal), our lives are but a blink of an eye.  And yet, God has a plan for us.  The prophet Jeremiah tells us the Lord says, "I know the plans I have for you...plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (29:11, NIV).

Caroline Grace's life will be very brief compared to the 28 years God has granted me thus far.  However, the impact she has had on my life is by far the most influential role that any human on this earth has ever played in my life.  Through this journey with anencephaly and Caroline, God has changed my heart in a huge way!

-God has softened my heart.  It's important for us to not hold any grudges.
Regardless of the pain someone has caused you or how many times you have been disappointed in someone's repeated behavior towards you, life is too short to hold grudges!  If a friend, sibling, or parent has caused you pain, forgive them.  They probably chose those hurtful words or actions because they are hurting over something else in their life.  And they are expressing their pain through words and actions that are attached to your name as a way to hide their real pain.  Instead of getting angry, consider their pain (whatever it may be and however great or small that it is) and show compassion for them.  Don't hold a grudge.  You're only causing yourself more pain!  Forgive.  And show them love.  Just like Jesus Christ has done for you and me. 

-I've learned to not take things for granted.  Good or bad. 
Caroline's condition is a good reminder that none of us will be around forever.  I may not live to see tomorrow.  But God has given me today.  And I thank Him that I woke up this morning!  Instead of getting frustrated with Emily for not having enough clean clothes, an empty drawer is a reminder of all the times that I DID have enough clean clothes!!!  And instead of getting upset and taking for granted that my Dad will not answer the phone when I call, I am simply thankful that I still have a Dad.  Life is full of choices.  God wants us to make the choice that brings joy to our lives and not grief!    

-I've learned the difference between Happiness and Joy.
Happiness is a fleeting emotion.  It is dependent upon external circumstances.  You can be happy one moment and sad the next.  However, JOY is a process.  It involves a deeper reality than happiness.  I can be Joyful and sad at the same time.  Joy is a condition of genuine well-being, marked by confidence, hope, and trust that extends well past our personal understanding.  I am not happy that Caroline has anencephaly.  But I am joyful that Caroline has anencephaly.  This is God's will for her life.  And I am fortunate enough to be a part of such a transformational experience.  I have an assurance that God is with us and will deliver us from this pain and sorrow that we are experiencing.  Through this joy, I have hope for a future filled with happiness!  Things happen for a reason.  Caroline Grace is loved regardless of her condition.  And because of her condition, I am a better man, husband, father, and friend.  She has given me the joy of having a ministry of reaching out to others who are hurting.  It is through my suffering and grace of God that I have grown stronger, more spiritual, and more passionate for helping others endure and persevere through their own suffering.  Life is not happy all of the time.  But it CAN be joyful all of the time. 
   
-I've learned that most people have great intentions and are sincerely sweet, even if they say things that we interpret as 'not so nice' during our times of grief.
The first time someone said something to me that wasn't exactly interpreted as "nice" about Caroline, my initial reaction was to blurt out something mean in response.  But God's grace helped me understand that they were well-intentioned and did not mean harm in any way.  (I still blog about my true emotions because blogging is therapeutic.  But I bridle my tongue in the moment)  Shock, grief, and uncomfortable circumstances create something inside our brain that causes us to say some pretty stupid stuff!!  I have to admit that I'm a victim of my "stupid brain" all the time!  

-I have learned that God's grace IS sufficient.  I've always THOUGHT that and heart that, but now I KNOW it is true.
Whether it's the need to get out of bed for work in the morning or getting through the next doctor's visit, God grants me whatever I need to successfully endure each moment.  Some moments turn out better than others, but what really matters is that God is with me through it all.  He has proven to me multiple times throughout each day that no matter how hard today is going to be, His love and grace is even more comforting than the discomfort that the pain causes.  So, I can go to bed each night reassured that God IS still in control and that He will continue to grant me the grace to go on for another day!

---------------------------------------
My Prayer
Dear Lord,
     Thank you, for giving us Caroline Grace.  Thank you for your Grace.  And thank you for using this journey for your glory in my life.  Please continue to bless me so that I can help others find something to smile about in times of grief!  Amen.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Now, that's Funny!

When was the last time that you had a belly-laugh?  You know, when you just let loose and laughed so hard that your belly hurt or maybe even jiggled?  Shhh...you don't have to admit to the latter :-)  But a really good laugh is worth remembering! 

Laughter warms you throughout your body and soul.  You may have even laughed so hard that your laughter spurred on tears of joy.  And if you're like me, you have looked back at that belly-laughter and you have laughed some more because you found something so trivial to be so hilariously laughable!  It's great when you find yourself laughing about laughing!! 

Wikipedia says, "Laughter is anatomically caused by the epiglottis constricting the larynx.  The study of humor and laughter, and its psychological and physiological effects on the human body, is called gelotology."  Yeah...whatever that means!!

Proverbs 17:22a says, "A cheerful heart is good medicine."  Now, I can relate to that!!

During Emily's and my recent journey, God has had his fair share of laughter with me.  I can hear him saying, "Silly human.  Have you forgotten that I am God??  I am your Creator!  I gave you everything you have, including your countless blessings!"  As I have toiled, struggled, doubted, and lost sleep over Caroline's diagnosis, I have no doubt that God has looked upon me with laughter.  Not laughing at me because he is mocking me.  But laughing at me because he finds my efforts entertaining.  He knows my attempts are unnecessary because He is in control - not me!!  He has shared his undying love, support, and care for me.  He has told me, "Even to your old age and gray hairs I am He, I am He who will sustain you.  I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you" ~Isaiah 46:4 (NIV). 

"The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation.  He is my stronghold, my refuge and my Savior.....You are my lamp, O Lord; the Lord turns my darkness into light" ~2 Samuel 22:2; 22:29 (NIV). 

Yet I find a way, nearly everyday, to doubt the Scriptural truths He has provided for us.  His love is the same today as it was yesterday and will be tomorrow.  However, it is funny how we easily forget this and think that we are better off "fixing" things ourselves.  Haha!   Now, that's funny!  And I am so thankful that God has a tremendous sense of humor!!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My Cinderella

On my way to and from work, I listen to 95.1, Shine FM.  Without traffic, I can make it home in 28 minutes.  With radio commercials, DJs comments, etc, this is enough time to listen to 7 songs.  If I get stopped at an extra red light or traffic is a little heavier than usual, I might be lucky to hear an 8th song.  There must be thousands of songs in a radio station's playlist for each day.  However, in the last 3 days I have driven to work, I have heard the same song each time.

"Cinderella" (click to watch on YouTube) by Steven Curtis Chapman: 
"She spins and she sways
To whatever song plays
Without a care in the world
And I'm sitting here wearing
The weight of the world on my shoulders

It's been a long day
And there's still work to do
She's pulling at me
Saying "Dad, I need you

There's a ball at the castle
And I've been invited
And I need to practice my dancing
Oh, please, Daddy, please?"

So I will dance with Cinderella
While she is here in my arms
'Cause I know something the prince never knew
Oooooh, I will dance with Cinderella
I don't wanna miss even one song
'Cause all too soon the clock will strike midnight
And she'll be gone..."

It's funny to me to see how God forces us to deal with our emotions.  Friday was the first time that I heard this song since Caroline's diagnosis.  I turned off the radio.  I thought, "I hate this song!  I'll never be able to listen to it ever again."  I was immediately saddened by the reminder that I will not see her dance at the castle.  I will not ever feel her tug on my arm.  I will never hear her say, "Dad, I need you."

But after a few seconds of somber silence, I humbly prayed for God to give me the courage to face my giant.

After a little while longer, I woefully accepted the pain and bravely turned on the radio again.  Instead of listening to the song and thinking "I hate my life" or "Why did you do this to me God?,"  I was actually able to embrace Caroline's condition...again.  It's weird, because circumstances like this make me feel like I don't know who I am or what I truly feel.  Some days I am at peace with her diagnosis.  Other days, I feel myself trying to bargain with God about her condition.  Friday felt like a day at the market...until I embraced this song for its beauty.  Kind of like embracing Caroline's beauty.  This song will always be beautiful.  Because daughters will always be beautiful. 

Monday morning, I heard the song again.  It was as if God was telling me, "Hey, I'm not done with you.  You've still got to process some lingering emotions!  Oh, by the way...you can dance with her...but you have to dance with Emily at the same time!!"  So, I listened to the whole song this time with a completely different perspective.

I gracefully acknowledged the beautiful lyrics and thought of dancing with my beautiful pregnant wife and Caroline together.  Such a sweet thought.  This made me smile and cry at the same time.

Then, I dreamed of little Caroline dancing in a little white dress with her Heavenly Father, twirling around and around, and hopping and skipping down streets of gold!!  And my heart swelled with pride as I envisioned my little girl spinning and swaying without a care in the world!


Then, today, I heard it once again.  And this time, I couldn't help but laugh at how God had changed my heart in 3 different occasions of listening to the same song.  Today, I was finally able to listen to this song and thank God at the same time for blessing me with such a special little girl.  I know this is difficult for most people to understand.  How could I possibly be thankful for Caroline's fatal diagnosis?  Please let me explain.

By giving us Caroline, God has blessed us with the opportunity to give a little girl a very special life, despite how short lived it may be.  She is loved so much by so many...even complete strangers!!  Once she passes away, God will actually be sparing Caroline from living in this imperfect world.  She will never feel any pain.  She will never be disappointed by anyone, including me as her dad.  Instead, she will almost immediately get to meet Jesus and know what a "perfect world" is like.  She will be in Heaven.  Furthermore, her little life has allowed us, already, the wonderful opportunity to share our journey with numerous others going through their own painful journeys.  Since her diagnosis, God has brought hundreds of people to Emily and me to share their pains, struggles, and questions about life.  And God has given us the words, grace, and strength to help them in their time of need.  I would have never imagined it, but helping others has actually helped me get through my most difficult days so far.


Caroline's condition is ugly.  But she is gorgeous!  She is my Cinderella.  I love you baby girl.  And so does your Heavenly Father!

Then I sang, "So I will dance with Cinderella
While she is here in my arms [or...in Emily's belly :-)]
'Cause I know something the prince never knew
Oooooh, I will dance with Cinderella
I don't wanna miss even one song
'Cause all too soon the clock will strike midnight
And she'll be gone..."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

100 messages for Emily...PLEASE!!

She is amazing.  And she needs to know that.  If you haven't told her lately, please go to her Facebook, blog (link is above left of this post), or e-mail her and leave a message (carolinegraceblog@gmail.com).  I'm hoping to get at least 100 messages to her in the next two days.  That would be awesome!

She is a trooper.  Her attitude has been very positive.  And she makes me smile.  I think it's safe to say that she finally "popped."  There is no question about a baby bump anymore.  It's the cutest thing.  Haha.  One of our cats, Miriam, was laying on her belly last night.  Emily was just lying on the couch watching TV and Caroline starting kicking like crazy.  Apparently, Miriam did not like this!!  She got up and move to Emily's lap.  It was hilarious!  It was good to hear Emily laugh out loud. 

So, put another smile on her face and send her some love today too.  :-D

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

"You're not doing enough!"

Someone, with an authoritative role in my life, recently told me, "you're not handling this well.  You're not doing enough to process your anger and emotions.  You need to exercise more."

I was floored.  Downright shocked.  All I could do was look away and stare at the wall in anger.  The irony.  Did they just attack me??  "You're not doing enough."   Yup, that feels like an attack!  Here is someone I thought I could trust with my situation and they are attacking me (probably how Job felt when his friend, Eliphaz, began preaching at him in his time of extreme loss).

But their words also had some truth in them.  Not that I wanted to admit the hard truths at this point.  "I'm not handling this well."  Hmmmm...no kidding, Sherlock!  Thanks Captain Obvious, may I have another of your pearls of wisdom?!  Accusing me of not doing enough and not handling this well does not help, in case they were wondering!   

So, I'm still trying to get this straight.  Within 24 hours of finding out my first child was going to be a girl, I also find out that I will not be able to keep her.  It has been 4 weeks of dealing with these emotions.  And we have 4 more months until Caroline Grace's delivery, which will be even more difficult to handle than what we are faced with now.  Every day is a reminder that we have to process these same emotions for months.  There is not finality...yet.  So, we can't process our emotions any faster because the REAL tragedy has not occurred.

I wake up everyday.  I haven't lost my faith.  (In fact, my faith has increased.)  I am still interacting at church.  I haven't missed work, except when excused or I took vacation time.  I'm not yelling at anyone.  I am engaged with friends.  I am sharing my emotions in my blog.  I'm talking to people in person and on the phone about our situation.  But someone thinks I'm not handling this well, because I'm still angry, frustrated, irritable, and occasionally have a bad day.

My first thought was, "I don't care who thinks I'm handling this well or not!"  Because I know that I am doing everything possible to endure this journey as well as I can.  In a way, I felt like I was arguing with myself.  I was definitely feeling the need to defend myself.  Before I could gather my thoughts, they launched another attack by telling me I should do more physical exercise.  A valid point, I thought.  But there's one problem.  I don't have the energy to do MORE.  I barely have enough energy to do LESS than usual.  So, I said, "I don't have the energy to exercise more than walking for half an hour."  They replied, "I'm not asking you to exercise.  I'm telling you to exercise."  And continued to tell me, "It's not normal to be angry in a situation like this."  This is when I lost it.  In my mind, I thought, "Excuse me?!?  Surely, I didn't hear them right!!" 

In case my sarcasm and bitter attitude has not made it perfectly clear....it is NOT recommended to accuse someone of not doing enough when they are grieving!

While grieving, there are 5 different steps someone typically experiences.
1. Denial
2. Anger
3. Bargaining
4. Depression
5.  Acceptance

The 5 stages of grief were championed and popularized by Mrs. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross.  She is truly a genius when it comes to emotional intelligence.  From wikipedia:    
"The Kübler-Ross model, commonly known as The Five Stages of Grief, was first introduced by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying.[1]

Included in the book was a model, The Model of Coping with Dying, which she based on research and interviews with more than 500 dying patients.  It describes, in five discrete stages, a process by which people cope and deal with grief and tragedy, especially when diagnosed with a terminal illness or experience a catastrophic loss.  In addition to this, her book brought mainstream awareness to the sensitivity required for better treatment of individuals who are dealing with a fatal disease or illness.[2]"

Below is an article from Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler.  If you or anyone you know has ever experienced a loss or tragedy, you will find it very easy to relate to these stages of grief. 
_________________________________
Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross & David Kessler

"The stages have evolved since their introduction and they have been very misunderstood over the past three decades.  They were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages.  They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss as there is no typical loss. Our grief is as individual as our lives.
The five stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one we lost [or will be losing].  They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling.  But they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief.  Not everyone goes through all of them or in a prescribed order.  Our hope is that with these stages comes the knowledge of grief ’s terrain, making us better equipped to cope with life and loss."

Denial

"This first stage of grieving helps us to survive the loss.  In this stage, the world becomes meaningless and overwhelming.  Life makes no sense.  We are in a state of shock and denial.  We go numb.  We wonder how we can go on, if we can go on, why we should go on.  We try to find a way to simply get through each day.  Denial and shock help us to cope and make survival possible.  Denial helps us to pace our feelings of grief.  There is a grace in denial.  It is nature’s way of letting in only as much as we can handle.     As you accept the reality of the loss and start to ask yourself questions, you are unknowingly beginning the healing process.  You are becoming stronger, and the denial is beginning to fade.  But as you proceed, all the feelings you were denying begin to surface."

Anger

"Anger is a necessary stage of the healing process.  Be willing to feel your anger, even though it may seem endless.  The more you truly feel it, the more it will begin to dissipate and the more you will heal.  There are many other emotions under the anger and you will get to them in time, but anger is the emotion we are most used to managing.  The truth is that anger has no limits.  It can extend not only to your friends, the doctors, your family, yourself and your loved one who died [or will die], but also to God. You may ask, “Where is God in this?
     Underneath anger is pain, your pain.  It is natural to feel deserted and abandoned, but we live in a society that fears anger.  Anger is strength and it can be an anchor, giving temporary structure to the nothingness of loss.  At first grief feels like being lost at sea: no connection to anything.  Then you get angry at someone, maybe a person who didn’t attend the funeral, maybe a person who isn’t around, maybe a person who is different now that your loved one has died.  Suddenly you have a structure – - your anger toward them.  The anger becomes a bridge over the open sea, a connection from you to them.  It is something to hold onto; and a connection made from the strength of anger feels better than nothing. We usually know more about suppressing anger than feeling it.  The anger is just another indication of the intensity of your love."

Bargaining

"Before a loss, it seems like you will do anything if only your loved one would be spared.  “Please God, ” you bargain, “I will never be angry at my wife again if you’ll just let her live.”  After a loss, bargaining may take the form of a temporary truce.  “What if I devote the rest of my life to helping others. Then can I wake up and realize this has all been a bad dream?”
     We become lost in a maze of “If only…” or “What if…” statements.  We want life returned to what is was; we want our loved one restored.  We want to go back in time: find the tumor sooner, recognize the illness more quickly, stop the accident from happening…if only, if only, if only.  Guilt is often bargaining’s companion.  The “if onlys” cause us to find fault in ourselves and what we “think” we could have done differently.  We may even bargain with the pain.  We will do anything not to feel the pain of this loss.  We remain in the past, trying to negotiate our way out of the hurt.  People often think of the stages as lasting weeks or months. They forget that the stages are responses to feelings that can last for minutes or hours as we flip in and out of one and then another.  We do not enter and leave each individual stage in a linear fashion.  We may feel one, then another and back again to the first one."

Depression

"After bargaining, our attention moves squarely into the present.  Empty feelings present themselves, and grief enters our lives on a deeper level, deeper than we ever imagined.  This depressive stage feels as though it will last forever.  It’s important to understand that this depression is not a sign of mental illness.  It is the appropriate response to a great loss.  We withdraw from life, left in a fog of intense sadness, wondering, perhaps, if there is any point in going on alone?  Why go on at all?  Depression after a loss is too often seen as unnatural: a state to be fixed, something to snap out of.  The first question to ask yourself is whether or not the situation you’re in is actually depressing.  The loss of a loved one is a very depressing situation, and depression is a normal and appropriate response.  To not experience depression after a loved one dies would be unusual.  When a loss fully settles in your soul, the realization that your loved one didn’t get better this time and is not coming back is understandably depressing.  If grief is a process of healing, then depression is one of the many necessary steps along the way."

Acceptance

"Acceptance is often confused with the notion of being “all right” or “OK” with what has happened.  This is not the case.  Most people don’t ever feel OK or all right about the loss of a loved one.  This stage is about accepting the reality that our loved one is physically gone and recognizing that this new reality is the permanent reality.  We will never like this reality or make it OK, but eventually we accept it.  We learn to live with it.  It is the new norm with which we must learn to live.  We must try to live now in a world where our loved one is missing.  In resisting this new norm, at first many people want to maintain life as it was before a loved one died.  In time, through bits and pieces of acceptance, however, we see that we cannot maintain the past intact.  It has been forever changed and we must readjust.  We must learn to reorganize roles, re-assign them to others or take them on ourselves.
     Finding acceptance may be just having more good days than bad ones.  As we begin to live again and enjoy our life, we often feel that in doing so, we are betraying our loved one.  We can never replace what has been lost, but we can make new connections, new meaningful relationships, new inter-dependencies.  Instead of denying our feelings, we listen to our needs; we move, we change, we grow, we evolve.  We may start to reach out to others and become involved in their lives.  We invest in our friendships and in our relationship with ourselves.  We begin to live again, but we cannot do so until we have given grief its time."

_________________________________

Time.  My worst enemy.  
God.  My best friend.  
Two rivals.  One pain. 
_________________________________

Dear "someone,"
      Yes.  It IS normal to be angry right now.
And I will be angry for a while.  Probably depressed, too. 
You'll just have to deal with it.  
Welcome to my world.
Sincerely,
Cameron

Monday, November 7, 2011

Just one of those days.

One step forward.......and two steps back.

I have not blogged for a week, because I did not want to share how I truly feel.  But I have to be completely honest.  I have not spared any emotions throughout our journey up until now, so I have to come clean.  

Last Tuesday, Emily and I had a checkup with the specialist.  Caroline Grace now weighs 15 ounces!  Everything is growing as expected and she is a healthy baby with the exception of....

I am so excited that we are pregnant with our first child.  I am elated to be a dad!  Caroline is, and always be, our first child.  She is my baby girl.  And I love her so much, just as she is. 

Going to the doctor plays tug of war with my heart.  Beautiful vs. Ugly.  One side, seeing her move around, kick, toss, and turn is evidence that she is still alive and I rejoice!!  Seeing her is a beautiful sight!  God is definitely still in control!!  For this I am so thankful.  But, one the other side, and despite my best efforts, I cannot hide the fact that Caroline's anencephaly is ugly.  It hurts me to my core to see pictures of her through the sonogram.  It is a reminder to me that she needs a miracle to live or else she will die.  I keep praying and wishing and hoping that the next sonogram will show that she has a normal brain and skull.  But when we see the picture of her little head, I hang my head in shame.  I feel like I am less of a dad because of her deformity.

This past week, I had the unfortunate opportunity to update my Life Insurance policy with the Navy.  Part of this policy includes my family policy.  So, how do you explain to a clerk that you need life insurance for a child even though you don't have a child yet?  And, by the way, you need it as soon as soon as they are born!?  The policy, with necessary changes, still sits on my desk at work.  I have not had the energy to turn it in yet.  In a way, I do not ever want to turn it in.   

People want to help.  They ask me, "how can I help?"  The answer is prayer, words of encouragement, and distractions!  Distractions are great because they get me through each day.  I mean, there's not really anything else that can be done.  If you could fast forward time...but then, wait...don't do that either!  Because we want as much time with Caroline as possible.  More time gives a greater possibility for a miracle.  And more things we can do with her to make a memory.  

So, here I am.  Every time I make progress, I get knocked down.  But, by the grace of God, every time I get knocked down, I get back up again!  Somebody told me, "just take one day at a time."  Well, I can't even do that!  I have to take one STEP at a time.  Baby steps.

Which reminds me....without a miracle....I will never get to see Caroline take her first steps.  Or say "Dada."  Or celebrate her first birthday.  Or....  What do you say to people when they ask, "do you have any kids?"  What about a year from now??  If you have lost a spouse, you can explain your unfortunate circumstances with one word:  widower.  (I am not belittling this tragedy or detracting from the enormous grief it causes.  May God bless all of the widows and widowers.)  But if you lose a child, there is not a one word answer.  However, you don't want to explain the whole story to strangers either.  I hate lying.  But truthfully, I know telling a lie will be easier and less burdensome than explaining the whole story.  

This is not easy.

This is the hardest thing I have ever done.
Yup...today is just one of those days.     

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Just pawns in a Chess Game?

Chess is a strategist's game.  And it is not for the impatient.  It can be extremely boring.  However, it is a game that can be applied to our daily lives.

Not everyone knows the basics of chess, so allow me to explain.  I promise to make this as painless as possible...please bear with me.  CHESS 101:
1.  Respect the King and protect him.  If your opponent attacks your King, you must defend him.
2.  Use your other pieces (Queen, Bishops, Knights, Rooks, and pawns) to defend your own King.
3.  Use your other pieces (Queen, Bishops, Knights, Rooks, and pawns) to attack your opponent's King.
4.  Queens (omni-directional), Bishops (diagonal direction), and Rooks (horizontal direction) can move an unlimited amount of spaces each turn in their respective direction. 
5.  The Knight is special in that he move 3 spaces each turn in an L shape.
6.  The lowliest pieces in a Chess game are the pawns.  They are the least ornate pieces and can only move one space at a time. 

These rules will not make you the next Bobby Fisher.  But they will give you an understanding of what I'm about to say.
-----------------------------------------

I feel very much like a pawn lately.  Very vulnerable.  Defenseless.  I can only take one step at a time.  Everyone else seems more capable and much more powerful than me.  Inept is a good word to describe my emotion.

Everything happens for a reason, though.  I recently bought a new Bible (on Sunday).  And began reading in Job, because I can relate to his story.  How appropriate!  Check this out...this is an article in the footnotes of the Job 1:13-19:

"Are people just pawns in God's chess game?
     It often seems that people are caught in events beyond their control, manipulated by God or Satan.  They may feel forced into situations they would not choose if they were given a chance.  While this seems unfair, there is another way - a higher way - to interpret the circumstances of life.  We can see them as God-given opportunities to cooperate with his purpose and plans and, by serving him, to fulfill something far more significant than our own schemes ever could.  We are MORE than pawns in a chess game.  We can honor Almighty God by the way we live and die.
     Still, many unanswered questions remain.  Only God knows why dozens of bystanders had to die in this unfolding drama [Job's tests from Satan in which all of his livestock, servants, children were slain] between Satan and God.  We struggle with the fact that ["good" people] have short, tragic lives while other who are wicked enjoy wealth and long life.  One thing we can affirm, however:  What seems unfair in this life will be made right in eternity.  Our problems will be resolved and many of our questions answered.
     God has permitted Satan certain freedoms.  He is called the prince of this world (John 14:30) and the ruler of the kingdom of the air (Ephesians 2:2).  Satan can sometimes use the forces of nature, sickness, plagues and wicked people.  Though God dealt a fatal blow to Satan through Jesus' death and resurrection, Satan continues to struggle against God, and will do so until the end (Romans 16:20). 
     There are two sides to the suffering of the righteoous:  the earthly and the heavenly.  The apostle Paul [of the New Testament] understood the tension of living in a corrupt world as one controlled by the Spirit.  He placed his trust in God and things eternal - God's justice, mercy and love - not in the temporary things of this world - success, wealth and fame.  Paul recognized that our struggle is not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12) and took courage in knowing that our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20)."

I thought this article was pretty cool and strikingly well placed in front of me.  I thought, "heh!  I am MORE than just a pawn.  Sweet!!"  But I wasn't content with this alone.  I kept reading.

As I read Job 2-3, I thanked God that I was so much better off than Job as I do not have any physical sores, disfigurements, parasites, skin infections, hallucinations, or a fever.

I do have sharp pains and shortness of breath...but this is normal, I think.

I do, however, feel as Job did.  I question my existence.  I struggle with why God gave me life:  "Why did He decide to give Caroline a fatal condition?  Why can't I take it from her and thus give her life instead of me??  Why do I think like this?  Will people think I'm suicidal?  Oh, geez...what will my military supervisors think when they see that I'm thinking this way?  Great!  I'll have to see a shrink, now.  I'll probably lose my security clearance.  Everyone's going to think I'm weird and can't handle my job anymore.  This is definitely not what I need!" 

Then, I stumbled upon another editorial note in my new Bible (again...everything happens for a reason...so thankful I bought a new Bible!!).  The editor asks the questions, "Is no life better than a troubled life?  Was Job suicidal?"

Hmmm...thanks guy...you read my mind! 

He says, "In [Job's] misery, [he] might have thought [no life was better than a troubled life].  But the Bible's message throughout is that life - all life - is a gift from God.  Even in terrible suffering, God's glory can be revealed.  In the midst of Job's unspeakable losses and his physical pain, he said that he longed for death.  But he was not planning to take his own life.  He was in mourning and expressing his deep sorrow that made life seem unbearable." 

Awesome!  I'm safe!!  I'm normal!!  I'm just grieving the very realistic potential of losing my one and only baby girl.  JUST grieving.  That's all.

Initially, I did not ask, "why me, Lord?"  But, now....I can not tell you how many times I have begged the question, "what have I done to deserve this??"  There are plenty of people out there that deserve this more than mee.  I'm faithful to my wife.  I am faithful to my church.  I tith 10% of my pay every paycheck.  I read my Bible.  I pray.  I don't do drugs.  I'm a good guy.  I'm better than this!!  ....Right???

Then, the Lord said, "There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" - Romans 3:23 (NIV). 

Ouch!

So, apparently, I'm NOT special.  God loves me just as much as He loves everyone else.  And my sins are no greater, or lesser, than anyone else's.  I am not righteous.  I am undeserving of life.  And I am as just as deserving of going through this pain as anyone.

But suffering is not necessarily beneficial.  Dwelling on your suffering is definitely not beneficial.  Those who wallow in their suffering never gain any benefits or achieve a higher perspective.  But those who make a conscious decision to focus instead on what God can do THROUGH their suffering will be strengthened!!  Tap into God's resources.  Allow him to turn something negative into something positive and life-changing.

"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us" - Romans 5:1-5 (NIV).

"In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express!" -Romans 8:26 (NIV).   

We are not just pawns.  We are the King's children, heirs to His throne!!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy BOO!!!

I did not feel like celebrating Halloween this year.  First of all, I'm not really a fan of this "holiday" anyway.  I just do not like introducing ghouls, goblins, witches, and demons into my feeble imagination.  Life introduces enough temptations and evil into our lives without our help! 

But, despite my druthers...
Emily and her mom, Carole, decided it would be best if we celebrated anyway.  They said it would be a great idea for  us to create another memory with Caroline by carving pumpkins and interacting with other  children. 

So, we did.  And I'm happy that they convinced me to do so. 
Besides, do you actually expect me to win an argument with a pregnant lady and her mother??  :-)

Here is Emily carving her pumpkin.  She's making an angel...(in more than one way!)...
 And I carved "Happy Boo"...because "Halloween" is just way too long!
Yes, I am a cheeseball! 

Happy BOO!!!!!!!!

My Blessing

When Dr. Williams first told me that Caroline Grace would not survive, my immediate thought was to pray for God's miraculous healing.  I was not going to limit His power.  So, I considered a miracle to be the greatest thing God could do in this situation and began praying for it.  And asking God for His miracle daily.  There has not been one day to pass without me praying for Caroline Grace's miracle.  I want my daughter to live a normal life!!

However, there is one flaw to my prayer.  A major flaw. 
It is a selfish plea.  It is an ulterior motive to bring me what I want. 

My desires are not necessarily the Lord's. 
In my human, temporal, and finite mind, the greatest thing I can fathom is for God to create a miraculous healing to give Caroline a brain and skull.  But it occurred to me (thanks be to my Sunday school class and much prayer)...a miracle is an amazing act of God's omnipotence, however, by praying for a miracle, I am actually limiting God to ONLY a miracle.  Yeah!

I am only thinking of myself.  And not His entire Kingdom.

What if God has bigger plans? 
Yes, it is possible for God to have bigger plans than miraculously healing Caroline!  This is hard to wrap my head around because I desperately want her to be healed!  But I have peace in knowing that God is already using her to touch thousands of lives just as she is.  And He may not have ANY plans to change her, because He is omniscient and knows things that we will never understand.  His plan for her is far greater than anything I could ever conjure in my severely limited powers. 

As of today, I have been posting blogs on this site for 3 weeks.
So far, this site has been viewed 5,100+ times.  I realize a lot of these "hits" are the same people revisiting my blog, but this is an average of approximately 250 visits per day.  More than 5,000 times, someone has read about her life and her influence.
There have been visitors from Japan, South Korea, Spain, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, and Aruba! 

For God to heal my Caroline would be a miracle.  But for God to see Emily and me through this pain and suffering, much like He supported Job in the Bible, may have an even greater impact on others in this world.

We are not the only ones to suffer in this world.  We are not the first to ask, "why?"  And I have had my fair share of moments in which I was angry that "this happened to me!?!"

But my God is greater!!

"Water You turned into wine
Opened the eyes of the blind
There’s no one like You
None like You
Into the darkness You shine
Out of the ashes we rise
There’s no one like You
None like You

Our God is greater, our God is stronger
God You are higher than any other
Our God is Healer, awesome in power"
~"Our God" by Christ Tomlin

My God is strong enough to heal Caroline.
He is also strong enough to give us the strength for this journey.  

My faith in God is courageous enough to understand and KNOW and be at peace that He is still in control!!!
I do not curse him for giving me such an ugly diagnosis for my beautiful Caroline Grace.

Instead, I praise Him for my blessing.  I thank Him for Caroline and I thank Him for her anencephaly. 
She is in Your hands, Lord.
To you, God, be the glory!!  Forever!