Children are a gift from the Lord; the fruit of the womb, a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children born in one's youth. Blessed are they whose quivers are full. They will never be shamed contending with foes at the gate. ~Psalm 127:3-5

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Person's A Person. No Matter How Small...

Yesterday marked one year since I lost our baby. I remember the first few months being so numb and dark after I learned that I was miscarrying our son or daughter. It was a devastating time but in thinking throughout this past year of the short life my baby lived, how small s/he was, and even the great sorrow of my loss, I saw glimpses of the greatness that s/he represented, reminding me of a very important fact of life: A person IS a person, no matter how small. And God's gift of life is the greatest of all.

(Note: In the interest of making more sense with less words, from here on out, I will refer to the baby as "he" or "him" in the parts about the loss of my baby.)

We found out in mid November last year that I was pregnant, and decided to tell everyone on Thanksgiving. The first people to find out that day were our "PA parents," two generous and loving people who have taken us under their wing, treated us as if we were their own, and last year had invited us to Thanksgiving dinner at their home. We adorned Sophia with a shirt I decorated with puffy paint. Four stick figures were drawn across the bottom, and a baby carriage. The shirt read "Big Sister 2011." That night, we joined my family in Frederick for dessert. I can't remember who was the first to notice the shirt but everyone was ecstatic by the time the news rolled through the house. But the next day, I started bleeding. The following week it was confirmed that I lost the baby.

Just 6 or so weeks along he was. And yet, his personhood had already indented a place in my heart. At 6 weeks his own heart was formed and beating, the areas for his legs and arms were little stubs ready to spring into growth. He was but a few millimeters yet his presence was enormous. He was an individual soul, living inside of me, borrowing my body for a short time, just like each of his siblings before him. He was a huge life changer, both by his life and his loss.

Yesterday also marked a sad occasion for someone else. A friend of my sister's buried two of her own babies. Lost at 24 weeks gestation, her twins, Josephine Angelina and Nadia Rose, were laid to rest after suffering complications from a torn placenta and then TTTS. Their mother went into preterm labor on a Sunday morning and her babies could not be saved. These babies, whose very lives hung in the balance for so long, these same babies that were so small and so fragile, were huge life-changers for their parents and family, both in their life and in their loss.

This past summer, just a few short months ago, marked the 1 year anniversary of the loss of a little boy named Declan. He was just shy of his first birthday when cancer claimed his life for good in August of 2010. Declan's battle with cancer was courageous. It was difficult. It was awe-inspiring and the details of it, which were so painstakingly related to us through the humbling blog of his parents, were relentless in their challenge to the hearts of many. That challenge simply was - fight for our children. Declan, too, was small, but he was a huge life-changer for so many of us, both in his life and in his loss.

All 4 of these babies, and all the babies who have ever been miscarried or who died soon after birth, were individual souls who were created for purposes unknown to us. They were tiny lives that were lost before they got to know what life is really like here in the world. But they did have a life inside the secret darkness of their mothers' wombs. Declan had almost a whole year outside of the protection of his mother's body. The twins knew only moments of this world. But they all knew some measure of a life of comfort and peace, of complete dependence and warmth. Of undeniable love. From the moment they were conceived, they had a soul. They made their mark in the Master's painting and made a splash in the lives of all who loved them.

There are so many differences in the stories of each of these precious babies. The situations and details surrounding the life and death of each one are incomparable. Yet there is one thing that each baby has in common. That is that they were people. At 6 weeks gestation, at 24 weeks gestation, or a few weeks shy of a first birthday, each baby mattered. Each baby's heart beat. Each baby knew love and pain. Each baby was a perfect gift; a special individual created by God for His purpose. It was His choice when and how they lived, and when and how they died.

The grief attached to losing a child knows no bounds. Some say that if a baby dies in utero, it's not the same as the loss of a baby who has already been born. I don't believe that's true. Ask that young mama who just lost her twins at 24 weeks, watched them take their first breaths..and their last within moments, and then had to suffer through a funeral for them. And then ask every single mother who lost a baby very early on in pregnancy, only to go through the next year a shadow of a person, mourning the loss of a baby they never got a chance to hold. Neither one would say that their situation is worse because most women know the value of a human soul - no matter what "stage" of life its body was in. It is often in these dark and painful moments of grief when we realize the power of one individual soul, his or her significance to the bigger picture of God's world, and the reality of his or her presence - or lack-there-of - here on earth.

"So let that be a lesson to one and to all...A person's a person. No matter how small." ~Horton the Elephant in Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss

Monday, November 14, 2011

Preparing for Advent

It is now mid-November and I am struggling to figure out where the year has gone. Peering out my window, I notice dark clouds looming close on the horizon, threatening yet another rain; reminding me that I also have no idea where Fall has gone. The weather is sort of warmish today but it comes on the heels of many bouts of cold and rain since Fall officially began. In fact, we have had much rain this year since the onset of Spring, and I'm left puzzling over this fact as well.

And yet, time still ticks on.

So we have seen from the calendar pages flipping steadily from month to month, leading us closer and closer to ending the year; much too close to ushering in a new one for my taste. Christmas decorations have been up in stores since before Halloween. Thanksgiving is but a week away. It seems this last quarter of the year seems to fly by so fast, creating a whirlwind of activity and chaos that often leaves me on the brink of despair.

Advent is fast approaching and I'd like to devise a plan for this year that surpasses my half-attempts from last year. One which solves all of the age-old issues of bustling through the season leading up to Christmas without knowledge of where the best of intentions end and reality begins. Last year we did a few activities which kept with the theme of "Jesus is the reason for the season." I have to LOL here at that phrase. It's so corny yet SO TRUE. And we often forget. In the chaos of shopping and running around and fighting crowds, we do forget why we have this holiday.

CHRISTMAS. It is about Jesus- His entrance into the world, God's gift of love to us poor sinners. And yet, sometimes shopping and "holiday" parties seem more forefront and looming- like those dark clouds threatening rain outside my window. We're not big shoppers. As much as we'd like to be, we're just not. Even if we had the money to be big shoppers, I'm not sure we would be. I'd like to be a big MAKER. Yes, a maker of fun/yummy/interesting home-spun gifts. I'd like to spend my time creating thoughtful gifts that speak to the hearts of the recipients; ones which remind them that they are in my heart and perhaps speak to the joy and love of which this beautiful season is about. I do this on a small scale, but I'd like to do more. My gifts can never be as grand as the ultimate Gift that was given to the world thousands of years ago, but I'd like them to be more special than a brightly-colored plastic thing-a-ma-bob from China.

Advent is a time to prepare our hearts and minds to once again receive that special Gift that was given to us so long ago. It is so important to convey the real reason for the season to our children and make them a part of our preparation. Making an Advent wreath and lighting the candles each week, creating a Jesse tree, making religious decorations and cards are all fun activities to do with the children in preparation for Christmas. Last year we had an Advent calendar that I made from an old Christmas table cloth and in the pockets, I put scraps of paper with a bible verse from the nativity story and an activity idea written on each piece. Sometimes, the pockets also contained a small treat for each child- a piece of chocolate or a mini candy cane. We read the verse from the nativity story and colored a corresponding picture which I printed out from a resource on the Internet. Then we did our activity. Sometimes, it was just saying a prayer for someone. Other times, it was creating fun crafts like cinnamon-scented ornaments, or shopping for gloves and hats for less-fortunate kids.

Every year I feel surprised by how fast Advent approaches and yet, I shouldn't be, should I? Even in the busyness and chaos of our daily life, I should be looking forward to the times throughout the year that we are called to remember and celebrate God's greatest Gift to the world. I shouldn't feel surprised because they happen at the same time very year and I have all year to prepare. And yet, I don't prepare enough. So this year, I'm going to attempt to spend more time preparing activities for the kids and our family to do to remind us of Jesus, preparing my heart for the blessings of the season, and helping to make our home into one that celebrates Him and His infinite love for us.

What do you do to prepare for the season? I'd love to hear your ideas!

Also: Here are some resources for Christmas crafts and activities to prepare for Advent with your children: