His Feathers


As the weather grew colder in the first months after Kristen died, a sweet friend wrote to me that she wanted to get me a down blanket as a reminder of Psalm 91:4:
He will cover you with his feathers,
   and under his wings you will find refuge;
   his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
There's a comfort in that verse that has become more real to me this year.  It is only through God's faithfulness that I am still standing.  He's been my strength when I have had absolutely none of my own.  The very verse that was shared with me in such love inspired something that I've been able to share with others, from those who have attended our local GriefShare: Surviving the Holidays seminars to friends who themselves have had to face the pain of saying goodbye to a loved one all too soon.

If you are in that place of wishing that it was January already; if these last weeks of holiday hubbub have left you with a feeling of dread rather than thankfulness or anticipation, I understand.  This prayer is for you:
Dear Heavenly Father,
     Please let each one who needs it feel the comfort of your feathers, the warmth of You around their shoulders.  Allow them to know the protection of your wings as You envelop them in your mighty and merciful way.  Help them to allow your faithfulness to bolster them to withstand the storms.  Calm their spirits and give them peace, Lord, the peace that only You can give.
     In Your Son's precious name,

The Happy Day Project {Part 2}


Despite good intentions, our last week didn't go quite as planned. Consequently, we only took part in the first three days of "The Happy Day Project." And you know what? That's okay! We brought smiles to some faces and reached out in ways we haven't before. And that makes me happy. :)

Day #1 - Treats to a Neighbor
The chocolate chip cookie dough I mixed up Monday looked good...tasted great...but resulted in some of the flattest cookies I have seen in a while.  So, we kept it for cookie sundaes and delivered some warm pumpkin chocolate chip cookies to a couple of neighbors this afternoon.  One was especially thrilled, and after asking Grace exactly why she had brought her these treats, happily exclaimed, "I love it!'

Day #2 - Handwritten Note Day
I pray that our handwritten notes to the Horn family bring smiles to their faces.  We don't know them, but continue to pray for them daily.

Day #3 - Giftcard to Homeless
We are fortunate to live in a community where the homeless are not just everywhere.  I'm sure they are there, but we just don't normally see them.  On occasion, we do see a family parked near the main drag through town holding a sign indicating that they are in need of work.  We've always just driven by, wanting to do something, but unsure of how best to help.  We are now ready to help as God leads.  The glove box holds close at hand a couple of Braum's gift cards (for either groceries or a hot meal).

This project has definitely given me some ideas of how we might celebrate Kristen's birthday next year.  Perhaps more importantly, it has sparked some wonderful conversations with my two older daughters, both about reaching out to others and about their baby sister.

Grace blessed me so much last week by sharing (completely unprompted) her memories of the last time she saw Kristen.  She smiled as she talked of taking pictures of her little sister as Kristen slept.  She spoke of waving goodbye to us as she and Emily drove away with their grandparents the day before we left for Kristen's surgery.

It seems this "Happy Day Project" resulted in some happiness I didn't expect.  I am ever so grateful for it.

The Happy Day Project


I came across "The Happy Day Project" today and wanted to share it here.

Several months ago, as Emily and I sipped on frozen strawberry lemonades at McDonalds, we talked about ways we could remember Kristen's birthday.  We had just "celebrated" her 2nd heavenly birthday with a family day trip.  Keeping it simple and within our immediate family was what seemed right this year, but Emily and I both felt like we wanted to do something different next year.

We didn't come up with anything specific, but we knew that we wanted it to involve more than just our immediate family.  We knew that we wanted to reach out to help someone else.  Participating in something like "The Happy Day Project" and inviting our friends and family to join us is certainly a worthy candidate!

Whether we do this (or something like it) next year for Kristen's birthday or not, I invite you to join us this week in "The Happy Day Project."  I can think of no better way to usher in the upcoming holiday season.

Now I see


I've experienced such a "light bulb moment!"  

In response to a question I posed to a friend (from the Anchored by Hope online Bible study I joined last fall) regarding what to do about grief-strained relationships, she related to me a situation of her own lost friendship.  Her friend had been by her side, very literally, through the loss of her daughter.  Because of that, so much of her daughter was tied into that friendship.  Consequently, when the friendship ended, she felt that she had lost a piece of her daughter's memory.

For the last couple of months, I've been thinking (and re-thinking) about the hurt I experienced when I felt that two of my closest friends had forgotten my awful week of anniversaries in August.  My feelings about the situation have run the gamut, from sorrow to anger and just about everything in between.  I won't go into further detail about the situation, but suffice it to say that one side of it has gotten increasingly more complicated.

I've wondered if I was being unreasonable in feeling hurt that these individuals did nothing to acknowledge that week in August.  Anything would have been gratefully accepted...something as simple as a short e-mail, a text message, a facebook comment.  But there was only silence, a silence that spoke volumes to me.  

I've bounced back and forth from thinking that I must be a complete heel for having such expectations to feeling very justified in my disappointment.  I've been mad...at others and at myself.  I've held my tongue when I really wanted to lash out.  I've had stomach aches over the repercussions of it all, lost sleep and shed tears of frustration.  It was only after my Bible study friend put words to the anguish in my heart that I realized WHY this whole situation was so deeply troubling.

In different ways, both of these friends were very much tied to Kristen...through my pregnancy, Kristen's birth, her surgery, her death and the aftermath I faced as my world seemed to crumble around me.  These people are a part of her story, and their silence felt like part of that story had been ripped away.  As I was remembering the loss of my daughter, I seemed to be losing (two different) parts of my connection to her.

I fully believe God brought these friends into my life years ago.  Is He now guiding the paths that once moved in tandem to places that are no longer meant to be together?  Or is He simply using the situation as it's come to be to show me what I need to work on in my own life?  I honestly don't have an answer right now.  But I'm still listening, still seeking.

The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed,
   a stronghold in times of trouble.
Those who know your name trust in you,
   for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.
-Psalm 9:9-10



There are changes we just expect.  They come around again and again, signalling to us new growth, a new season.

Changes you don't anticipate, however, can certainly throw you a curve ball.  Three years ago (nearly to the day), my life began to fill with changes I never expected...like finding out I was expecting baby #3.  That news was completely unexpected, but such a beautiful, beautiful blessing.  It set in motion many changes around our house...preparing our hearts to be a family of five...remodeling to make the best use of the space in our home.  The anticipation, excitement and joy in the conversations with our older daughters was absolutely magical.

Unfortunately, unexpected changes aren't always happy ones.

Hearing the news from my doctor that there was something wrong with my unborn child's right lung was one of those changes. Visits to out-of-town specialists...weekly sonograms to measure the mass on her lung...conflicting reports about those measurements...such a roller coaster ride of a pregnancy.

Believing that the mass was gone after her birth, only to find that it wasn't, was not what we had expected or hoped for.  Being thrust into a world of scheduling CT scans and surgeries was a change for which I was not prepared.

When I handed my 3-month old daughter in her tiny Looney Tunes hospital gown off to a nurse in the hallway that Friday, I had no idea that it would be the last time I would experience Kristen's beautiful eyes looking back at me.  That change was unexpected.  Unwanted.  Un-everything.

Even today, the changes continue.  Kristen's room has changed.  The look of much of the house has changed (we've been doing some much-needed painting).  Even the side of the bed I sleep on has changed.  I knew that our schedule and routines around here would change with the addition of a baby to our family.  I knew that a 4-month old was going to change the way we home schooled.  Sadly, the changes to our school schedule were not even close to what I had envisioned.  Instead of working out how to teach my older girls while caring for an infant, I found myself working out how to teach while grieving not only the loss of my daughter, but of my mother as well.  Thankfully, a dear friend very graciously opened her homeschool to my girls for 2 months.  It kept us from having to school through the following summer and allowed me some time alone to begin to process the many unexpected changes that I faced.

My world has not stopped since my daughter died.  It certainly headed in a different direction than I anticipated, but it hasn't stopped.  Changes.  They're all around.  Some are happy; others are heart-breaking.   Thankfully, I have an unchangeable God.  He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.  Even when I don't understand the changes in my life, I know He is constant.

Most of the time, that's a comfort.  In all honesty, however, there are times that knowing that just doesn't cut it for me.  They don't happen all the time, but they are there...the occasional moments that are just utterly and overwhelmingly sad.  More head and heart stuff.  The knowing and the feeling just don't always mesh.  Even so, He's still there, extending to me the grace to grow through the changes that continue to come.  Thank you, unchangeable Father.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. -James 1:17

Missing God's will


As I was going through some things on my desk in our classroom recently, preparing for a new school year, I found something I had written several months ago. I had neglected to put a date on it, but it was on a scrap of paper folded within a church bulletin dated January 23, 2011.

It begins, "We will always miss God's will if we look from human eyes."  Those  words came from Pastor Kevin's sermon that morning and certainly bear repeating.  

We will always miss God's will if we look from human eyes.

I'll include the rest just as it was written:

God often chooses unlikely people to help us through difficult situations.  In the same way, He often does NOT use people we think He will.

Some of the people I expected to be there for support after Kristen's death were quite absent.  Oh, they were at her funeral, and some of them called a time or two in the days that followed, but they were not a part of my healing.  Or maybe they were, just not in the way I expected.

Days that were especially hard for me --Christmas, Kristen's birthday, Mother's Day, the 1st anniversary of her surgery and of her death-- I heard nothing.  In addition to feeling so sad, so hurt, I also felt forgotten.  Selfish?  Maybe, but absolutely real.

Sadly, I allowed those hurt feelings to become a hard, dark knot in my already aching heart.  Only in these last few weeks have I begun to loose that knot.  I've had to do a lot of forgiving, time and time again.  Only now, do I really feel like I've let those feelings go.

How timely that God would bring these words back to me now.  After having gone through the hurt from family members months ago, I am now dealing with similar issues from friends.  Not just any friends, but some that I considered among my closest of friends.

As I recently muddled my way through the 2nd anniversaries, I faced silence from some that I never expected.  Days later, I let them know that I genuinely missed their friendship on such difficult days.  In all fairness, the relationships have been a bit strained over the last several months, but I just wasn't willing to give up on them completely.  One responded with a willingness to listen.  The other, I'm not so sure about.  There's a definite price to friendship with a grieving mother if you've not walked that road yourself.  Not everyone is willing to invest.

I've no doubt been looking at the situation with human eyes.  And in doing so, perhaps I've been missing what God is trying to show me.  It's so hard NOT to see this with human eyes, to feel this in the flesh.  There are just times when I'm more sensitive, more emotional.  August is one of those times.

It's most certainly true that people I fully expected to "be there" just aren't.  It's equally true, however, that people I didn't have an extremely close relationship with (or in some cases, much of a relationship at all) before Kristen died have been courageous enough to press into my life in a big way.  Have they done big things?  One in particular, yes, but most have not.  The impact they have made in my life is big because they took a small amount of time on significant days to simply let me know they are thinking of me.  Maybe it was a card, or a short e-mail, or a facebook wall post, even just a silent hug.  I am so very grateful for those who have reached out to me (and continue to do so).

Grief is a very lonely journey.  It's as unique as each individual and can often leave a person feeling very isolated and alone.  And though loved ones are likely not setting out to hurt us, they do let us down, sometimes in ways that seem enormous.

I suppose it's fair to say that my focus has narrowed over the last number of weeks.  In the midst of my humanness and painful anniversaries, I've neglected to keep my focus on the only One who will never, ever let me down.  My heavenly Father.  God has not failed me.  He has not abandoned me nor forsaken me.

Perhaps the good He is bringing out of these most recent hurts is a reminder that He is all I need.  It's a reminder that, in all honesty, still stings.

I do want to know God's will.  I want to rejoice in seeing it accomplished.  I don't want to miss it because I can't get past my human sight.  I just feel very torn.  It's almost like I have to choose between the right-here-in-front-of-my-face support of fallable people or the sometimes-it's-so-hard-to-feel-that-He's-there support of an almighty God.  Wow.  Just writing that out gives me a different perspective.  It's a heart vs. head thing, I guess.

I remember writing very early on in my grief that I felt like there was a huge canyon between what I knew in my head and what I felt in my heart.  That distance has narrowed at times, then widened again as I've journeyed through my grief.  I guess it's just the way it is...the way it will be.  The key to navigating this road in a productive way is keeping your eye on the Father.  I'm so thankful that He picks me up when I stumble along the path, even if the reminders, like scraped elbows and knees, sting like crazy.



Dear August,

You are a month that is so very bittersweet for me.  It was on your 22nd day that I became a mom 13 years ago.  Having gone into labor at 35 weeks, I was so very scared.  But my firstborn, a beautiful daughter, arrived perfectly healthy, and we became a family of three.  August, we shared some great times.

Two years ago, you brought me devastating news, August.  Twice.  After having heard so many heartbreaking words from the doctors.  "She coded during surgery."  "She has no brain activity."  We said goodbye to our littlest girl.  Three months and ten days just doesn't equate to the lifetime I envisioned for her.

Then 5 days later, as we tried our best to celebrate our firstborn's birthday in the midst of such sorrow, I received news of my mom's death the day before.  Really, August?  You nearly crushed me that year.

Last year, you brought us Max.  He's the black and white fluff ball of a dog that you brought to us as we reached the first anniversary of Kristen's death.  The girls adore him, and honestly, he's been good for all of us.  He's brought some joy back into our lives, smiles to our faces.  Despite the occasional accidents on the floor, the trips to the groomer every 6 weeks, the mess he makes when he eats (because he takes a mouthful of food and walks a foot away from his bowl to eat it, leaving crumbs everywhere), and the wet beard he uses to mop the kitchen floor after he takes a drink, he's been very good for each one of us.

When I've been missing Kristen so much and the tears start to fall, he's there.  Even though there are times I look at him and think that if she were here, he wouldn't be.  And I'm glad (that he is), but I'm not (that she isn't).  And I don't want to even go there.  He lays on my lap and seems to sense all that's on my heart.

August, you now bring to a close our first year with Max and our second year without Kristen.  I guess that's just what you hold for me.  Happy and sad.  Joy and pain.  You bring the "stuff" that builds character...and leads to hope.
...but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  --Romans 5:3-4

Just one frog


I've been working on cleaning out Kristen's room.  It's been a difficult process, one that I've had to work through in small doses.  Tiny clothes and blankets and stuffed animals have all been packed into plastic tubs.  Special mementos have been stored for now.  So many tears have been shed.

I removed the last of the wallpaper border tonight.  The cute little frogs and turtles no longer dance their way around the room.

I picked out the crib set before we knew Kristen was a girl.  There was just something sweet and calming about those frogs and turtles.  There wasn't much girly about them, but they just seemed right.  The set went perfectly with the light blue ceiling and yellow gingham wall treatment I had done for Emily's "Tweety" room years before.  (One of the few hand-me-downs that Kristen got from either of her sisters was her room!)

I sat countless times in the rocking chair in Kristen's room before she was born, soaking in the soft hues of blue, yellow and green, praying that she would be okay.  I had no idea that 2 years later I would be scraping from the walls the border that a dear friend helped me put up.

Her room is now my office/sewing room/craft room.  I can actually leave the door open, and I don't fall apart every time I enter.  My computer desk now sits near where "Peppermint" the rocking horse used to sit.  I still have painting to do and more organizing of all the things that have found their way into this room.  The room color is going to be a very, very light shade of green.  It's called "Lil' Sprout."  I was drawn to the color because it gave me the same feeling that the crib set did.  When I turned the paint sample over and read the name, I knew it was the one.  (One of my nicknames for Kristen was "Lil' Stuff.")

There's a section of the border tucked into my memory box, but just one frog remains as it was:

Some days, he makes me smile.  Other days, he triggers an ache in my soul.  Even so, just one frog stays.

I miss you, Lil' Stuff. ♥

Right Where I Am:
One Year, Ten Months


A while back, I came across a project at Still Life with Circles that I thought was worthy of some serious thought.  It's basically a look at where you are right now in your grief.

Wow.  To try to nail down where I am in my grief seemed just too hard at first.  Grief is such an ever-changing process, full of things that jump up out of nowhere and knock you down again.  But as I thought it through, I realized the beauty of such a project.  Taking a snapshot of where I am now (and even in the months and years ahead) will no doubt highlight some things that might otherwise be overlooked as one day slides into the next.

Right now, I am feeling the weight of all that makes no sense falling hard on my shoulders again.  For the second time in just over two weeks, I've watched a friend bury her child.  The first is a friend I've known for decades.  Her third daughter shares Kristen's exact birthday.  The second is a friend I met not long after Kristen died.  My heart breaks for both of these women.  I wish I didn't know the ache and the longing, the sadness and the tears, the brokenness that accompanies the death of a child.  And I most certainly wish my friends didn't know, either.

And yet, here I am, now facing opportunities to live out God's Word in such a real way and so very close to home.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 
-2 Corinthians 1:3-4 

In all honesty, part of me wants to run away screaming.  It's just too much.  These situations bring back a flood of my own memories and emotions.  Even so, I feel stronger.  I don't feel like the wind and waves of these storms bend me to the breaking point like they once did.  I've been able to share with these mothers on a level that I've not been able to with even the closest of my friends.  That in itself breaks my heart a little more.

Just this week, I led my first GriefShare session.  God, in His mercy, led me through it because I certainly didn't feel up to the task, especially given the fact that this particular session was one that dealt with the death of a child.  It felt a little strange to be in the leader role rather than the participant role, but it somehow seemed "right."

I still get teary-eyed when I talk about Kristen.  I just miss her so very much.  No matter how many years and months pass, that will never change.  In the same way, the God who gave her to me, the God who has caught every tear, He will never change.  He is good, all the time.  All the time, He is good.

Waves from a
different storm


Earlier this week, I attended the funeral service of a friend's infant son.  There are many things that are just not right with this world, but burying a child definitely tops my list.  I grieve with this family, even as I still grieve for my own daughter.

Like many aspects of life, grief has an ebb and flow to it.  In its early stages, it can feel like a massive storm with waves crashing all around.  It's hard to catch your breath before the next wave rolls over you.  My own storm has calmed, but now I'm feeling the ripples of another's.  It's not my storm, yet its effects reach deep into my own soul, bringing back a flood of memories and emotions.

The difference?  I feel stronger now. 

I remember a custodian at Children's Mercy sharing some words of comfort with us as we prepared to say goodbye to Kristen.  I don't remember exactly what he said, but I do recall his kind words portraying so beautifully the very heart of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

It seems that I have an opportunity to live out the last part of that passage in a very real way, a way that goes far beyond the words of any sympathy card.  As I pray for comfort for my friend and her family, I also pray that God will minister to their shattered hearts.  If I am an ongoing part of that process, I can think of no better way to honor both my daughter, Kristen, and the gracious Lord who gave her to me.

The pain of losing a child is one like I have never known in my life.  Even so, it's been an avenue for knowing God in a way that I might never have known Him otherwise.  Understandably, I know that is not what is on my friend's mind right now, but I pray that, in time, she will come to find that to be true in her own life as well.

Kristen's 2nd Heavenly Birthday


I've wanted to get all the details of Kristen's birthday written down, but have had a hard time getting it done.  The days leading up to May 7th were tough ones.  Then to be followed so closely by Mother's Day...it left me emotionally tuckered out.

I'll start with something I ordered earlier this year...a Baby be Blessed doll.  Ever since I found out about this ministry, I've wanted to get a doll for Kristen.  Each doll is handmade and includes a scripture on its tummy.  They have lots of colors and styles to choose from and are truly a joy to work with.  Sweet Laura from BbB contacted me after I submitted my order to let me know that since it was a memory doll, they could include a photo or handprints/footprints along with the scripture patch.  This preview was made into two patches to actually fit on the doll:

I love that Kristen's name and the scripture form a heart shape.  The doll is just precious, too.

My oldest daughter is an amazing combination of technical and creative.  She folded a garden full of tiny purple origami tulips and arranged them in the shape of a 2 for Kristen's birthday.  After adding some fun effects to the photo, she included it in a collage print to frame as a surprise for the rest of the family.

Then she created a Basic program on her computer that, pixel by pixel, spelled out "Happy Birthday Kristen" and played the birthday song. 

I was very touched to have a friend of Grace's bring me this pretty yellow rose in honor of Kristen's birthday.

Her mom sent a yummy cheesecake to work for us to enjoy during our Wednesday afternoon staff meeting.  It was such a thoughtful thing to do!  Though the flower and the cheesecake are both gone, they remain a beautiful reminder of how loved we are and that Kristen is not forgotten.

I was finally able to get the pink geraniums planted around Kristen's tree a couple of days before her birthday.  In all honesty, geraniums have never been my favorite flower, but I wanted to have something pink around her tree that would look pretty on her birthday and continue to bloom throughout the summer.  Geraniums fit the bill!  The ones I planted last year were a solid pink.  We went with a "designer" variety this year that are two-toned.

We woke Saturday morning to find a birthday balloon, some yellow and pink potted daisies and a beautiful stained glass purple solar light around Kristen's tree.  I made a pink and white balloon wreath for the tree and hung it at 6:25 a.m. - the exact time of her birth.  Someone brought a lovely bouquet by sometime while we were gone.  The little tree looked beautiful!

The four of us released some bright pink balloons a little later.  It was a beautiful morning, with just enough breeze to take the balloons up and away with a few notes.

We headed to Tanganyika Wildlife Park in Goddard, KS for a family day.  We enjoyed seeing and interacting with a variety of animals, from penguins and armadillos to kangaroos and kookaburras.  Grace fed a giraffe and a ring-tailed lemur, and Emily rode a camel.  We drove out by Lake Afton and watched some remote control airplanes for a while.  They even have a landing strip for them.  We capped off the day with a delicious meal at Carriage Crossing in Yoder with my dad and step-mom.

This little guy loved the craisins Grace fed him.
He even grabbed her hand!

Camels are good at bumpy rides...

This giraffe loved lettuce leaves.

Since we were gone most of the day (and had splurged on dessert at Carriage Crossing), we decided to hold the birthday treats over to Sunday.  Will's parents joined us at church, then came back to the house for lunch.  Will's younger sister and her family joined us, too, and we enjoyed BBQ brisket, baked potatoes, sweet green bean bundles and Mel's yummy pea salad, all followed by birthday cake and bread pudding.

We are a family of chocoholics.  The requests for birthday cakes are always for chocolate cake.  For whatever reason, though, whenever I think of Kristen's cake, it's always white cake.  I frosted the two round layers with bright pink buttercream frosting, trimmed them in white and added a big monogram-type "K" to the center.  It was a new cake recipe (definitely one I will make again), and it turned out beautifully.  And I didn't get one single picture of it!

Bread pudding is also a "must-do" tradition for Kristen's birthday.  I'll save that story for another post, but suffice it to say that bread pudding makes me smile.

By the time Sunday evening arrived, I was feeling an odd sense of relief at having made it through another of Kristen's birthdays and another Mother's Day, too.  The days before had been such hard ones.  The highs were not especially high, but the lows were extremely low.  Extremes and tears at nearly every turn.  And God continues to be faithful.  He provided comfort, yet again, through loved ones who remembered us, and remembered Kristen.  The support of my dear Respite Retreat friends was (and is) such a blessing.  The sweet thoughts and prayers from friends that I've never even met in person are like a warm embrace.  Thank you, one and all.

Dear Sweet Kristen,

I don't know what birthdays in heaven are like.  Every day is beautiful and perfect, so maybe birthdays are just like any other day there.  Here, however, your birthday is a tough one for me.  I know it's a celebration of your birth, and that is absolutely a joyous occasion.  But that joyous day has a line attached to the saddest day of my life.  It's like a beautiful balloon with an ugly weight tied to it.  Though I can't separate them, I can set my eyes on that balloon.  You taught so many of us to look up, Little One.  I'm doing my best to follow your lead. 

All my love, Mommy