Sunday, January 9, 2011

Gratitude Project · Week 1

Our 2011 Gratitude Project

Joe and I have a friend named Amy G. and she is an AMAZING photographer and does one of the coolest things with her pal Cari.  Every year, they select a topic and then have a little project around that topic and photography.  Joe and I always enjoy looking to see their latest posts.  You can check out their blog and archive of posts here.

So, in thinking of things that we wanted to work on together this year, photography and creativity was on both of our lists and we thought it would be fun to launch our own photography project.  Our topic for this year is ‘gratitude’ and we will do a project post on Sundays.  So everyone understands what we are doing, here are the project rules we borrowed directly from Cari and Amy's blog...

The rules are as follows:
1. Photo must be taken by Joe and by Sarah.
2. Photo must be taken between the Sunday of the previous week and the Sunday of the post.
3. There must be no discussion beforehand of which photo we are posting.
4. Photo must be taken of something that causes us to have a moment of gratitude.

Copyright restrictions:
All images are property of the artists. Please do not use without permission. If you'd like to use our images on the web or obtain a print of a diptych, please contact us at for pricing and release information.

We hope you enjoy!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

He Gives and Takes Away

Last year, the holidays were not about miracles, beauty or joy for me.  They were about fear, loss, feeling isolated and forgotten by God.  It was so difficult for me to see anything that was being given, only what was being taken away.  Over the past year, I have been asking God to reveal to me where he was during our struggles because I know that he never left our sides and never stopped working on our behalf...even if we could not see him.  In my heart I know he was right beside us through it all, but the reality was that at times, it felt like he was far away and had forgotten us too. So I have been praying for clarity and that he would reveal to me some of the ways he worked.

As I have gone back over the past year, my heart has been broken again as God has chosen to reveal to me so many of the ways he WAS providing and loving and caring for our little family and our hearts along this journey...and not just in 2010, but in the months leading up to Luke's birth as well.  It has been overwhelming and incredibly humbling to realize and recognize with such clarity the ways he loved us exactly as he knew we would need to be loved.  He is amazing like that and I hate to admit that it sometimes takes me over a year to recognize it and put it into words.

It has taken me a very long, painful year (plus a few extra months!) to reach this place, but I'm here and with this being a brand new year and all, I want to drive this stake in the ground and claim this territory of our journey for gratitude for ALL he has done- not just the amazing miracles of Luke's life and our beautiful moments with him on his birthday and the heartache that followed, but for all of the extra gifts he blessed us with along the way as well.  Gifts that I could not fully appreciate in the moment, but am and remain completely indebted for now.  He was truly giving where he was also taking away. I just could not see how he was working until recently. So, as I continue to learn to navigate through my sorrow, I'm also going to be working hard to develop the ability to celebrate the joys and the beauty that I'm (re)discovering are and have been along this path the whole time.

So over the next several days and weeks, I'm going to do a small series of posts on our gifts and experiences of beauty and hope from our path, not just because they are so special and are truly a part of our story, but because we always want to remember His faithfulness and His goodness.  By retelling these parts of our story too, we can return here when days become difficult again (which we know they will eventually) and remember how He sustained us and cared for us during our darkest hours.  We will be able to draw strength, faith and courage from our stories of the past as we face new adventures and challenges in our futures.

He is faithful.  He does provide.  He does love.  He does care.  He understands better than we do what we need in order to serve him best.  Sometimes I forget these things and that is why it is so important for me to remember.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Luke's Birthday Letters

Luke, Dad here, as we remember you birthday a flood of emotions come back.  A year ago, we were so excited to finally get to see you, and be face to face.  Then you surprised us with a little songbird cry.  We didn’t think you’d be able to even take a breath, let alone let your voice be heard. 

365 days later, and each day in between I look at you face to face, and remember your little cry.  You are such a fighter, and I’m proud of the way you came into this world, strong.  For having such little hands you left a big fingerprint on our world. 

We miss having you here with us, wearing a little hat with a number 1 on it.  You’d probably have no idea all the hubbub is for you.  Simply having your favorite people around you would bring a smile to your face.  We look ahead to that day we can celebrate with you in person face to face, again.

As we celebrate you here, we know you are safe in Heaven.  Your mom and I were wondering what your party must be like today.  It brings us comfort that your great grandmas are watching over you, for sure.  We sent you some balloons for your party.  Keep an eye out for them they are arriving via air mail.  We love you Luke.

With all my love,
Your Dad


Our Dearest Birthday Boy,

Happy, happy birthday to you!  I cannot believe you came into this world one year ago today it just does not seem possible.  Your dad and I are so, so proud of you and we love being your parents.  Today we celebrated your life with our thoughts, our tears, our love, balloons, birthday cake and a fun dinner out.  We so wish that you could have been with us to help eat your cake, but your dad and I did a fine job helping you with it!  As I write this, your baby sister is kicking away in my belly, I like to think that she is telling you she loves you and that she was celebrating her big brother today in her own way.  I'm sad you won't get to meet her this side of heaven, but we will make sure she knows who her big brother is and that she knows your story.

I watched your videos today little Luke and cherished seeing you move and hearing your little voice.  My heart broke my heart into hundreds of pieces. How I long to hear it again and snuggle you close and whisper to you happy birthday in person. Today when I was buying your balloons, an elderly gentleman passed me by as I was wrangling them in the store.  He was stooped over and had a hat on his head.  He stopped pushing his cart, looked at me and looked at your balloons and said simply, "Party time."  His face smiled a tiny bit as he moved on his way.  At first I wanted to burst into tears because I so desperately WISHED I was buying these for your actual birthday party and that you were at home with dad waiting for me to return...but I knew what this man didn't know- that we were sending these balloons up to heaven to you in just a matter of minutes....I don't think my heart could have felt less like 'party time.' 

However, as I drove away and fought back the tears, I was struck by a thought.  What if this little old man was giving me a message he could not possibly have realized.  What if at this very time last year, as they prepared for your arrival, the angels were excitedly saying, "IT'S PARTY TIME!" all in honor of your arrival in heaven? The more I thought about that, the more my tears slowed and a smile began to emerge.  I love the thought that there was a party held in your honor when you arrived there last year...I simply wish I could have been there too.

However until that day, your dad and I will continue to celebrate your presence in our lives here on earth.  You are thought of and loved every single day.  I miss you more than my words can possibly express.  You are our favorite little guy and always will be.  I cannot wait to see you and hold you close again my sweet boy.  I even secretly hope my heart remembers to whisper, "Party time!" when its time for me to head your way.

Happy Birthday Luke!  I love you so much and I'm a better person because you were with us.  I love being your mom.  Always and forever.

Happy Birthday,
Love Mom

Celebrating Luke's Birthday

 This was the scene Sunday inside the lightbox at church on Luke's bench.  As we've mentioned before, every week some special helpers hide little toys around the lightbox for the little eyes who come in on Sunday morning to find. Obviously, this was our favorite arrangement EVER! (Thank you sweet secret helpers for remembering our little guy's birthday in his special place!)

A closer look reveals a gathering of the toys around a special little birthday cake for sweet Luke.  Happy birthday buddy!

Today was a day filled with heavy hearts and mixed, grief, sadness, loss, name the emotion and I probably experienced it today.  My first tears fell shortly after 4am when I was lying awake just thinking about our little guy and wishing I could simply get up and go into the next room to whisper "Happy Birthday Luke!" in his sweet sleepy ears.

I took today off from work, but Joe was not as fortunate.  I spent the morning being quiet and honestly very sad just looking at all of our amazing photographs from Luke's birthday and watching our little videos we have of him crying and wiggling his sweet face and hands.  Our incredible OB, Dr. Nichols called to check in on me and to share her own memories of Luke and what an amazing baby he was.  It meant so much to me to even think that she remembered his birthday and cared enough to personally call.  As the morning went on, many other friends loved ones sent thoughtful emails, text messages and even some photos of beautiful cirrus clouds from all around.  It was very touching to feel so much love from so many on such a difficult day for us and to know that we were not the only ones remembering our little guy today.

I spent some time writing and then waited for Joe to come home for lunch so we could begin some of Luke's Birthday Celebration.  Over the past few weeks, we have been thinking of how we wanted to honor and celebrate Luke's birthday and were also trying to think of fun traditions we could start that could be long continued into the future so our future children could help us celebrate his life as well.  It was kind of a difficult thing to plan having never done or experienced anything like this special occasion before, but we came up with a beautiful idea.

We decided to release balloons up into the sky toward heaven to let Luke know we were celebrating and missing him down here.  We got a bunch of brightly colored ones as well as one special pink one from his baby sister and set out to turn them loose into the beautiful blue sky.

 Together we released them along with so much love off into the great blue sky.  It was a chilly day, but one filled with lots of sunshine, so we were able to watch them float toward heaven for a fairly long time until they slowly faded from our sight.

We then returned home where Joe completely surprised me with the most perfect birthday gift to me from Luke.

A little back story, one of my favorite artists is a woman named Kelly Rae Roberts.  She used to be a social worker who a few years ago began following her dreams to become an artist.  Her work is inspirational, uplifting, encouraging and hopeful.  She has a beautiful blog and continues to produce amazing, soul-filled pieces that speak straight to my (and so many other's) heart.  Joe knows I love her work and thanks to a little helpful nudge from Luke, surprised me with one of her pieces today!  I will let its beauty speak for itself.  Its title is called "Everything Shapes Us"- and it could not be more apropos.  I cannot wait to find the perfect spot for it and cannot thank my two favorite guys enough for such a special and perfect gift!  Here are some glimpses...

Joe then had to go back to work, and I decided to treat myself to a pedicure at a nearby salon.  I took my book and enjoyed being pampered for a little while by people who had no idea what was going on in my world today.  It is not something I do very often for myself, but it was a special treat for a special day.

Tonight, Joe and I shared a meal at Cafe Europa.  It is the place where we went with Luke the day before his birthday.  We love that spot and it always feels cozy and special no matter what time of year it may, the food is amazing!  We then headed over to the Intercontinental Hotel to admire the famous Plaza Lights before they turn off for the season in a few weeks.  This hotel has many special memories for Joe and I.  We have not only shared many cozy afternoons in their Oak Room, but it is also where Joe hosted a surprise engagement party for us and where we spent part of our honeymoon as well! We love to go there especially in the winter because they have wonderful views and a roaring fireplace with comfy couches!  It was fun to not only talk about Luke while we were there, but to also celebrate how God grew our marriage closer through all of the difficulties of the past year.  In spite of everything, we feel incredibly fortunate.

We then came home and celebrated Luke's birthday with his official birthday cake! Our dear friend, Jessica made him this special cloud birthday cake! Isn't it the sweetest? The flavor was Luke's special signature, Chunky Monkey.  It was absolutely delicious.  Thank you, Jessica.  It was completely perfect.

 As we finally reached the end of this day, we are both exhausted.  We feel richer and so thankful that we got to spend the day remembering, celebrating, missing, loving and cherishing our sweet little guy.  We are so, so thankful that we got chosen to be his parents. We love you Luke and loved celebrating your life today.  Happy Birthday!

Today we Remember

Today we are focused on remembering all we were given when we welcomed our little guy into the world and then released him into heaven's arms.  It feels impossible that a year has passed with this, his first birthday, being one of the biggest mile markers on our journey yet.  One year ago exactly, we were reveling in listening to Luke's cries and watching him wiggle as our hearts were broken wide open never to be whole again.  But what we did not and could not have known then, was that as God was allowing our hearts to be broken, he also immediately began mending them into vessels with an increased capacity to love, appreciate, feel and cherish.  We continue to be so grateful to God for blessing us with our beloved Luke and we celebrate and remember him with all of the warmth, depth of grief, fragile joy and gratitude our mended hearts can muster.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Meg's Prayer of Remembrance

 One of the greatest gifts Luke brought into our lives was a friendship with a minister at Village Presbyterian Church named Meg Peery McLaughlin.  She helped us with Luke's Honoration Service back in January and has been a warm and welcome source of encouragement and support as we have navigated our journey of healing.  At the Service of Remembrance I wrote about earlier, she prayed this prayer over the group of people who were there to honor and remember their loved ones.  Both Joe and I thought it was one of the best parts of the entire service and when I asked her if I could have a copy of it not only for ourselves, but to also post it on our blog for others who may benefit, she was very generous and shared it willingly hoping and praying that it would reach anyone who needed it.  She is a warrior pray-er for the Lord and I hope her words bring you comfort if you are needing some this season.   


Remembrance Service 2010

Lord God, look at our little lights shining in the darkness—
    our memories glowing,
    our love still burning.

Lord God, look at us—
    here on these pews,
    here because during this season of jingle bells and holly jolly,
    we needed a space where we could be real
    we yearned for a place where we could bring our collection of feelings—not all cheerful.

And Lord God, don’t just look—for we can’t stand any more distance—
don’t just observe us, God, but come close tonight—
Come close to us, your children.
Come down to these pews.
Come down next to our ache—the ache that we thought would have dulled by now.
Sit down with our pain—that pierces in places we didn’t know existed.
Meet our grief that is born of our love.
Become acquainted with our yearning for one more touch, one more conversation,
one more apology, one more grin . . . for we’d trade almost anything for one more of those.
And get used to the new us—the one with the new role, the one with the new normal, the one     who has been changed forever by this loss.

For it was at Christmas that you came down.
At Christmas when you experienced what it is to be human—
    We can tell you now what it really is to be human,
human in a way we never imagined before.
It was at Christmas when you made yourself vulnerable and real.

Do the same this Christmas, Lord. 
Do the same this Christmas.

Be who you are.
Be the one who is Emmanuel, the one who comes close.
Surround our grief with your very self
so we do not feel so alone.

Be who you are.
Be the Forgiving One, who bears away the sin of the world.
Release us from anger that still clings,
free us from old injuries that still weigh us down,
help us see those we have loved not as all of a sudden perfect,
but as the flawed and forgiven people that they were.

Be who you are, O God.
Be the Gift-Giver, the Provider, the one from whom all blessings flow.
Give us courage to make it one day at a time.
Give us patience with those who say hurtful inept things when they intend to comfort.
Give us wisdom to glean from our grief lessons about who we are, about who you are.
Give us friends along the way who will listen and who will let us lean on them,
and guide us into leaning on you.
And give us faith to trust that those we love, and those you love are in your eternal care,
that you remember them.

Be who you are, O God.
Be the Receiver of Praise, the one to whom we can direct our worship,
the One loyalty we can wrap our lives around.
For we do, O God, in the middle of our disjointedness, in the midst of this chaos of feelings,
    we do need to give you our thanksgiving.
We are grateful to you for the gift of life
and the gift of sharing life with these for whom we grieve. 
From your heart into our lives was born
a person like no other
a perspective of the world like no other.
And whether we enjoyed them for only minutes or for decades,
    we recognize their presence as a gift.

Be who you are.
Be the Hope of the World.
Be the Promised One.
Be the Answer to our Advent Prayers.
Open the door to the day we long for:
    when death will be no more
    when mourning and crying and pain will be no more.
Crack open the day when all your children will be together at table once again
    each with their own place
    and there won’t be a dim light—as from these small candles,
    but you, O God, will be the light—and there will be no darkness.

Until that day,
come close,
be who you are,
and look on these little lights shining in the darkness

they reflect your light
they echo your hope
and they remind us that darkness will never have the last word.

We make this prayer in the holy name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Looking Forward and Looking Back

 It's difficult to describe how I have been feeling this holiday season. Life seems to have somehow returned to its frenetic pace, but my heart has not necessarily been behind everything that has needed to be done or invested in the events scheduled on our calendar.  I enjoyed and celebrated the holiday season by challenging myself to make some new/untested Thanksgiving dishes for my family to enjoy, by purchasing and decorating a beautiful tree, wrapping presents in the prettiest way I knew how, singing along with the carols of old, and by joining in many different holiday festivities alongside many friends.  I even realized that i was smiling, laughing, enjoying and celebrating.  On the outside, I may have even looked happy.  However, inside there was a giant Luke-shaped hole that even in the smallest of moments, if I even let my thoughts wander to my sweet little guy for even an instant, my eyes would overflow onto my cheeks and my heart would break all over again with sorrow.  That has not changed.

Looking back, it is easy for me to see that I'm certainly in a different place than I was last Christmas.  This time last year, I could hardly breathe through my fear and my anguish.  I could not envision my life past Luke's birthday let alone making it all the way to the next holiday season, yet, here I am.  No question, by God's grace and provision, I'm here today.

For me, there were a lot of tears mixed in with the revelry this season...especially when I have been alone.  We wanted to be intentional about honoring his presence in our family as this was our first Christmas without him with us.  We placed Luke's special ornaments on our tree, hung a little stocking we got for him with his name on it, reading the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke on Christmas eve, and put out some new special angels among my decorations.  I still cried my eyes out during Silent Night and any song that talked about the heavenly angels singing their praises and singing over us here on earth...I could only think of my own sweet baby angel up there, hoping that someone was holding him close and teaching him the words as all of the angels were singing together on that side of heaven as we sang toward heaven from down here. Separated.

 However, one of the most special things we did during this holiday season was something that is sure to become a long-standing family tradition in the years to come.  We were invited by my parents to honor and remember Luke at a special Service of Remembrance that their church has every year.  It is especially timed to take place in early December, right in the heart of the holiday rush and just when the joyfulness of the season is kicking into high gear.  It is a service especially for those who are missing someone they love very much and it was truly beautiful.  We requested that Luke's name be added to the program and attended the service with anxious hearts, not certain of what the evening would hold.

 At first I wasn't sure if my heart could handle opening up the part of my heart that is still raw with grief.  The part where I have put my heartache, loss, sadness, and where the presence of his absence is very, very real.  But I'm so deeply glad that I chose bravery instead of fear, because I felt very close to our sweet little guy that night in that beautiful church.  Although the service was filled with tears and prayers and beauty, and some pain, it was comforting to be among others who were genuinely experiencing the same sense of loss during this time of year when everything is supposed to be joyful, merry and bright.  The people there that night got it; they understood and did not need the reminder that not everyone is feeling happy during this "most wonderful time of the year" and it was so, so comforting.  We all took turns lighting candles in honor of our loved ones memory- remembering the light their lives added to this world while they were here.  Gone, but absolutely not forgotten.  We will always remember you sweet Luke, your absence is full of your presence.  Our hearts ache but only because we loved you so much.

Today is New Year's Day.  For me, it does not feel like the official start of a new year- yet.  I know the calendar changed for 99.99% of the population, but for me (and possibly Joe too) my new year will officially begin on January 5...the day after Luke's birthday.  That will feel like a fresh start to me.  One year, the most difficult one, the year of firsts for everything missed will be behind us.   We will have survived it.  Unlike last year, I can see myself on that day (the 5th) holding an entire new year's worth of possibilities and dreams in my heart, which is proof positive of God's goodness and year to the day after what I was sure would be my death, I can now see myself ready to stand again on the cusp of life.

Emerging from this long, impossible winter of a year, I'm looking forward with hopeful expectation to what is ahead. Words, thoughts and sentiments that one year ago, I never thought I would ever again express with any form of sincerity.  Yet here I am.  I'm looking forward; but never, ever forgetting what is behind me or the path I have taken to reach this point in my journey. I'm thankful to be here, and I'm thankful for what is ahead....whatever it may be.