Thursday, February 25, 2010

Getting Back Up on the Horse(s)

     photo credit: Ree Drummond aka The Pioneer Woman

by Sarah
For some reason, I have always enjoyed the phrase and the metaphor, "Get back up on the horse..." as a metaphor for responding to life's many let downs, disappointments or defeats. It's simple imagry that evokes strength, courage, determination, and hope for a better outcome next time. Rest assured that whenever there is any kind of "getting back on a horse," there are sure to be nervous hearts beating, dust flying and shakey legs involved. Climbing back up onto that "horse" flies in the face of fear, while giving defeat and disappointment a swift kick in the booty....but the reality of actually doing this does not mean that it's not scary.

Learning Luke's diagnosis back in August, threw me off of several "horses" in my life that I'd been riding up until that day.  Horses with beautiful names like "Hope," "Happiness," "Normal Mom," and "Dreams Coming True" to name but a few.  Upon learning that our time with Luke would not be how we dreamed, I was forced to saddle up and try and learn to ride and wrangle some new unknown, scarier steeds.  "Horses" with names like, "Sadness,"  "Lightening Strike," "Shattered Dreams," "Nightmare," "Brokenhearted," " Sweet Angel Baby" and of course, "Grief."  Truth be told, I didn't want to ride ANY of them and it has been extremely difficult surviving the past several months of life spent in their company.  While of course, some parts of this trail have been amazingly beautiful, most of it has been truly rugged and difficult terrain. Needless to say, these "horses" have not been easily broken and I remain mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted at my efforts to simply stay in the saddle.  But more difficult than the exhaustion, has been the bruising and breaking of my confidence and hopes as I have merely struggled to survive without getting trampled.

      Photo by: Ree Drummond aka The Pioneer Woman

This trail has been difficult, often brutal and long.  However, I am somehow now outside of a new corral of rested "horses."  This corral is bursting with wild beauties whose specific purpose I know is to carry me forward down this path towards the horizon...towards my hope, towards my healing and towards happiness again.  While I do not have a map or know how we will get there, I have to trust that these "horses" who are familiar with this territory do.  I must simply saddle them and ride....and have faith that assuming I am able to stay in the saddle, that they will do the rest.  By choosing to "ride" them, I am choosing to turn towards this new horizon in my life- one I never imagined I'd be facing - and actually take steps forward into the unknown.

I'm working on becoming grateful for these new "rides" of mine for I know they will help me to arrive at my destination faster than I could ever manage to get there on my own.  These horses have names like "Work," "Exercise," "Healthy Eating," "Socializing," "Blue Mondays," "Strength," "Facing My Fears," "Bravery," "Life Begins Anew" and the always elusive "horse" named "Joy."  All of these "horses" are difficult for me to ride for any prolonged length of time right now but "Joy" is perhaps the most difficult as she bucks me off within seconds.   I'm not a cowgirl, and I'm certain that I will continue to be thrown off these new "horses" in the hours, days, weeks and months ahead, but I ride now in honor of my son's memory and because of him, each time I hit the ground, I will be determined to get back up on the "horse," no matter how diffiicult that may be, and keep riding toward that horizon...watching and waiting for the sunrise.

                   Photo by: Ree Drummond aka The Pioneer Woman

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Luke's Honoration Service

  Saturday, January 9, 2010 was a day we hoped would never arrive.  It was the day we honored our son with what we called an 'Honoration' Service.  We wanted to honor his life, celebrate and thank God for what we had been given in our sweet little guy.  It was an impossible day and my memories of it seem to come in bursts and are not always the clearest.  I do not know how we survived it, but we did and looking back on that day, we feel incredibly peaceful about it all.

In the weeks and months leading up to his service, we had spent a lot of time thinking about and planning what we wanted it to be.  It was heartbreaking to think about preparing a service for our unborn baby who all the while was kicking and wiggling within-very much alive.  There were so many times where I had to remind myself that this was really happening, that this was not just a bad dream. This was real.  I knew we would only have one chance to give Luke the best send off possible, and we wanted to get it right and to have no regrets about anything so Joe and I spent lots of time thinking about what passages of scripture we wanted to have read.  We spent a lot of time discussing what we did NOT want it to be like or look like and we spent lots of time talking about music and lyrics and words and emotions.  There were so many emotions.

We decided early on to have the service at beautiful Village Presbyterian Church located in Prairie Village, Kansas.  Although this is not the church we attend, there were many reasons why we chose it.  I grew up attending that church and have many fond memories there and my parents are still active members of the Village congregation.  I knew it is a truly beautiful venue and that they had a smaller chapel there in addition to the giant sanctuary.  We wanted to have Luke's service in the chapel.  It felt more intimate to us.  It could seat 100 and we were sure that would be more than enough room.  We also knew that there was a Friendship Hall just down the hallway where we could have a simple reception following the service.  We wanted a little party for him instead of a meal- a party with punch, tea, coffee and his favorite cookies and special cupcakes made by some of our favorite people.

Probably the most important reason we wanted to have Luke's Honoration at Village Church was a deeply personal one for both Joe and I.  Our beloved church, Heartland moved to their new location in early November 2009, right in the middle of our time with Luke.  For us, it was a beautiful and important place for our family that we got to share with Luke.  When he was with us there in that new building, he was very much alive.  He was kicking, he was moving and he was growing.  We could not bear to have some of our first memories in Heartland's new home be some of the saddest in our lives.  We did not want to have memories of his passing there, we wanted to have our memories of our time with him there to be times when he was brimming with life.  We were also secretly harboring hopes of possibly doing a special memorial for Luke somewhere at Heartland's new home- something that would honor his life and bring smiles to our faces seeing it there over the years to come.  So that is how we came to make the decision to have his Honoration service at Village Church instead of Heartland Community Church.

We asked our dear friend and Heartland's pastor, Dan Deeble, to speak at Luke's Honoration.  We requested that our family friend, Meg McLaughlin, who is on staff at Village Church to also speak and  help lead the service.  We also asked our friend, the incredibly talented Jon Shirley, to preform some of his amazing original songs as well as an additional one.

In December, Joe and I sat down for an intense meeting with Dan and Meg to plan out the details for Luke's Honoration.  Joe and I had done so much prep work, that I was hoping to just sit down with them, hand over to them our ideas and be finished.  I had in my mind that this would be a rather brief meeting and was all about just making it through and making sure we were all on the same page.  I honestly did not want to go deep in this meeting... to that place of really dwelling on what Luke's Honoration Day would mean and represent- what it was truly all about.  I did not think I had it in me to survive facing that yet.  I felt like we had cognitively planned it all out but my heart just could not go there because by going there, my language for that place is spoken only in tears.  But God again knew better and and gave us Dan and Meg to help guide us during this difficult yet essential element of planning for Luke's arrival and passing.  We sat that evening in Meg's office and talked.  I tried my best to just hand over the paper of our ideas and be finished, but Meg and Dan had deep intention and purpose for this meeting.

They asked us questions that probed our hearts and spirits.  They listened with an intensity that truly heard the pain, the anguish and the ripping love of our hearts.  They truly ministered to our broken spirits that dark December evening in that tucked away corner of the church.  Yes, there were so many tears, so many sobs, so much silence, but there were also conversations about hope and even a few smiles along the way.  We talked about Luke's life.  We spoke about his purpose and impact here on this planet and all of the lives he was touching... this meeting I had feared, ended up being absolutely and unexpectedly life-giving.  We left Village Church two hours later that night, exiting into a snowstorm, and where before I had felt only anxiety and fear, I (we) now both felt a peace beyond our wildest imaginations.  I knew we had truly gutted it out and done the work.  I absolutely knew we had planned Luke's Honoration service down to the tiniest details and that this part of our work was finished.  All we had to do was show up on his Honoration day and we could rest assured that our hopes and plans for what we wanted that day to be like had been heard and that our little family along with our hopes for this special day for Luke, were in extremely capable hands.  We received a gift of peace that night which enabled us to turn our focus from preparing for his service onto preparing to meet and love our little guy on his birthday.

The Honoration service started at 3:30pm.  I remember that day was FREEZING.  Literally, the high was around four degrees.  Bitter.  Biting yet absolutely beautiful.  It had been snowing and cloudy and extremely cold for the days following Luke's birthday.  However, the day of his Honoration, the sun came out and lit up the whole city for the first time in days.  The sky was blue overhead and with the sunshine against the fresh snow, the day was radiantly beautiful.  

Many people asked us in advance if Luke's service was going to be a private one for just family, but we knew from the beginning that we wanted it to be open to the public.  We felt that we had been surrounded by so many people who had helped us to reach this impossible day- people who had loved us and loved Luke, that we wanted to welcome them into this part of our journey as well.  Planning a service like this one, it is very difficult to know how many people will show up.  We had initially intended for the service to be in the smaller, more intimate chapel at Village, but we made the last minute decision to move Luke's service into the giant sanctuary as we did not want people to arrive and not have a place to sit, or worse, to have to move the service right before starting and to have that worry on our shoulders.  We are extremely glad we made that choice as best we can tell we had close to 350-400 people come to honor our sweet son.  It was beyond humbling and completely overwhelming to have that much love and support on such a difficult day.  It was a powerful testament to how his little life had touched so many others.

The sanctuary looked very pretty that day.  We wanted to keep it simple with some photos we had of us with Luke blown up onto canvas on display.  Heartland's staff gifted us with the most spectacular flower arrangements in honor of Luke.  We were deeply touched and so thankful as they were completely perfect for what we had envisioned.  As for the content of the service, it was exactly what we had planned, asked for and hoped that it would be and so much more.  It was extremely powerful to have dear friends speaking, singing, reading and praying over us.  I know it was a difficult day for them as well and we remain so thankful for the way they shared their hearts and gifts with us that day.

Dan spoke about hope and impact and Jesus' hands.  We had several scripture readings, and three very specific songs, as well as the letter we wrote to Luke.  We asked Jon Shirley to sing his beautiful song, Psalm 130 as well as his (one of my all-time favorites) powerful Hallelujah.  (If you have never heard Jon sing, his talent will knock your socks off.  He is an amazing singer/songwriter and you can check out his music on iTunes).  We also asked him to preform the JJ Heller song, His Hands.  The lyrics of all three of those songs had been touchstones for me throughout our season with Luke and we felt them perfect for his service.  All in all, the service lasted close to an hour with some family and close friends praying privately with us following the service.

We then proceeded down the hall to the Friendship Hall where everyone was waiting for us enjoying the cupcakes (Chunky Monkey is Luke's signature cupcake!), cookies and punch.  We somehow stayed on our feet long enough to greet almost everyone there.  It took us hours to do so, but people were so kind and gave us so many hugs and well wishes that we absolutely would not have missed the chance to hug them back and say thank you.  We had several pictures from Luke's birthday blown up and framed and placed around the room as well as some of his little hand prints and footprints out for people to look at and see.  He was such a beautiful little guy, and we both felt his Honoration perfectly honored his presence in this world.

After the final guest departed, with the help of some very dear friends, we loaded up our cars and headed to my parents house for a final meal with family and then completely exhausted, we returned to our quiet little house and collapsed into bed and cried a few more tears together.  We knew we had lived this day to its fullest for Luke and our hearts were- and remain to this day, peaceful and fully thanks to that incredible and very special day.  We remain indebted with gratitude for the host of people who helped make it so special for us by praying, helping, planning, setting up, cooking, singing, taking photos for us, passing out programs, making us DVDs of the service, signing the guest book, contributing for the beautiful flowers, bringing us more kleenex, helping us load and unload cars, traveling, hugging and just loving on us and our sweet little guy.  We thank you.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Walking in Grandpa’s Boots

by Joe
I discovered something fun that I share with my grandpa, we are the same shoe size.  A couple years ago grandma asked if I wanted an old pair of his work boots.  My dear sweet grandma, just asked as if this was a normal question.  A lesson she learned from life to not let anything go to waste.  So, curiously I tried them on, and they fit!  A shock, as I felt the comfort of a good fitting broken-in boot.  I laced them the rest of the way, and put on the other.  Strolled around the family room, and sat back down to soak in the moment.

They fit.  Wow, am I grown up?  As a kid, I loved adventures with grandpa.  He is so cool.  He restored a 1915 model T to mint condition.  Before that made two single man airplanes, in his basement.  Is truly a master woodcarver, and painter.  This is just the short list.  He is a true renaissance man.

Sitting there with his boots on, this question continued to ask for reflection.  “Am I all grown up?”  “yes...”, was the whisper I heard in my heart.  Yet, I’ve got a long life to live, and many miles to walk before I catch up to grandpa’s wisdom.

Grandpa’s philosophies are short and simple.  Flowery extra words are like having parsley next to a steak.  I enjoy the simplicity of his wisdom.

When I called him last autumn to tell him the heartbreaking news about Luke, he had a little philosophy for me.  He told me about Kenneth Doyle, my uncle.  Up until that moment, I only had the faintest of memory about a story I heard as a kid.  A story never talked about, and name never said.  In all honesty I had forgotten this story.  Grandpa and grandma’s first son was born stillborn a week before his due date.  The question of, why, has never been answered.  Of course, in those days they didn’t have fancy cameras looking into the womb.  So, this was a crushing shock for them. 

Months filled with sorrow, sadness, longing and hurt.  The doctor’s advice in those days was to store stories like these in a dusty vault and never talk about them.  This explains why even my mom didn’t know her older brother’s name.  All focus was turned to listening as grandpa told me this story.  Trying to imagine what lay ahead for Sarah and I, I asked questions, sought wisdom, and longed for a picture of the journey ahead from my grandpa who had walked this difficult path before me.  The 1st and foremost question, I had was, “How did you care for grandma?”  Within their story I heard 3 truths of wisdom.
  1. Take it one day at a time
  2. Pray for her
  3. Take good care of her
I was encouraged by this wisdom, short and simple.  Plus, I was already doing each of them, daily.  An affirmation that we will make it through this hard hard season, and keep walking, together.  When I talked with grandpa today, I told him that I still think about these 3 wisdoms.

His shoes do fit.  With each step I learn more from the man who wore them.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Luke's Birthday- Chapter 3

by Joe and Sarah

To read Chapter 1 of Luke's birthday click here
To read Chapter 2 of Luke's birthday click here

 - Picking up from where we left off....-

Upon being wheeled back into our room, there was a rush and flurry of activity all around me, only I don't remember much of what exactly was happening. I know I had to have been being re-settled and re-hooked up to the monitors and such, but what I know for certain was happening was that I finally got to hold Luke in my arms.  I was face to face with my beautiful baby boy! I was finally holding him!  Words simply cannot express the flood of love and emotion that not only washed over me, but completely swept me away from the rest of the world in that instant.  I was in awe of his physical-ness and in getting to see the little face of my constant companion for the previous ten months.  He was finally here with me and I could see his adorable face, hold his tiny hands, see his little cute toes, feel his soft skin, hear his whimpers, study his features...truly cherish him in person.

My eyes overflow with tears as I write this.  My cheeks are wet and there is a pile of tissues beside me here in our tiny reading room.  Remembering how beautiful Luke was pierces my heart with an ache that is indescribable with words...tears are my only descriptors for my heart's memories of those moments with him. Our little fighter- he worked so hard to survive all of those months inside my belly with no fluid around him.  We remain so proud of his strength and spirit.  He introduced himself to us with his sweet cries and his tender squeaks.  He showed us how having his little hand up next to his face was how he felt most comfortable, and he revealed his brave courage by how his little body worked so hard to live and be with us for those few precious hours.  Our sweet little guy gave us everything he had to give and we were absolutely honored to be able to hold him close to our hearts and in our arms during those amazing hours of his life.  We endlessly kissed him, snuggled him, whispered in his ears, loved him, took tons of photographs with him, studied him, tried as hard as we could to memorize his every inch, expression and tiniest mannerisms.  We were desperate to fit a lifetime of memories and love into an unknown yet finite amount of time.  He was absolutely amazing and every single minute with him was a gift we will forever treasure.

Once we returned to our room, the exact time line of events becomes a tad blurry for me.  I recall that after all of the medical adjusting was completed, Joe and I requested that Harold pray over our brand new family that God had created- and to pray especially for Luke. Following those tender moments with Harold in prayer, Harold went to go get our parents in the waiting area so that we could have a few brief moments together alone, just the three of us- our new little family God had made.  We were a brand new momma, daddy with a sweet, adorable new baby. We were completely awestruck by what God had blessed us with in Luke and were already completely in love with our little guy.

I remember that Luke continued crying throughout this time, only his big cries were settling into sweet little squawks...almost bird-like with each breath he took.  We were so proud and thrilled to be able to introduce our little guy to all of his grandparents who were all obviously instantly smitten with him as well.  It was beyond our wildest hopes that Luke would still be alive for this moment...a complete miracle that he was able to be held by his grandparents while still breathing- let alone crying! The miracle of Luke's life for all of these important moments was astounding...another absolute gift from above!

After Luke got to spend a few moments with his grandparents, Harold invited our parents to step out of the room so that Todd, our wonderful photographer, could come in and get to work.  As we told you, Todd was amazing as he set about capturing image upon image of our sweet, beautiful baby Luke.  He photographed our family together and in his images, he captured so much more than our faces.  He captured all of our flooding emotions- our tears, peacefulness, sadness, smiles, tenderness, adoration, love and joy. We absolutely treasure the photos he took and so appreciate his gentleness with our overflowing hearts that day.  We were overwhelmed by the complete miracle that Luke was still alive in every picture we took with him.  That was something we again, had not even imagined would be possible- yet God gifted us with hundreds of miracles evidenced in each photo taken with our precious son.  We cherish that knowledge when we look at those photographs every day.

After our photo shoot with Luke was over, Todd left to begin working on the images for us so they would be available for our viewing as soon as possible.  Joe and I had some more family alone time together with Luke. We spent these tender moments speaking into his life, telling Luke so many things we wanted to make sure he knew- how proud we were of him and how happy we were to be his parents, how much we loved him and would miss him when he was gone, how strong he was to fight so hard to be with us, how much we cherished him, how amazing we thought he was, how we would always remember him and that we would never, ever forget him.  We told him how much we loved getting to hear his voice and thanked him for working so hard to get to be with us for so long. We held his hands and kissed him all over as we took turns holding him close.  We stroked his soft, sweet head and admired his beautiful face and tried to figure out which one of us he looked like.  We wept and prayed over him and for him and thanked God with all of our hearts for this sweet, beautiful, peaceful window of time we were allowed to experience with our son together.  We also held each other as we held Luke close and cried together too.  I think all three of our hearts were broken whole that day.  We were all profoundly different and changed for the better from who we had been just hours earlier.

After our private family time, we again asked Harold bring our parents back into the room for some more family time.  As the grandparents snuggled, held, cried over and adored their first grand baby, more photos were snapped by Joe and I using our phone and camera.  We wanted to preserve every possible image, memory and moment with Luke that we could.

After awhile, Harold again invited our parents to perhaps go enjoy some lunch while we did what we called "arts and crafts" with Luke.  Heather our sweet nurse also helped us during this time.  In preparing for Luke's arrival and subsequent passing, we had brainstormed everything we wanted to do in order to remember him as much as possible.  We made a plaster mold of his tiny foot, we got his little handprints and footprints in our bibles and on the official birth documents, we made little impressions of his hands and feet in some special clay that dries and you can then frame next to a photo of the baby, we gave Luke a little hair cut, we weighed and measured was a fun few it was an activity we got to do with Luke and we loved every second of it.

Heather was a pro at teaching us how to help Luke be able to do his best during this for example, little babies like to keep their hands in fists and not flat out for hand-print making...and she knew some tricks to help make that a little bit easier for him.  She also mixed the plaster and helped teach us how to get the best footprints and impressions etc.  She was a real blessing to us that entire day, and you could tell she genuinely cared about our sweet Luke the way she talked with him during this process and encouraged us as well.  She made sure we had every little memento all of our brains could think of to obtain.  She was patient and she was so tender; involved but not in an in-charge type of way.  She was lovely.

And Harold, well, he was just everything we needed him to be and then some.  He rolled out the clay, measured it out, got things arranged and did all of the legwork for the arts and crafts so that Joe and I could be 100% focused our our sweet Luke and could continue to be present with him for these miracle minutes that were his life.  Harold's sense of humor kept us all in smiles as we just enjoyed those minutes all together- a real team effort with amazing mementos for fruit.  I recall having Luke in my arms, Joe by my side, the sunlight streaming in through the windows, Heather mixing plaster to my left and Harold at the foot of the bed rolling out clay and smiling.  We were all laughing and talking to Luke and just celebrating his life- it is just one of my favorite memories of that day. I'm so thankful.

After the arts and crafts were finished and the ink was washed off of Luke's tiny hands (we left the ink on his little foot), we settled back into the rhythm of having time alone together just the three of us followed by more time with the grandparents...just alternating back and forth between alone time and grandparent time.  There were two occasions when I was alone with Luke by myself.  I had told Joe before Luke was born that I wanted to have a couple of minutes alone with my just snuggle him and whisper all the love I could into his sweet little ears and heart.  I had one of those times sometime in the early afternoon, and then one again later before we said our final goodbye.

I do not have a reference of time for when this happened during the day, but I know that a few hours after Luke was born, Heather came in and wanted to listen to Luke's heartbeat to determine if he was still with us.  By this time, Luke's crying and tiny squawks had quieted him into a restful sleep.  She placed the little stethoscope against his chest and as we were prepared to hear the news our hearts had been dreading, she let us know that his heart was still beating, but that it was faint.  He was still alive, but he was fading.  He appeared completely peaceful asleep in our arms and we just held him even closer and continued loving on him as much as we could and telling him over and over how much we loved him.

Sometime during the afternoon, our sweet baby became an angel.  We do not know when, but we know that God knows exactly when Luke's strong little heart beat its last.  Joe and I are both so thankful that we do not know when Luke passed into heaven's arms.  Thankful that there was no struggle, no suffering at all, no final strain on his tiny body....just peace.  Peace across his sweet face, peace in his body, peace in our hearts and his sweet sleeping...sleeping in Heavenly peace.  He simply left us and joined Jesus as we held him close and were loving on him and whispering every ounce of our love and adoration into his sweet heart and life.  He knew only love every single second of his life and when I'm having a difficult day, that thought brings me comfort.  It was not scary at all.  It was beautiful.  He was beautiful and knowing we got to share in every minute of his precious life is a truly beautiful gift.

After awhile, we both knew that he had passed as his skin became cool to our lips and touch.  But we continued to hold his body close and snuggle him.  Heather and another nurse came in to officially pronounce his passing, but they did so while giving us dignity in our loss.  They simply took Luke over to a little nursery bed that was in our room (that was the first time Luke was out of our arms the entire day aside from grandparents).  They listened for his heartbeat and did not bother telling us what we already knew.  They just put a little diaper on him and wrapped him back up in his blanket and gave him back to us.  We were not quite ready to let him go.  There was more prayer, more tears, more time alone, more time with the grandparents, and as the sun began to set, we knew it would soon be time to say our goodbyes.  We asked Harold to bring our parents in one set at a time so they could have some time with Luke without having to share him as they said their goodbyes.

Then it was our turn.  We transferred Luke back into the hospital blanket and hospital hat.  We asked Harold to teach us how to swaddle Luke and he gave us a crash course.  Joe swaddled Luke for his final time and then Harold gave us a few moments alone with our cherished son.  This was the moment that we had been dreading since August...the tippy top of the steep mountain we began climbing upon learning our sweet Luke would not be coming home with us.  This was it.  I remember all three of us snuggling together on my bed and Joe and I praying over Luke...surrendering him to God completely.  We thanked God for the blessing of that day and the beauty and miracles He had given us.  We were so grateful and our hearts were overflowing with emotion.  It was impossible to believe that this beautiful, perfect baby "asleep" in our arms would not be waking up...that he was now alive in heaven.  We somehow said our goodbyes to our sweet baby and did some more crying until Harold returned.  We then somehow managed to place Luke into Harold's loving arms and watched Harold carry him away to the cremation people who were waiting.  We had asked Harold to do that for us as we could not imagine handing our beloved son over to a stranger.  We simply could not do that, so our dear friend Harold loved and cared for us in that most tender of ways.  After he left our room, we simply held each other close and cried our eyes out.

Our hearts were completely broken, but miraculously broken into a whole new life.

There are aspects of that day like I said, for which I have no time frame or reference point- aspects that may seem minor, but we want to remember them all the same. So we decided to make a list so we don't forget anything-
  • I remember wiping a real tear away from Luke's little eye
  • Sometime during the day, Harold brought Joe breakfast, coffee, and lunch so he wasn't starving
  • Harold is also a massage therapist and so when grandparents were holding and loving Luke, Harold gave Joe some great backrubs as Joe's back was all crinked from bending and stooping over my bed all day in order to be as close to Luke as possible.
  • The soft yellow blanket we wrapped Luke in on his birthday was made with love by Judy Waugh, a dear family friend.
  • The sweet little blue hat that kept Luke's head warm all day was knit by Katie Yeldell another dear friend of ours.
  • Sometime in the day, the hospital chaplain tried to come into the room, but per our requests outlined in our birth plan, Harold asked her to leave (I had no idea this even happened)
  • There were some NICU nurses who tried to come down and take Luke upstairs to try and preform some lifesaving measures on him since he had survived so long.  But again, per our birth plan, Harold, Dr. Nichols and our nurse, Heather, kept them at bay and they never even entered our room. (we only found out about this the next day)
  • Throughout the day, Heather kept coming in and taking care of me medically
  • Sometime in the morning I regained sensation in my legs again (!)
  • Around lunchtime we learned of the group of people praying for our little family down in the chapel- what a blessing they were to us and how powerfully their prayers and the prayers of so many helped us all that day!
  • Harold shared with us later that when he carried Luke away from us, he took a few moments himself to love the little guy and speak into his life.
  • Heather our sweet nurse encouraged another nurse to leave us alone so that we could be with Luke and not have constant monitoring that is standardly present following the birth of a baby. We greatly appreciated Heather's sensitivity to our family's desire for privacy and for advocating on our behalf.
  • We found out later that after Harold left our room, he ran into our friends Janine (his wife) and Jessica Yeldell, who had been praying in the waiting room down the hallway.  He introduced them to Luke and they were able to love him too that day.  It fills our hearts with total joy knowing that even after Luke left our room, he was surrounded by so much love.
  • We asked Harold to return to our room after he had given Luke to the cremation people as we did not want our final memory of our incredibly strong friend to be of him walking away with our son.  We wanted to have a restorative encounter with him.  Those moments we shared with him upon his return were healing, strengthening and powerful.  We prayed together and enjoyed re-telling Luke's amazing birthday story together.
  • A short time later, Janine, Jessica and Katie came into our room from where they had been praying in the waiting room and we were able to thank them and share with them some of the miracles and beauty of meeting Luke and celebrating his birthday.
  • Harold left and returned with some dinner for Joe so he could have a meal.
  • Joe and I were both completely exhausted but also did not want Luke's birthday to be over...we felt so much peace at the end of that day.  Peace with how things had gone with Luke, peace with knowing where he was and peace with how we had handled such an impossibly difficult day.  Our hearts were at peace.
  • Sometime that evening, Todd emailed us a link to all of the photos he had taken of our family that day.  We spent the rest of the evening looking at them again and again and marveling at the miracle of our day.
  • We tried to say up until the very end of Luke's birthday, but we could not make it.  Sleep took over and finally we rested.

    The High Dive

    It's not the speed that matters.  It's the getting there.

    by Sarah

    When you break your leg, you get to have a cast on so people know that something is broken and that you may not be feeling 100% like your usual self.  With grief, there is no outward visible sign you wear that alerts others of your need for them to be extra gentle with your fragile heart.  I desperately wish there was something special I could put on outwardly to let those I encounter know that my healed appearance belies the actuality of my completely broken heart within.

    Today I feel like I'm standing on the end of a high dive.  My legs are shaking.  My goggles are on, but I have no life jacket to ease the necessity of swimming immediately upon entering the water.  I'm on the high dive and the only way down is to jump.  Today is my last day of my maternity leave. I go back to work tomorrow and I don't know how I got this day, I mean. To the end of this season.  I clearly recall how back in the fall I actually believed I would never reach this day.  Never.  It felt impossible to me.  I have been away from my job for a little more than six weeks and I remember thinking before leaving work to have Luke, that taking these six weeks off would be plenty of time to make some progress towards healing.  In a way, I was right, but I had no idea how difficult this healing process would be for me.  How much I would miss my sweet boy.

    The honest truth is that if it was up to me to decide, I'm not ready to go back. I'm not ready to say goodbye to this season of my story.  These days have been protected for me.  They have been my unapologetic days full of hours of missing my little guy.  Days where if I felt like crying, I could just bawl my eyes out for as long as was needed.  Days where I could stare off into space for long stretches of time not really thinking about anything productive.  Days where I could stay in my fuzzy pajama pants and slippers because they were simply comfortable.  Days where I could talk with God out loud and days where I could talk and just "be" with Luke.  And now those days are over.  Not that I will no longer be allowed or able to do these things or grieve or mourn any longer, because of course I will.  But not in such an intentional, protected way.  I feel like this chapter of my story with my sweet Luke is coming to an end and I'm just not feeling ready to say goodbye to it yet.  Professionally, according to my work calendar, my leave is over.  On paper, it's time to get back to "normal" and return to my job and routine...I just have to convince my heart that it is time.

    Monday I had my six week check up with Dr. Nichols and received the 'all clear' to return to my "normal life" activities.  We talked about hope for future pregnancies, and hope that our next return to see her would be because of some wonderful news for our family.  She offered encouragement, support, information, sympathy, guidance and most of all hope.  Her nurse Jeanie was fantastic as well offering her heart and trademark genuine TLC.  I just cannot help but love them both to pieces and remain so very thankful that they are our medical providers and I absolutely do look forward to sharing some happier times with them in the future.  But when it came time to leave the room I was being seen in, I became unexpectedly overwhelmed with emotion.  Yes, my heart was filled with gratitude and hope for our future as a family, but a part of my heart was also breaking as this was my last official "Luke-related" doctor's appointment.  That chapter's ending snuck up on me before I was prepared for it.  While she obviously understands that my emotional state will continue to be tenuous and fragile, Dr. Nichols essentially told me that day that I was physically able and capable of moving forward...that I no longer required any special, protected time to heal- physically.  Emotionally, I'm a completely different story.  I'm nowhere near receiving the "all-clear" and wonder if I ever will be.  So with no end in sight emotionally, but being ready physically, how do you know when it's time to get back into the game?  Is it time?  I guess I just have to convince my heart...

    It may sound strange that I would be struggling with leaving this impossible and difficult season behind me.  I'm honestly surprised by my reluctance myself.  However, this is my only way of life I've known since having Luke.  His memory is very much alive for me here in these days.  His reality, his presence, his life and our joy at being his parents dominate my life in this season and it truly comforts me.  I feel okay here.  I feel safe.  All of the days I have faced without Luke have looked this way.  He is my beloved son and I hate the thought of moving forward in my life without him...of things looking different.  How do I keep Luke "alive" if I'm having to focus on other things and engage with other people and be present elsewhere?  I'm worried that he will fade from the front of my mind.  That somehow by returning to my "normal" life, my memories will gently start to fade as life's obligations arise and demand and pull my focus and attention away from him.  That is one of my greatest fears.  How do I manage this?  I know I cannot remain in this season forever and if I am to ever arrive again in a place where hope, happiness and joy reside, I know I have to leave the reality of where I am today.  I have to figure out how to bring Luke forward with me in a healthy way as I leave this chapter I've been living in and push forward into the next one... I just have to convince my heart that it is time...

    A dear friend asked me yesterday how I'm feeling in getting ready for what is next in my story and I told her that I feel like I'm in that place of having to move forward... of needing extra strength in order to continue pushing toward healing but not really wanting to dig deep for it because I just don't know what being "healed" will look like in reality... if I will like it or just feel guilty or secretly sad.  I know it will be gut-wrenchingly difficult and not easy by any stretch, and part of me simply does not want to do it.  I selfishly just want a break from life's hard lessons... I want things to be easy for awhile.

    But then there is the other part of me who is ready.  That part of me wants to choose to be brave and keep going so she doesn't get stuck in her sadness and be forever unable to feel true joy or hope again.  She wants to dig in and push through the fear of the unknown.  She has that whisper of hope in her heart.  I wish all of me could feel that way and be 100% ready to jump forward into life has for me next... but I'm not there yet.

    Perhaps that is why God establishes these "natural" nudges - (time off ending, medical clearance, heart whispers and the like)... so that eventually we have to return to living and can't get stuck in particular seasons of life-good or bad.  He knows us and knows how much risking being brave can cost us, so by nudging us forward to the end of our diving boards, he brings us to the point where we get to choose whether our story will be one of courage and adventure, or one of self-induced safety and possible regret or disappointment with life.  We do eventually all get to choose our adventure and our role in our story... and a big "eventually" for me is tomorrow.  I have to decide how I will choose to proceed... or, I should say,  I get to decide.

    So I have walked to the end of this diving board and am trying to psych myself up to be brave and jump off into my next chapter and begin swimming again.  I'm not looking forward to it, but I also know it's a must-jump situation for me because honestly, I could feel exactly same way I do now clear into July if I don't push myself a little bit!  For me, there will never be an easy day to jump into the water, so it may as well be tomorrow.  I'm extremely grateful to know there is a Life Guard who is watching over me and who promises to continue teaching me how to swim and survive in these crazy waters of life.  I know I'm not alone, but even knowing He's there and will continue to sustain me, I'm still afraid of what is ahead and I know it will not be an easy path.  But I'm going to put on my invisible courage wings and jump anyways.  I'm choosing to trust the Lover of my heart because He's ever so gently telling me, "It's time."

    Photo ® | courtesy of, thank you Al 

    Sunday, February 7, 2010

    Happy Anniversary

    Dear Joe,
    One year ago today we stood before our friends and family and promised to love one another for better or for worse. We were giddy with joy and eager for the adventure ahead.  We had no idea what was coming:  job loss, death of a grandmother, stress, a parent's health scare, pregnancy, a fatal diagnosis for our unborn son, a full-term pregnancy, the birth, arrival and passing of our son, planning Luke's Honoration service and all the days that have followed.  We also had no idea that despite all of these storms, our love would deepen and grow more beautiful with each passing day.

    God picked you for me and you have been the best gift I have ever received.  You have given me your arms, your smile, your sense of humor, your touch, your hope, your strength, your presence, your shoulder, your ears, your friendship and most of all, your heart.  We have created a beautiful life together over this past year.  You are a wonderful husband, an excellent father and a great man.  We have climbed a giant mountain together over this past year, and today on our anniversary, I just want the world to know that I count myself as the luckiest woman on earth and I would marry you all over again in a heartbeat!  I LOVE being your wife.  You continue to help me become a better person and I'm very excited to see what year number two holds for us and for the adventure that is ahead. 

    I love you Joe...more every day.  Happy first anniversary!  We made it!  xoxo

    Thursday, February 4, 2010

    One Month

    My Dear Sweet Luke,
        Today you would be one month old.  I dream about what we would be doing together during these days.  I imagine what the sounds of your breath would sound like against my neck and how you would look so cute all bundled up for the winter weather outside.  I imagine we would be having a lot of fun getting to know and understand each other by now.  Oh, I miss you.  My body misses you, my spirit misses you and my heart remains completely broken in this loss of you.

    It feels like a long time since I've truly smiled.  Tears stream down my cheeks every day as I struggle to move forward without you and each night my pillow is wet as I'm always thinking of you before finally drifting off to sleep.  I ache to hold you and whisper in your sweet ears how much I love you and wish you were here with us.  While knowing you are in heaven provides comfort for me, I selfishly still want you here with us.

    Your dad and I talk about you all the time and long to see your beautiful face and snuggle you close.  It feels impossible to miss someone I only knew in person for a few hours and in spirit for a few months, but I. miss. you.  I do not feel like I only knew you for a few hours or months...but Luke, you were someone I instantly recognized as someone I've always been waiting to meet...someone I've always loved.  Ours was an instant connection and I'm forever changed for the better because you are my son.  

    Luke, your little, tiny life continues to impact so many people.  Your spirit and story has touched the hearts and lives of so many people and your dad and I weep with joy whenever we hear a story of how you have impacted someone's heart or added meaning to their life's story.  Your life mattered Luke.  When I think of you, I think of how brave you were and how beautiful your strength of heart was to behold.  Your dad and I are SO proud of you.  Not a minute passes when you are not thought of and missed. Our precious memories of our minutes together are treasures your father and I cling to during these difficult days without you.   

    There is so much I want to tell you sweet boy, but right now, I only seem to be able to speak in tears.  I long to hold your sweet hand and tell you again and again how much you are loved and so I pray and trust that Jesus will do that for me until we can be together again.

    One month we have been month closer to seeing you again.

    I'm missing you my sweet, baby Luke...every day...but especially today.
    All my love to you,