I am a 30 something year old mom of five precious boys and two sweet girls. Five of our children are here with us and two are in the arms of Jesus. Our sweet baby girl Hope was diagnosed with Dystrophic Epdermolysis Bullosa and our youngest son came to us through adoption, our youngest daughter through foster care, and I've recently been diagnosed with malignant melanoma the Lord has shown us just how Faithful He is. We will continue to Journey and follow Him where ever He leads. We feel very blessed that God chose us to be the parents of each of our kids, and we look forward to what He has in store for us in foster care!
This afternoon, I sat in the hospital listening to a dad who lost his infant son the day before. With tears streaming down his face, he looked at me and said, " I never knew how hollow words could be until now." The mother of this same sweet baby looked at me with wide eyes and said, "WHY would you CHOOSE to be back here with me and relive this Hell? I don't understand." As a bereavement doula I have had the sacred privilege of standing in the space where birth and death meet. It is an uncomfortable place. As a society, we shy away from the uncomfortable or we over compensate with meaningless words. In the last two days, I have had several people ask me why I CHOOSE to sit there, in that uncomfortable place.
I gave whatever answer came to my mind but as I have processed the last couple of days, I have given it much more thought. Isaac and Asher taught me a lot. They have changed my whole world, and it is true that I want to be able to walk with families and help them as they navigate such difficult circumstances, but truthfully, I think society needs an overhaul on how we view grief and it is my hope to help facilitate that change.
As a society we are very uncomfortable with death. We see someone suffer and we want to fix it. We want to make it better and make them better, and as a result we rush people through their grief. We want to see them happy again so we push them along sometimes kicking and screaming and encourage them to "move on" and "get over it".
In the Jewish culture, when a close relative dies, they practice a tradition called "sitting Shiva". Shiva is a seven day period where the bereaved are expected to do nothing but grieve. People visit and sit with them, not to talk or offer platitudes but to just be, in that grieving place with them. No rushing, no blaming, no moving on no attempts at fixing anything...just sitting with the heavy grief and honoring the memory of the loved one. I believe they got grieving right.
It is hard to enter into someones suffering and just sit there with them. It is uncomfortable and awkward and we screw it up with our hollow words and empty promises. When we are able to move past offering solutions and move toward offering our very selves, we are becoming more Christ-Like. When we draw near to the broken hearted and offer our whole self to enter in and share their suffering, we are acting much like God did through Jesus. My hope is to maybe be an example of God's love for us and love others with that same love, to comfort others with the comfort I've been given through Him. Maybe through me, they can feel the nearness of God. That is my prayer as I walk into every hospital room I enter.
February is generally a tough month for me emotionally. Jacob turned four, my mom would've celebrated a birthday, and it marked two years since my surgery to remove the melanoma and lymph nodes in my arm. To describe it as an emotional roller coaster would be an understatement. Then comes Asher's birthday. I know I've said it before, but February 22, 2008 was one of the most amazing days of my life. Asher's birthday was a sacred kind of day that has changed the course of everything for us. God has used our sweet Asher in more ways than i ever could have dreamed and while my arms still ache to hold him, I see daily the difference he is still making in this world.
This month, has been that same emotional roller coaster as always, but this year we have also dealt with some big house repairs needing to be made, foster care struggles, adoption struggles, hives and a LOT of vomit. In each season of my life I have made some friends who were in that same season, my foster adoptive peeps are the ones I tend to be with most at this stage. The community of the few close friends we have right now makes life so much better...when one of us struggles, we all just jump right in and help the others. Everyone just does what they can do and we call it the "trickle down effect", so one family might help another family so that they can help another.
Sometimes, that means other things trickle down. This month, it was the stomach flu. It was ugly, it was brutal and it didn't discriminate. It ran through three families and back again through each of them. I was texting with one of my BFFs who we'll just call JB, chronicling my day of vomit, flooded basements and letters from prison and ended the list of happenings with Asher's birthday. She commented about how the struggles we're having now seem trivial in comparison with Asher's birthday, and I quickly replied that at least I have peace in Asher's story because it has been life changing and meaningful. It is hard to find meaning when you are cleaning up more bodily fluids than you knew possible.
That evening as I was filling a garbage bag with bedding to be burned because...some things are just not worth saving, my mind went back to that conversation with JB. I went back in to the bedroom to help clean my six year old up from her recent sickness and as I wiped her face, tears ran down my own, I remembered the days after her EB diagnosis, I wondered if I'd get to see her grow up and here she is defying ALL odds. I'd give anything to have Asher here even if it meant wiping puke from his face. February 22, 2008 was a sacred day, I bathed my dying baby and was surrounded in love, and I am so grateful that I get to be Asher's mom, but there is also something sacred in bathing the sweet blessings in this home, there is purpose in cleaning up the puke. In their sickness, they feel the same love Asher felt in his and that is something. I GET to be here and love them when they're sick as well as when they're not, and let's be honest, friends, as they get older, sick time snuggles are pretty precious because snuggles get a little harder to come by as our kids grow up.
Happy 8th birthday, sweet Asher Joseph. I miss you more than words could ever say, and my heart aches each day to get to snuggle you just one more time. God blessed us BIG when he gave us you and you continue to bring perspective and help me find purpose in all things... even puke.
Almost two years ago, I spent my first morning in a cancer center. I remember dreading it, I remember thinking that there couldn't be a scarier place to sit, and now, after having spent my eighth afternoon there, I have to tell you that while I HATE melanoma and what it steals from people, the cancer center is a sacred space. It is a space filled with the bravest most amazing people. People fighting the disease, people researching and devoting their lives to helping people fight the disease, and people making peace with statistics and prognosis, as well as people blowing those statistics and prognoses out of the water.
There is nowhere I can think of where human mortality is any more visible, ok, maybe the morgue but you get what I mean. I turned thirty seven recently, and while that makes me middle aged, I am so grateful for every one of those thirty seven years. I am not wishing I were younger (although I do appreciate when others think I am), I am simply grateful for another day. After a cancer diagnosis a person is forced to face mortality. I was thirty five when I was diagnosed with cancer. Hearing the words "you have cancer" conjures up images of death, let's be real. I was thirty five, I'd already outlived my own mother, and that had been my goal for most of my life. A lofty goal, as it turns out. I mean, as you age you know people die, you know everyone dies, you know one day you will die, but much like losing a child, it seems to be a tragedy you somehow feel immune from. At least I did.
I won't say I don't fight fear, I do. I struggle with depression and anxiety. I want to see my children grow up and to grow old with my husband. I want to be there for all of the things my kids do that my own mother missed with me, I will say that there are lessons to be learned that I may never have really embraced until the word "cancer" was uttered to me. I am a hard headed, strong willed, girl. The Lord knows this. The greatest personal growth in life often comes from the greatest hardships. Cancer has been no exception and I refuse to waste it. Don't get me wrong, I still loathe cancer, but I am not willing to not seek beauty where I am, and I am finding it everywhere.
As it turns out (and maybe it is easy for me to say as I still stand at stage 2) I look forward to my days at the cancer center. While they do include needles, oncologists, surgeons, scans, and this time some vein mishaps, vomit, and loss of consciousness, I mean, we're talking about cancer so those things are kind of to be expected and really are at the mild end of the spectrum. I enjoy meeting other patients, I love hearing their stories of hope, and success and wisdom. I've met some of the most incredible people sitting in the waiting rooms of that cancer center, people I think of and pray for daily though I may never see them again this side of Heaven.
I look forward to visits with my oncologist. He is a funny guy, he is caring and he listens to EVERY SINGLE neurotic concern I have, he laughs with me and he understand that often humor is how I cope. He makes me watch SNL skits to ease tension, he drops an f bomb here and there and tells the best stories. I look forward to a little solitude and scrolling my phone and reading a book and if that cancer center doesn't have the most amazing ice machine...dang I love that thing. It also doesn't hurt that there is a Starbucks within the walls of the hospital.
I had my two year scans and check ups this past friday, though my two year anniversary is next week. All is well with my health and my soul. I pray before each appointment for good news, but also that if the news is not what I hope that I am able to live this story well and to bring glory to God in some small way. Melanoma is a cancer that has no cure, all we can hope for is no evidence of the disease ravaging our bodies. It is often lying dormant only to rear it's ugly head some time down the road and while I praise God in my health right now, I pray that if that is a road I am to walk that I am able to praise Him in that as well. I met a few beautiful souls this visit who are doing this so well, they were such an inspiration to me.
One man reminded me that while cancer is NOT necessarily seen as a gift, that it does bring gifts in kind. He is ten years out from a stage four battle for his life and is just grateful to be here today. He has learned not to worry about tomorrow, but to just be glad he woke up today. He told me that after diagnosis, his wife left him and that he had some pretty low lows but for some reason, the Lord wakes him up for another day and he refuses to waste it.
Facing cancer, facing mortality is a scary thing. It kind of takes your breath away, but if you let it, it can give you new life and new breath and a new appreciation for all things. Cancer might be the thing that kills me. It might also be a bus, I mean it could be a shark, it could even be the radiation from the scans that are intended to save me, the bottom line is that every single one of us is only here for a very short time. We are given a set amount of moments, God has ordained exactly how many and we have no idea what that number is. We are not promised a tomorrow, but if you're reading this, you have been given a today. Love big, live big, give big. Make the most of today, we are ALL facing mortality. Go out and accomplish your mission, let's all make the world a better place in some way before we too disappear.
“Each of us is merely a small instrument; all of us, after accomplishing our mission, will disappear.” ― Mother Teresa
"A sacrifice to be real must cost, must hurt, and must empty ourselves. Give yourself fully to God. He will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in his love than in your weakness." - Mother Teresa
One of the phrases foster parents hear most often is "I couldn't do it, I'd get to attached." This week has been a tough one in our home. The little girl we've loved as our own for the last year and a half has begun transitioning home to her biological family. We have kissed her boo boos, celebrated her firsts and snuggled her each night. She owns a piece of my heart. If you go into foster care guarding your heart, you're doing it wrong, because attachment is kind of the point.
Research shows that children who do not securely attach to a caregiver in the first two years of life struggle to function in normal life as an adult. Children need families. I don't for one minute believe our family is perfect, but we're loving, we're available, and we know God has called us to this. In an ideal world, a child would remain with their biological family forever, but that isn't always possible.
When parents cannot provide a secure, safe and loving environment for their children, foster parents are called to fill in those gaps. We step in, we get attached, we advocate as best we can, we cry tears of joy, sadness, grief, frustration and exhaustion, we love them as though they've grown in our womb, we hope and dream and pray for them and for their biological families and while it may hurt terribly when they leave, we hope and pray that reunification is a safe and healthy option for them. We sign up HOPING to say good bye. Healthy, positive reunification is ALWAYS the goal.
In the next month we will have to let go, I hope our love, tears, snuggles, meetings, prayers, and sleepless nights were enough. I pray that the time we've poured into her will matter in the grand scheme of things, I hope that we have given her the gift of being able to trust others, to know that she is loved, to know that God has never for one moment left her, my heart is already breaking. I am struggling with the idea of walking into her room and not seeing her giant smile light up that bright pink room. My heart sinks as I have already begun packing her things.
This baby has been in our home since June of 2014 and by Christmas her absence is sure to steal the breath from my lungs. The system is broken. I am not sure that the decisions that have been made in this case are the best, but I know that I have done EVERYTHING I can to advocate for this little girl, I have crossed every t and dotted every i. I have loved her with my whole heart and I love her biological parents. I pray for them and for their reunification to be a positive new beginning for their family.
In the end I know that we serve a God who loves this little one more than I ever could, He is sovereign and I find great peace in knowing those facts. While the system is broken, He is not. He is a loving God, and a God of second chances, His grace and mercy have carried us this far and will continue to carry us through the days to come. Tears will fall, and every one of them has been hard earned, she is worth those tears. If I had cowered away from the pain of losing her, I never would have known the joy of loving her, and she is worth it. EVERY child is worth it. So while not everyone is called to foster children, the "I'd get too attached" excuse, doesn't fly with me. Attaching is the point. There is great purpose in that pain, if you think you would get too attached, maybe you should consider fostering, because that is what these kids need.
When experiencing the deep grief of pregnancy or infant loss it is often difficult to think clearly enough to seek out the resources you need. Here are a list of resources I recommend, most are local to the Erie PA area. If you are seeking something specific and cannot find it here, please feel free to email me at email@example.com and I will do all I can to find the resources you need.
Empty Arms of Erie
Meets the second Tuesday of each month at 7:30
Where: Liberty Family Practice Building
3413 Cherry Street
Highmark Caring Place
Support for children and families after the loss of a loved one
Address: Bayview Office Park, Building II
510 Cranberry Street
Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep
Providing the gift of remembrance photography for parents suffering the loss of a baby
Emma's Footprints - Our goal is to provide compassionate guidance, resources and personalized services, including referrals and financial assistance as families begin this difficult journey. Grady's Decision - was created to present a glimpse of God’s love to families experiencing premature births as well as those families with children needing specialized medical attention.
We serve as a beacon of hope through prayer, words of encouragement, gifts and acts of kindness. Grady’s Decision provides an avenue for people to donate and assist these family members during this difficult and emotional time.
Assistance is case managed based on need. Grady’s Decision can assist with parking costs, food, housing near hospitals and transportation needs. Ultimately, our organization meets the needs of families whether they be financial, emotional or spiritual.
Sufficient Grace Ministries - was founded in 2004, with the purpose of reaching out to women and families to offer comfort, encouragement and hope.
I sit here tonight thinking about you, I can scarcely believe it has been a decade since you made your entrance into the world, changing it forever. The details of July 14, 2005 run through my mind like an old slide projector. I wonder what ten year old Isaac would be like. What kind of cake would I be baking at your request? What would be the one coveted item you'd want more than anything as a gift? Which of your siblings would you argue with as they wanted to get their hands on your new possession?
Would you be into sports? Music? Would you be kind and quiet like your dad or would you be a stubborn chatterbox like your mom?
I'll never know the answer to those things. My heart aches to know who you would be, but then I remember who you are. Isaac Matthew, you are a world changer. You have moved mountains I never thought would so much as quiver. You have inspired and led your mama to live enough life for both of us, to create a legacy. Because of you, our hearts were forever changed. Because of you, we love deeper and we live louder, you've taught us the sweetness of a moment and not to let it pass us by, and you've taught us to love with abandon. It hurts like crazy when you lose what you love but that love always makes it worth it.
It is because of YOU that we were brave enough to step into foster care, to welcome sweet children the Lord loves deeply into our home and help them heal some of their hurts, this year we will quite possibly add another member to this family through the foster care system...you made us brave, you showed us that it is ok to put your heart out there and let it be broken, God makes beautiful mosaics with those shattered pieces.
It is because of you that I am awake tonight reading about pregnancy, childbirth and prenatal diagnoses. You taught me to step into other people's grief and to just be with them. God has opened doors for me now to become a bereavement doula. I will humbly get to walk the grief journey with others feeling loss so great they aren't sure they can breathe, and I will tell them about you and your brother and how my heart will never mend, a scar will always remain, but so will you. That it is worth it...it is always worth it...love is always worth the cost.
Happy Birthday Isaac Matthew! I miss you so much that I physically ache sometimes. I wish you were here with us, but I am so grateful that I got to love you at all. I am one blessed momma. I will forever ache and I will forever use that ache to fuel me to make the world better...because YOU lived.
Sometimes, like a comet whizzing through the atmosphere, out of nowhere, and slamming into the earth, grief strikes. You don't see it coming and it leaves a crater behind. This week has been a tough week on the grief front. Yesterday, I was cleaning a closet out, feeling pretty good about the purging I was doing and then I came across this:
To most it just looks like an ordinary report card. A third grade student advancing to fourth grade. YAY! To me, it marks something very different. I pulled the report card out of its envelope, I chuckled at the grades and comments on the inside, I marveled at the idea that I only missed two days of school that year, then I turned it over and it hit me, like a comet out of nowhere. Her signature exactly where it should be for the first two periods of the school year. Then, she was gone.
It was a breathtaking snapshot of her very real absence and the breath was stolen from my lungs. I sat down on the kitchen floor and just stared at it. She was there, and then she wasn't. In a moment the whole world changed. That change is vividly marked on the back of my third grade report card. Tears started to fall as memories flooded back. Howard noticed that I'd stopped cleaning and he came to look over my shoulder, he was speechless. He hugged me and said, "that sucks, I'm sorry". I nodded.
I sat there and thought about that year. How drastically my life changed that year. Despite all of that, I missed TWO days of school, and one was the day of my mother's funeral. I pondered that for a few moments, I mean, surely losing your mother at 9 years old warrants a few days absence, but as I thought, I remembered how much I loved school. I remembered how when the whole world was spinning out of control, that third grade classroom was my constant, while the whole world around me came crashing in, that was a safe place, I had the most amazing teachers who helped to resume my normal, they loved me and stood in the gap as best they could. Over two decades later I am still wading through he grief of losing my mom at 9.
As I look back over the hardest times in my life I can see now how the Lord used those around me to carry me when life made it too hard to walk on my own. As a nine year old I am not sure I was aware of His presence, but He was there, I am so grateful for the amazing people who were His hands and feet to me and still are. We were never meant to walk this journey alone, sometimes life is hard, sometimes grief strikes out of nowhere, but through it all, He takes that pain and gives it purpose, so while my heart is heavy tonight, I am rejoicing for the beauty from the ashes, for the purpose in the pain and for the people who don't turn away when things get hard, they press in and walk with the grieving. It is my prayer that I am able to be that for someone else.
For over two decades now, Mother's day has been a difficult day for me. As a child losing my mom was such a great grief for a small child to bear. Each year as I've grown the weight of that grief has not really ever gone away, but has sunk deeper, it is more of a deep aching scar now than an open wound. As I was learning to deal with that grief, I experienced the joy of motherhood, and the celebration of Mother's day as a joyous occasion for the first time in a long time.
I've grown five beautifully wonderful babies in my body. Three are building massive structures with legos as I type, and two are in Heaven. The grief of being a bereaved mother at Mother's day is inexplicably difficult to bear...it is a crushing grief and I once again found myself with conflicted feelings on that May Sunday each year.
Since then, our home has become a refuge for foster kids, we've had several children come for a time and move on and we've adopted two sweet babies, they have similar yet strikingly different stories that one day will be theirs to tell. We also have a sweet foster daughter who has been with us almost a full year now.
As I sit here and reflect on Mother's Day, I give thanks for the first mothers of each of those sweet babies. I can only imagine their heartache on a day set aside for mothers, knowing that handpicked bouquet of dandelions is being handed to another woman. To the first mothers of my babies, there is no way to express my gratitude. Your sacrifice cannot be expressed in words and I am heartbroken and honored to love your child, who is also my child.
If Mother's day is a day to celebrate moms and the sacrifice they make for their children, then you, birth moms should be at the top of the list. You ARE moms, you deserve that fistful of dandelions. I am sure your heart aches, but I want you to know that I see you and I celebrate you, your stories may all be as different as the children you birthed, but God grew a baby in your womb, He chose you, if only for a time and that matters. You matter to your children and you matter to me.
As my children grow, I pray our foster daughter, though we love her dearly is able to reunite with the family who is working to get her back. I also pray for my sweet Lily and Jacob as they grow and learn their stories, I want them to know they have ALWAYS been wanted by so many people, they've always been loved and that they'll NEVER be alone. Their first moms are beautiful, wonderful women that I love dearly. God chose them for our family too. I pray that we can show His love and grace as we forge ahead with all He has entrusted to us.
Love is patient; love is kind. Love is not jealous; is not proud; is not conceited; does not act foolishly; is not selfish; is not easily provoked to anger; keeps no record of wrongs; takes no pleasure in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth; love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13 4-7
I want the first moms of my kids to know that we love them, without judgement, without strings. We will always be honest with our kids and we will navigate this as best we know how, keeping the best interests of EVERYONE at heart. Life is so hard and sometimes the obstacles before us seem so great. But for these special women in my life, I just want you to know, I love you, I see you, and I see your sorrow and I know that it is real. I celebrate you, I celebrate your sacrifice and I celebrate the incredible privilege of getting to raise these little people.
Happy Mother's Day to ALL mothers, those who are raising kids, those who are yearning for kids, those who have given up kids, those who are mourning kids. I don't know your situation, I don't personally know your pain, but I know that God is good, I know he brings beauty from ashes. I know that He keeps his promises and that His plans are good even when we don't understand them.
Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her! Luke 1:45
I've said it before but fostering is one of the hardest things ever. It is definitely a calling. One of the things people ask us all the time is "are you keeping her?". The thing is we don't know. We do this FOR the kids, not for us, not because we're starting a children collection. We personally feel, our calling is to just love these kids AND their parents and help them be together if that is AT ALL a possibility. We have five forever kids and if that is all we get to have on earth forever, we are ok with that.
Our current foster daughter has been with us almost a year now...nearly her entire life. We love her like our own and we will grieve if/when she leaves. We will also rejoice because it is our hope that her biological parents will get things figured out so that they get to parent her. One of the things I want people to realize is that these parents, the ones who lose their children to the system, they aren't bad people. They're broken people. They have issues and baggage that they need to deal with. Sometimes they're able to work through things and get their children back and sometimes they can't. Generally speaking, the LOVE their kids, they're just fighting demons, addiction, mental health, and processing their own abuse.
The cycle CAN be broken, and that is what we pray for when each child comes into our home. We don't root against their parents, we hope to come alongside them, to support them, to love them, to pray for them...it is hard, it is frustrating and sometimes I DO get angry when the answers seem so simple, yet the issues continue, but if you come into foster care to adopt and aren't willing to support reunification, you might be on the wrong path.
Fostering and adoption are two different things, some people are specifically called to adopt and we have walked that road. We are grateful and heartbroken that it was even necessary it is such a conflicting feeling. If you are called to adopt, you should follow that calling, but if a person gets into fostering, solely to adopt, you're bound to be disappointed. Biological parents are given EVERY opportunity and it is my belief that if a foster parent cannot attempt to support reunification, they're doing everyone a disservice. SOMEtimes, it goes on a long time and it is apparent that reunification just cannot and should not happen, but IF it can, if a child can be safe in their biological home, that is where they belong,
Foster parents have to put the child's feelings far above their own, they have to be willing to risk their own hearts for the sake of the child and the biological family. Parents all parent differently and while we don't all agree on parenting decisions, if a child can be safe, nurtured and loved in their original home, that is where they should be.
I guess I say this all to say that I feel like society, Christians especially, are sure to bring awareness to adoption and what a noble calling that is, my position is that while sometimes adoption is necessary, family preservation should be the crux of the orphan crisis. We should be His hands and feet, even and especially to the drug addicted mentally ill birth parent. We need to truly do ALL in our power to try and help families stay together adoption is not a fairy tale, it is necessary sometimes, but it is heartbreaking always, it has lasting effects, my prayer is that the Church is able to do more to step in and help families before their children are taken and come alongside families and help them heal and be the parents they need to be. My hope is that one day there will be no orphan crisis be cause we have become the village and we are coming alongside those who are struggling to help children be safe and loved before fostering or adoption are even needed. These kids are our greatest resource, they are our future and they deserve better.
I shall now step off my soapbox and stop rambling.
Go ahead and mention my child, The one that died, you know. Don't worry about hurting me further. The depth of my pain doesn't show. Don't worry about making me cry. I'm already crying inside. Help me to heal by releasing The tears that I try to hide. I'm hurt when you just keep silent, Pretending she didn't exist. I'd rather you mention my child, Knowing that she has been missed. You asked me how I was doing. I say "pretty good" or "fine". But healing is something ongoing I feel it will take a lifetime. ~ Elizabeth Dent ~
"When I Lay My Isaac Down" - Carol Kent "The One Year Book of Hope" - Nancy Guthrie "Holding on to Hope" - Nancy Guthrie "Empty Cradle Broken Heart" - Deborah Davis "Waiting With Gabriel" - Amy Kuebelbeck "Streams in the Desert" - LB Cowman "It Takes a Parent" - Betsy Hart "I'll Hold You in Heaven" - Jack Hayford "Crazy Love" Francis Chan "Radical" David Platt