Expectations

Chris and I went to see a counselor yesterday who is a "community favorite" around here. It's a husband and a wife who are christian counselors and we were able to have a session with the husband. We wanted to go and talk about Ellie since Chris is finally finishing up school and is finally getting time to process the craziness of this past year, and I've been wanting to go for a while. I've told this to a few people, but in the midst of tragedy it's hard to see if you're making progress at all. People tell you they think you are, but it's so fuzzy and confusing to see yourself. People see you as you begin resurfacing in society with friends and at church, but not many see the hours of crying and the crippling memories the way you do. I was seeking validation and also an objective (and professional) perspective, but mostly we want to deal with things the right way for our family.

It was amazing.

This man was so kind and gentle and soft spoken, but he spoke truth straight into my spirit..and the sames goes for Chris. I didn't quite know how that was going to happen for both of us going into it, as we are in two different places in the grieving process, but everything he said fit seamlessly into both of our perspectives and met us where we are..at the same time.

One little (big) thing I want to pass along from our time was a question he asked us in regards to having experienced such tragedy so early on in our marriage, and it was this:

What does God expect of you?
And also: what do you expect of God?

We discussed it as it relates to Ellie, but in the end, he gave us a book that he and his wife wrote. In it includes a list of what we are to expect based on scripture.....and man, totally put me right back where I need to be in navigating all of this.

See, it's easy to believe the lie of entitlement after any hard trial. I genuinely felt "entitled" to be blessed with multiple children after this, and "entitled" to live a life free of intense hardship from now on. "I earned it." Don't get me wrong, these thoughts of mine weren't floating around on the surface. If anyone asked me if I felt this way I would have known that the "correct" answer is no. But subconsiously...very deep down...they were there.

But those hidden beliefs were a lie.
They are a lie that sets you up for failure.
A lie that sets you up to immediately distrust the Father the second another hardship comes your way.

....

So what am I to expect? [emphasis my own]
- I do not expect my flesh to improve with age (Ps 73:26)
- I expect my flesh to do what it has always done and think as it has always thought (Romans 7:18, Gal 5:17)
- I do not expect God to indulge my fleshly nature (Heb 12:6)
- I expect God to free me from being controlled by my fleshly nature (Rom 8:2, Gal 5:16)
-I expect to increasingly find my identity in the spiritual nature (Rom 8:9-13, Gal 5:16)
-I expect God to continue to expose my fears through situations of helplessness and to displace my fears with trust in Him (James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 4:12-13)
-I expect Him to teach me the fear of the Lord (Ps 34:11)
-I do not expect to grow stronger, for I must decrease and He must increase (John 3:30)
-I do expect him to perfect his strength in my weakness (2 Cor 12:9, Is 40:29-31, 2 Cor 4:7-5:9)
-I do not expect less conflict or fewer trials (2 Tim 2:3, 3:12)
-I do expect sufficient grace for every conflict and every trial (2 Cor 12:9, 2 Tim 3:10-11)
-I expect God to remove the fear of suffering so that I am no longer intimidated by the threats of the enemy (Is 41:10)
-I do not expect a map of God's plan for my life (Ps 37:23, Prov 16:9, Jer 10:23)
-I do expect God to be my constant guide and provide a light for my path (Prob 3:5-6, Psalm 119:105)
-I expect God to remove obstructions from my mind and heart that interfere with knowing him intimately (2 Cor 10:4-5)
-I do not expect my spouse or others to meet my needs (Ps 62:5)
-I do expect God to fill my life and meet my needs (Ecc 5:20, Matt 6:33)
-I do not expect myself to meet the needs of my spouse and others I love (John 15:5, Jer 17:5-8)
-I expect Jesus to meet all the needs of those I love as I offer myself to be an available vessel of His provision (Phil 4:13, Col 3:8-17)
-I expect to delight myself in the Lord (Ps 37:4)
-I expect Him to give me the desires of my heart in His timing and on His terms, for they are always best (Ps 37:4-11)
-I do not expect a "normal" life (Ps 139:1-24, Isaiah 54:1-17, 1 Corin 2:9)
-I do expect a supernatural life that cannot be explained in human terms (Ps 139:1-24, Isaiah 54:1-17, 1 Corin 2:9)
-I expect him to protect my heart (Phil 4:7)
-I expect His courage in my cowardice, His presence in my loneliness, His comfort in my grief, His forgiveness in my resentment, His fatih in my doubt, His love in my indiference, His joy in my anxiety, His hope in my despair (Col 2;10, 1 Cor 2:3-5, 2 Cor 12:9, Ps 73:26, Gal 5:22-23)
-I do not expect appreciation from those to whom I minister (Matt 6:2, Romans 2:29)
-I do expect and long to hear his voice one day saying "well done, my good and faithful servant (Matt 25:23)
-I expect Him to glorify (reveal) himself in me (rom 8:29, 1 Cor 3:16, 1 Cor 1:26-31, 2 Cor 4:7)
-I expect to be continually surprised by God (1 Cor 2:9-12)
-I expect, when His purpose for me is fulfilled, to awaken in His presence and there to behold His face, feel His embrace, and enjoy Him forever (Rev 22:4, Ps 73:23-24, 1 Cor 15:51-57, 1 Thess 4:15-18)
[from 18 inches, by J. Ray Addison, PhD, and Susan Addison, PhD, available here.]

....

Dr. Ray lingered on the subject of the decision making process in the face of hard circumstances; will we choose to continue living solely for the Kingdom and expect only what scripture says? Or will we retreat to lukewarm faith for fear of trusting Him?

Yes. So worthwhile. Kingdom truth flowed from his whole being for the whole hour and a half..to the point that I began silently pouring tears because my eyes couldn't contain it anymore. They were tears of comfort, not of conviction. I totally recommend this book, and even better, them...if you're in the area.



Ellie's Birth Story

There are really no words to do any of this situation justice. No words to describe how much we miss Ellie. No words to describe the difficulty of holding our Ellie as her heart stopped beating. I didn't want to wait too long to post simply because I don't want to forget any details, and I also want to honor those of you that have spent the past months (almost a half a year, actually) praying for our sweet girl and family.

I know I've said this before, but it truly does feel like we've walked through this as a large family--we have cried with so many friends and at times it felt like we were burdening the lives of nearly everyone around us with constant crappy news........but man, what a picture of community the way God intended for it to be. I could (and I'm sure I will) talk more about that in the future...there's just so much.

I woke up on Tuesday, the 18th, feeling sorta weird. I'm sure a lot of it was normal 38 week pregnancy weird, because I don't think there's such a thing as feeling physically "normal" at 38 weeks pregnant. So that aside, I started to leak a bit of my water, but it wasn't gushing out or anything..and I was losing a bit of my plug (for you squeamish people, this is as bad as it gets for this post.)

We decided to call our doctor just to talk with him and let him know what my body was doing. He happened to be out of town in NC, but he talked with us for a while and Chris began asking him one more time about what we should do (regarding our birth plan) as we had previously been throwing around the idea of the c-section "just in case" Ellie would survive. We knew the prognosis was poor, but we began to weigh the pros and cons........and as a mother I began to question whether or not my strong opposition to c-section was due to fear and the desire to better "control" future pregnancies (i.e. how a c-section might affect future deliveries, scarring, etc.)

I don't think there was a strong right or wrong decision here. We just wanted to be at peace either way. We really wanted a natural delivery, but we also wanted to set ourselves up for the most guilt-free scenario. I began feeling that if we had a natural delivery and she didn't make it..that I would have wondered if a c-section could have made a difference. Some of this was spiritual attack, and some of it was just longing to make a decision that would be conducive to healing and peace of mind and heart. The doctor spoke gently and very personally with us, stating that if we were his children..he would encourage the c-section just due to the state of her body and the potential stress of labor (on her) if we waited. He told us that he wanted us to make the decision and to feel good about it, but that if we wanted to go the c-section route we would really need to go in that day (due to labor possibly coming soon and just to optimize her chance of survival.)

We got off the phone, talked about it, and felt very much at peace (yet terrified) with the decision to go ahead and go in. We called him back and told him and then he set everything up for us via telephone to the hospital. I had already eaten lunch, so we had to schedule for more than 6 hours from the time I had eaten, which put us at about 8:30 for scheduling purposes. We packed up a little bit and did random stuff till it was time to leave...and it was sort of surreal from that point on.

Our lovely (understatement) friend, Sarah, came with us..as she was originally going to be coming with us to the birthing center from way back before we knew that Ellie had some health issues. When all of that unfolded, we felt that we still really needed her.......maybe even now more than before--just to be a rock and a prayer warrior and a super peaceful presence (if you know her...you know what I mean.) She headed over and we headed to the hospital.

As we got closer, a brilliant rainbow appeared (no joke) and we literally drove into it for the last..maybe 20 minutes of the trip. My mom texted Chris a picture of it from where she was (also driving to the hospital) and then Sarah called to ask us if we saw it..........I'm kind of glad both of these things happened so that we have proof, because Chris and I were in awe of how bright it was. Chris and I didn't talk about it before hand because we were both pretty nervous and contemplative in the car......but we both felt like we just kind of knew what was about to happen. And we both felt like God was just telling us, "Hey. I'm here. We're here with you." My words aren't doing this justice, but it was awesome.

We got in to the hospital and the poking and prodding began (as to be expected) and this was all kind of a blur. The neonatalogist came in and we had to confirm what we wanted post birth, as the plan was originally less intervention oriented. We still didn't change our minds about life support or any of that jazz, but we did want her to be assessed for survival chances in case things looked different outside of the womb..but we knew were just going to have to wait and see. I don't know how many people were lifting us up in prayer at this point...but I know it had to have been a lot, because we felt so. much. peace. As they wheeled me out of the room into the O.R. (urg, without my husband), I literally just felt the presence of way more than just two people (who were pushing me) surrounding my bed. I felt just swarmed, literally swarmed, with heavenly presences.....I didn't have Chris with me yet, but I felt so calm that I even cracked a joke with the anesthesiologist and he was all like, "Oh, gracious," and shaking his head while laughing at me. At that point, I was pretty sure Ellie was not going to be making it. I just felt like God was there waiting (not grim reaper style......but beautiful Father style ready to wrap her up) and I was devastated but also peaceful.

They numbed me, Chris got back there, and I spent the next 25 minutes or so staring into Chris' eyes while they did the surgery....and literally his eyes kept me so grounded. I told him to "talk to me about good things," so he rambled on about Hawaii (which I later found out was all he could come up with at the time) and I didn't even hear anything he said but his voice and his eyes were just the most gorgeous and soothing things ever. I heard the doctor say, "She's out" but I couldn't see her yet, and I knew the NICU team was working on her. Chris stood up and looked to the corner of the room where she was while they stitched me up and I knew she was alive then but I knew she wouldn't be alive long...I just knew.

They told us that they were keeping her heart going by using epinephrine and trying to get some tubes down for breathing, but were having trouble due to her tiny body and some malformations. I definitely knew at that point.

After about 20 to 30 minutes of working on her, the doctor told us that it wasn't looking good, and so we told them we just wanted to hold her. So they brought her to us and I got to hold her skin to skin while she left to be with Jesus...I don't know how long it was that she was alive on me...she looked so peaceful the whole time--but the staff gave us some time before they came over to verify that her heart had stopped beating. She was just so beautiful and had the best little cheeks to kiss. We just wept and kissed her and told her how much fun she was already having in heaven...and Chris just told her a million times how sweet she was. There are no words.........

There are no words for how hard this was (and is), and I can't even go into more detail because the memory is too precious. Literally, I am alive right now because the Father is sustaining me......because if pure heartache could kill me--this would have. Our sweet, sweet baby. He is continuing to breathe breath into our lungs and hold our hearts.

They told us we could keep her for as long as we wanted, which I never thought I would have wanted to do before all of this happened..but after seeing her I knew we needed to hold her and love her for a while. So we kept her for a good five hours or so..just staring at her and kissing her and smelling her. Sarah helped Chris bathe her since I couldn't really move from bed--and I was so content just watching her over there...I was being so loved on by the Father and it was so surreal. Don't get me wrong, the whole thing was devastating and indescribably painful, but I think it was as peaceful as it could have been, considering the circumstances. We held her and had our families come in to see us and see her before we held her a little longer and then let the staff take her. We felt a lot of closure saying goodbye to her physically...we felt devastated and heartbroken, but it just felt like it was time to give her up.

There is more I could say about right now, but we're just still in this place of intense heartache and also peace, all mashed into one. There is incredible pain. Incredible. And there is a lot of weeping in bed with my sweet husband. But also overwhelming moments of comfort and beautiful impressions of heaven where she is MUCH better off than we are....laughing and joyful all of the time. Heaven is looking so much sweeter these days, even better than before.

I've talked about this before, but my own parents know exactly what it's like to lose a child--as they lost their first daughter. My dad told me a couple days after that there literally is nothing worse--and I really hope that that is true. It makes sense as God literally did this willingly for us which I can't even comprehend--but clearly God knows the weight of the pain and the heartache. I can honestly say already that I'm terrified to get pregnant again in the future--and I'm working on that fear with Him..but we know it's just going to take time.

We are fully prepared and waiting in expectation for full healing from the Father...we are also fully prepared and waiting in expectation for God to use this for good......because we are declaring that there will be no more joy or hope robbed from our family. We are anxiously anticipating full and complete healing for our hearts--but missing Ellie every single second. Our beautiful friend took the sweetest pictures of Ellie, but I'm not ready to post all of them yet..so I'll just do one for now. Please continue to keep our family in your prayers as we move forward--once again, I cannot express enough gratitude for all of the prayers and love.