A Different Kind of Love Story

"How could one person, not very big, leave an emptiness that was galaxy-wide?"
{Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy}

Dear Jordan,

Seven days ago I was walking around, alone, in Target... something that rarely happens. I passed the baby section and felt it again, that pang of loss. That deep ache of missing you. I have had the gift of giving birth to two healthy babies, your sisters. I have had the experience, twice, of caring for a newborn, of nursing and sleep deprivation, and I have raised them past infancy, past toddlerhood, past the preschool years. Your sisters are now six and nine. I don't take that gift for granted. But it doesn't erase the pain of what I missed out on with you. You are unique and I lost you.

There's just one you.

Which is why the tag on a small soft elephant designed for babies slays me. The tag that says Just One You. Carter's is so right. Each baby is a precious, irreplaceable individual. That's why the part of my heart that belongs to you will always be empty. Because you aren't here to fill it.

You are forever a baby in my mind. I cannot imagine you as a school-aged child. You are only what you ever were -- a tiny baby unblemished by the hardness of life. You are only love.

To talk about you is to validate you as real. You were not a dream or a nightmare. Seven years down this road, when I mention you, people may assume I have not healed. This is untrue. I write about you to honor you as my child, and to record you as part of my legacy. I talk about you to untangle the ethereal thoughts and emotions, to sort what can't always be sorted.

I speak of you to give myself the gift of loving you out loud.

Ours is a different kind of love story.


To Connecticut, From the Mother of a Six Year-Old

December 14th, 2012.

It felt like the whole world grieved as news spread that 20 beautiful children in Newtown, Connecticut were killed in their school. Just days earlier, in my state of Oregon, another shooting happened at Clackamas Town Center mall. One of my friends was there with her children just an hour before the shooting occurred; another had planned to go to the mall, but something changed her mind.

Moments. Decisions. Locations.

The night of the Clackamas shooting, I gathered for a Christmas cookie exchange with my Bible Study girls (all mothers of small children), and we talked about the shooting, in our state, in a mall we've all been with our families, and someone said, "Is it safe to take my kids to a movie? Is it safe to take them to the mall?" 

Less than 72 hours later, her words rang in my mind as I tried to process the horror that is the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. 

Is it safe to take my kids to school?

Events like these capture our attention. We are riveted to news, whether it be television, online, in print, or what is being shared on social media sites.

Shortly after I heard the initial reports of what happened in Newtown, I posted this on my personal Facebook page:
My Kindergartener is putting on a one-woman concert and my third grader is drawing blueprints. Meanwhile hearts are breaking for all the Kindergarteners and third graders and other elementary children in Connecticut whose unique gifts to the world have been snuffed out. Tears flow for their mothers and their fathers, their siblings, their community and for the world. Tears flow out of my deep gratitude for the girls safe in my home today who make messes and sing loudly and fight with each other and snuggle me and their daddy. I'm so sorry, Connecticut.
I didn't know yet how many children had been killed, what grades they were in or their ages. I didn't even know yet that Sandy Hook was a school for kids in K-4th grade.

That night I tucked my kids in, taking my {sweet, precious} time, and posted this afterward:
Snuggled with Natalie at bedtime in her little room lit by nightlight, with her soothing music playing. Couldn't stop kissing her soft cheek. Gave her 20 extra kisses, one for each child about her age who didn't come home from school today. Couldn't stop there. She hugged and kissed me back, with her wet hair from the bath smelling like Dora strawberry shampoo. We prayed for the families in Connecticut. Left her room with tears spilling down my face. A classroom of Kindergarteners destroyed this morning.... and mine safe tonight. So broken for their mamas who couldn't tuck them in tonight.
Later that night, the helplessness of the situation struck me.
Natalie asked me, "Did any of my friends die today?" and while the answer is no, we are part of the human family, and the bulk of the children killed were Kindergarteners, just like her. I wonder who they would have grown to be. I am struggling because this can't keep happening, and yet I am certain that it will, while our nation continues to argue over what to do or not to do. We can't live in fear, but what kind of a world are we raising our kids in, that churches, malls, movie theatres, soccer fields, coffee shops and schools aren't safe places? I believe in life after death. I believe more people are good than bad. But on days like today, there are a lot of questions, and my inability to always protect my girls is glaring.
I woke the next morning in a lot of pain. I felt emotional: overwhelming gratitude for life and the gift of more time with my family; overwhelming sadness for the state of my country. We dressed up and curled hair and went to church. I craved the ages, grades, and the names of the children killed. Sometime that afternoon a list was released. I swallowed around a lump in my throat as I silently read the names and ages -- 20 children: 16 six year-olds, 4 seven year-olds.

I cried as I calculated that TWELVE of the children who died were six year-old little girls like my daughter.

I read their names, and I thought constantly of their parents. I loved my girls better and with more intention; more intensity. I felt guilt that twelve mothers lost their six year-old daughters, while mine is here with me, sparkling and smiling, as only Natalie can.

A week later I created an art journaling tribute to the 20 children. It's a way to remember them, to process what happened, and it's my way of trying to reach out to their parents to say I'm so, so sorry.

Going forward, this tragedy will stick with me like 9/11.

As I grappled with how much caring is too much, how much processing is right and how much is bordering on obsession, I settled on the thought that one thing our country can use is people who deeply care about others. People who are compassionate. If lingering on this for a while makes me "too sensitive," I have just this to say: I'd rather be too sensitive than insensitive.

Remembering and grieving with you, Newtown parents.

For additional reading, here are two posts on the Newtown shooting that resonated with me:

In Connecticut, In My Heart by Joseph Long at Very Long Chronicles
Restoration by Kelle Hampton at Enjoying the Small Things


My Word for the New Year {2013}

There's a lot of me that has been altered through the past few years; taken or temporarily taken over by chronic illness and bouts of severe, unrelenting pain. It snatches bits of sanity, social life, creativity, inspiration, it takes the dreams, the goals, the best parts of self, even as I've fought to retain them.

This last fall I changed my treatment plan, and began feeling significantly better just over a month ago. 2012 closed with me feeling alternately battered and vibrant. Battered by much of what happened in 2012, and vibrant because the relief leaves me breathless, weightless, floating... so much weight off my shoulders.

I've chosen a Word of the Year for the past three years. In 2010 I chose NEST to remind myself of my priority of building a sacred, safe, nurturing shelter for my young daughters and our family. In 2011, fighting Ankylosing Spondylitis in earnest, I chose STILL to remind myself to be still and know that God had a plan, to be still and rest, that no matter what happened in my future, I was still God's and I still had purpose. In 2012, yearning to not let life pass me by regardless of a life with chronic illness, I chose AWAKE. I wanted to focus on staying awake to life, to dreams, to opportunities, and to the everyday moments of grace and joy. 

Awake was a word of mixed results. I gave it a valiant effort -- I traveled cross-country with my family for 2.5 weeks, I attended a writing conference, I joined a writing critique group, I focused on my book, I enrolled my girls in ballet class, and saw a passion for dance awaken in Hannah.

There were also times that Awake seemed a bad joke. Severe fatigue and pain dragging me under water, at times making it impossible to join in to life. The last few months of 2012 were particularly difficult and grueling. But as the saying goes, the darkest was just before dawn, and less than a week after Thanksgiving I began to awake once more: ideas, more energy, less pain, more smiles and more laughter, and simply feeling more like myself again.

I'm still battling AS, but it's not as big of a foe right now. So I'm going into 2013 inspired to RECLAIM the me that chronic challenges threatened.

I want to Reclaim parts of myself that were put on the back burner while so very ill. I want to write, I want to reclaim stability in our home, reclaim the dreams and the goals, reclaim ability vs. disability, reclaim so very many things.

I know that I may continue to improve, or that my pain may climb back up the scale along with my fatigue. If that happens, I will fight again, and I will give myself the gift of grace and understanding, knowing that I have always done my best, no matter the degree of difficulty.

I want to claim space for myself, and claim physical space for writing in our home. I did that today, creating a little corner of my own with a rolltop desk and my writing supplies. I organized my art supplies and put stacks of notecards in the cubbies of the desk.

I am reclaiming the precious relationships I have with my daughters, now that I once again have the ability to be emotionally present in our conversations and one-on-one time, not sequestered away from them by the barrier of pain I couldn't ignore.

I feel inspired and intentional going into this new year. It will be my mission to reclaim my identity apart from chronic illness. 

Reclaim: to rescue from an undesirable state; to restore to a precious natural state.
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