Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Butterfly Garden

Last weekend our family went to visit Reiman Gardens. The reason for the trip was, they were hosting a temporary dinosaur display, and our two little boys couldn’t survive without seeing the velociraptors, giant T-Rex skull, and other prehistoric creatures that could be discovered throughout the 14 acres of beautiful varieties of plants. Our family of four, along with my husband’s sister, parents, and grandma, all drove over and toured the grounds. The gardens were beautiful, and of course the dinosaurs were as exciting as we expected, as well as the pond full of tadpoles, but the highlight was definitely the 2,500 square foot butterfly garden.

Jayden was asleep when we arrived at the gardens, so Mark decided to carry him until he woke up on his own. This wasn’t until we were already inside the butterfly garden. He awoke to see hundreds of butterflies of all varieties fluttering about him, as if in a dream. It took his eyes a moment to adjust to the reality, and then a huge smile spread across his face and his eyes lit up in amazement. Could this be real? Needless to say he was delighted to have awoken in this brand new world of color and magnificence. Soon he wanted to get down, and began to explore, running from one place to the next, admiring the beauty.

Caedmon was also delighted by the butterflies. He exclaimed over each variety, and paused quietly, holding perfectly still to peer closely at the detail. He loved being inside the garden, but I think his highlight was the butterfly emergence cases. There were three cases with cocoons and chrysalis' in various stages hanging from the top. Some were completely closed, in others the butterfly was just beginning to break out. Some butterflies had just emerged and were hanging waiting for their wings to dry out. A few were ready to fly, anticipating their release into the garden. He watched it with great interest both when we arrived, and before we left. When it was time to go home, it was so hard to tear him away to get in the car. He was convinced one particular butterfly he had been watching would fully emerge if he stood there long enough. It probably would have if they had let us stay past closing time.

There was something that caught my eye. One chrysalis had detached, and lay on the floor of the case, and not far from it was a butterfly, lying motionless, with wings still folded over itself. My sister-in-law, a “bug expert” as Caedmon calls her, explained that without being able to hang long enough, the butterfly’s wings weren’t able to fill with blood and expand as is necessary for flight. Because of a natural accident, her life was cut short before it had even begun. I began to think of our Eliana, so safe and happy in the cocoon of my womb, developing so perfectly waiting for the day when she would emerge into the light of this world, and fly into my arms. Suddenly one day, like a chrysalis falling, her blood and nutrient supply was cut off by two loops and a knot, and her life was cut short. Before she could even spread her wings, or take a breath. Before she could look into her daddy’s eyes, or hear her brothers laughing. Before she could ever feel her skin next to mine and hear me say “I love you.” Looking at that poor fallen butterfly was enough to make you weep.

Even as I thought of her, and pictured her this way, another picture came back to me. It was Jayden; opening his eyes to a new world, then flitting from one butterfly to the next, laughing, playing, reaching out to touch. That is the tiniest glimpse of what it must have been like for our daughter, to awaken for the first time to heaven in all its splendor. That is the type of butterfly she is, not one who has been cut off, whose wings have never spread. She is the butterfly I saw when I first entered the garden. The vibrant green and black one whose wings were almost constantly in motion. That was the one who soared the highest, as far as she could fly, and fluttered about exploring and enjoying everything in her environment. She is my baby who learned how to fly, and she never stopped soaring until she met Jesus. Now she is flying freely with wings outstretched in a limitless garden full of flowers we can only attempt to imagine, and drinking the sweetest nectar.

After Eliana died we read a book to Caedmon about heaven. It said “imagine the most beautiful thing you have ever seen,” and he said “a monarch butterfly.” Last fall he brought home a caterpillar in a jar from his grandma’s house, and we got to watch it make a chrysalis, and eventually emerge as a monarch butterfly. When it was time to let it go, he was so happy that it didn’t fly off right away. It actually landed on him and lingered with him for a while, riding in and out of the house, sitting on his shoulder, his head, his shoe. When it finally flew away he came back in the house crying, but knowing it was necessary to let it go, and happy for the moments they had shared. So true of our baby butterfly, we had her long enough to fall in love with her, and even though we cry, we wouldn’t change a thing.




video

Monday, June 8, 2009

Sacrifice

One month ago today, it started out like any other day. A busy morning having breakfast with the boys, doing a devotion and a craft with them (and believe me I don’t get this accomplished every day, but happened to this particular morning), finding something suitable to wear to my Drs. appointment all the while noting that I had a record weight gain that month, and no doubt our baby girl was growing as rapidly as I was. Unimaginable that the day would end the way it did, waiting in the hospital for my mind, soul, and body to get the message that it was time to let go…

I think of Abraham waking up on a day like any other, and God says to him “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” Keep in mind, this is the son that Abraham and his wife Sarah have spent a lifetime praying and waiting for, the one whose name means laughter, because they couldn’t believe he was really here after Abraham’s 100th birthday! And finally, God had answered their prayers and fulfilled the promise he had given to Abraham to make him the father of many nations through Sarah’s son.

Imagine what might have gone through Abraham’s mind when he heard what God was asking of him that day, to sacrifice the very one whom God had promised would be used to establish an everlasting covenant. “How could a loving God require this?” “How, then, can I expect you to fulfill the promise you made to me, God?” But what is his reaction? He saddles his donkey, gathers his son and some wood, and begins the journey to Mount Moriah. Imagine him building the altar with his own hands, all the while his son looks around and asks “Daddy, where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” Holding back his anguish Abraham answers “Son, God will provide the sacrifice.” With shaking hands he gently takes hold of his only son, dearly loved, and binds him with rope. As Abraham lays him on top of the wood, Isaac looks up at him, eyes wide with innocence.

It isn’t until Abraham lifts the knife to slay him that Isaac’s eyes show any fear. It is only then, at the last moment, that God finaly speaks “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me…blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendents as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore…in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

Oh Lord, how can I have that strength? You ask me to give you my only daughter, and it is with everything in me that I try to cling to her. My body refuses to let her go for 19 hours, I hold her and take many more days to finally say good-bye when her body is buried in the ground, and still the long good-bye continues as my heart wraps around her forever…

And then I think of You. You sent your only begotten Son, deeply loved, into the world as a helpless baby, knowing full well the anguish He would experience during His life on earth. You oversee the planting and growth of a little seed, that throughout His life grows into a sturdy tree. You watch as He pours love out on the people You have created, and we turn our backs on Him. He pleads, with innocent eyes, “Oh My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”

You see Him seized, accused, beaten and tortured, with the power to rescue Him, and still you hold back. The tree You created is fashioned into a wooden cross, heavy with the weight of all the sin and injustice of the whole world, and You watch Him bear it on His bloody back. How Your heart must be aching and broken for Him, but You even take it another step further. As He hangs on that tree, You turn Your face away, and pour out on Him the crushing death-blow of all Your wrath for the sin of mankind, casting on Him in His innocence the penalty that we deserve. In His anguish He cries out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” It is only then, after the fullness of the penalty has been paid that You finally withdraw Your hand, and He is able to say “It is Finished.”

And You whisper into my heart, “I know…”

But it hurts too much to let her go… “I know,”

The pain is too great to bear... “I know.”

Oh God, you know so much greater sorrow than I can comprehend. Your heart is breaking with me as you think of how much a parent loves a child and the agony of being separated, how the thought of them experiencing any pain is too much to endure. And yet you inflicted it on Christ with Your own hand. Why? “For God so loved the world, that He sent His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him, will not perish, but have everlasting life.” Wow, You did it for me. You sacrificed Your Son for the very ones who turned our backs on Him and nailed Him to the cross. To give us life. It is more than I can comprehend and more meaningful today than ever before.

Father I thank you for sending Your son, Jesus, I thank you that through that sacrifice You have victory over the grave. He rose again and is in heaven where He met Eliana at the gates. I thank you that because You sacrificed Your Son, I can lay my daughter in Your hands, and know that, like you did with Isaac, You will give her back to me. Not today, but a day when You will wipe away my tears and all suffering will cease, when I can fully love and know her in a way that isn’t possible on earth. The day when I will see Your face and experience the wonder that is You, and tell you thank you, in person.

God, I don’t think I would ever be able to lay her on the alter, built with my own hands, and lift the dagger, but please accept my open, outstretched palms, as tears stream down, and I promise to trust you. My heart will never stop loving her, but I give her to you because I know that Your love is immeasurably greater than my love for her, and Your love for me is the very same. I will follow You and trust You with my whole heart, longing for the day when my suffering will be rewarded with blessing, and my mourning will turn into dancing. You have already given me so much, and I am forever grateful.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.
1 Chronicles 16:34

When I said, "My foot is slipping," your love, O LORD, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.
Psalm 94:18-19

May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you.
Psalm 33:22

For great is your love toward me; you have delivered me from the depths of the grave.
Psalm 86:13

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Day By Day

Some days are harder than others. Already, life continues to propel us forward with a breathless momentum instead of allowing us to stay rooted in the immediate sadness. Somehow, summer is in full swing. Our oldest son has started soccer, and we have been keeping a full schedule of play-dates, evening Bible studies and meetings, and fellowship with friends. I can’t believe there are days so full of activity that it isn’t until all is quiet that I begin to really think about Eliana. She is always in my mind and heart, even when I am going at full speed, but it is surprising how quickly I am assimilating back into the routine.

There are many days, however, when it seems like it all just happened yesterday, like I could still wake up and realize it has just been a bad dream. In many ways the true reality of the situation is still sinking in. Somehow, even after saying hello and good-bye at the hospital, and continuing the farewell through our memorial service and commital, it continues to dawn on me anew. A bin of sweet baby girl clothes still sits in my bedroom, some purchased the day before we learned of her death. Do I really have to put them away? When I walk past the children’s department of a clothing store, I still feel pulled to all those tiny pink and lavender things that I might buy for her…if only. At first I would drink a cold drink and expect to feel her squirming and kicking away, but that has stopped now. Little by little I realize, good bye takes much longer than anticipated.

Also, as more days go by, I start to focus less on the experience of her birth and subsequent farewell, and more on the loss of the hopes and dreams I had for her future. I not only have to grieve her passing, but also the memories that we will never make, the first cry, first words, first steps, first day of school, first love…a lifetime full of memories that will never be. And so, our sadness is uncovered in layers, day by day.

Still, I have peace because though she will never experience a life on earth, she isn't robbed of any joy, she is in a place of unspeakable joy. I also am not robbed of joy, because I carried her in my womb for a little while, and will carry her in my heart forever. I also know that I can trust God to use this all for good in my life and in the lives of others. I take great delight and hope in the comfort I receive from God, and the future I know I have with Eliana in heaven. I can’t see her now, but I will see her then.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
Romans 8:18

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything... Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.
James 1:2-4, 12

Friday, June 5, 2009

Eliana's Name

The story behind Eliana’s name, like the story of her life, goes back to a time well before she was born. It begins with our first pregnancy, in 2003. I was in my last year of college at Drake University earning a degree in Music Education and Flute Performance. It was the fall semester and I was doing my student teaching. Mark and I had been married for a little over three years, and were greatly looking forward to having children, but planned to wait until we were out of college. I began having those now familiar symptoms, and one day decided to take a pregnancy test. It confirmed what I had already suspected—I was pregnant!! It was the best surprise of my life, I could hardly believe it was happening. Finishing out the year of college was not a concern. I knew it would be harder, but I could do it. This is what I had looked forward to my whole life, since I was a little girl playing with dolls and helping with my mom’s day-care. When I told Mark he was so surprised, it sent his world spinning, but in the best way imaginable.

It had only been two weeks when I began to bleed, and soon miscarried our first child before we had even heard a heartbeat. This was a very difficult loss for us. We continued to trust God with our lives, but also had worries. We were given no explanation of what went wrong, what if it was something likely to repeat in future pregnancies? What if we were never able to have a healthy baby?

I felt like I was already a mother, from the moment I found out we had conceived. Now what was I going to do, finish out the year of college, and then get a job? Or would we change our plans entirely and try for another baby? As it turned out, we didn’t have to make that decision. On my birthday, January 10th, 2004 I made a wish, to be pregnant within the year. I soon found out that I already was! God had answered our prayer and our hearts cry before we had really begun to ask him.

Soon after finding out, I also began to have symptoms of a threatened miscarriage. I was prescribed a progesterone supplement in hopes of preventing another loss. I continued to have spotting until week 9 of the pregnancy. Throughout this time I was very fearful, and in constant prayer that God would allow me to carry this baby to term and have a healthy outcome. It was during this time that I came across the name Eliana through an on-line namebook. The meaning is “My God has answered” with the spiritual connotation “fulfilled promised.” The name was beautiful, and as soon as I read the meaning, the words brought an immediate sense of comfort, peace, and encouragement from God that I could trust Him to answer our prayers and fulfill His promises. I shared it with Mark and we fell in love with the name, and added it to a list we were keeping of names for boys and girls. We chose to be surprised about the gender, and I later gave birth to our first son in September. He was healthy and perfect and everything we had dreamed of. An answer to prayer and a fulfilled promise.

Over two years later we were expecting our second child. During the early months, we again thought of Eliana for a girl’s name, but found out we were having a boy. We had a completely routine, healthy pregnancy and gave birth to our second son in January of 2007. He was another miracle from God, whose name means “God has heard” and “Seeker of the Truth.”

It wasn’t long before I began praying about our third baby, that God would lead in the timing of the next pregnancy and bring us a healthy baby according to his will. I have always felt that ultimately gender is a non-issue, because just to hold your healthy baby in your arms is such a miracle and a gift. This time, however, I began adding in short silent prayers for a baby girl. I didn’t pray it very often, and rarely mentioned it, but I had a deep desire within my heart that the next baby would be a girl…and God Answered.

Once we found out she was a girl, we thought again of the name Eliana Grace, of the answered prayer of a healthy baby girl, and the “fulfilled promise” of new life. We didn’t know all the other meanings it would take on. We now think of God’s promise of eternal life for those who trust in Him, the fulfilled promise that Eliana is now safely cradled in the arms of Jesus, and the future promise that we will join her in His presence someday, free of all suffering, sadness, and pain. We also think of His promises to bear our sorrows, comfort us, and give us peace.

In the midst of this deep sadness, He has already answered the cries of our hearts by granting us peace like a river, Grace upon Grace, and the fulfilled promise of His presence, His comfort, and His Love beyond measure. The name Grace means "God's Grace." We cling to the promise that God will not give us more than we can handle, and He will provide us with the Grace to withstand whatever comes our way. We don't know why He chose to answer our prayers in this way, but as we continue to wade through these dark waters, we know that we can rest in His arms, just as we know Eliana is right now.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A woman after God's own heart?

It has only been a little over three weeks since our little girl Eliana went to be with Jesus. There have been so many ups and downs, and so much sadness. But in the middle of our loss, we have continued to experience so much comfort and peace from God, in a way that we have never known before.

A few days after Eliana's birth, I opened my Bible to read, and without giving it a lot of thought went immediately to the beginning of Psalms. I had it in my head that when I met with my mom's group the week before, that was where we had decided to read together next. Immediately the verses began speaking poignently and directly to my heart and my situation, and I read through many chapters. I thought it was definitely the hand of God that we had decided to study that before even knowing about what would transpire. The funny thing is, I later realized that I didn't even read the right assignment, we were supposed to be reading Proverbs! Now I believe even more that God specifically directed me to those passages, knowing what I needed at this time, and wanting to speak directly to me.

David, the author of most of the Psalms, was a man who endured a lot in his life, including the death of his own infant son. Despite his hardships and struggles with sin, God showed him grace, and he was even known as “a man after God’s own heart.” Many of the Psalms were written during times of intense trials in David’s life, but he still found the strength to trust God and praise Him. Since Eliana's death, He has used these passages to life me up, letting me know that He hears my cries, and that I can trust Him. I hope that He can use my trials for good like He did for David, that I might be a woman after God’s own heart. I wanted to include some of what I have been reading and learning, and I hope it can encourage someone else like it has me!

“But You, O Lord, are a shield about me, My glory, the One who lifts my head. I was crying to the Lord with my voice, and He answered me from His holy mountain. I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the Lord sustains me, I will not be afraid…” Psalm 3: 3-6

Those words are such a beautiful comfort, like being wrapped in a blanket of peace. One thing I have been struggling with since saying goodbye to Eliana is lifting my head. I have two energetic pre-schoolers to take care of, who wake me up each morning full of life and needing me to make their day happen. Some days I don’t feel like getting out of bed, some days I don’t have the strength to tackle what the day might hold, some days I just want to pull the covers over my head, go back to sleep, and pretend these last weeks have all just been a bad dream. But they need me. How can I have the strength to lift my head? I cannot, but He will lift it for me, He will be my shield and my sustainer. He hears my cries and answers them with grace.

Lift up the light of Your countenance upon us, Oh Lord! You have put gladness in my heart, more than when their grain and new wine abound, In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, make me to dwell in safety.” Psalm 4: 6-8

Not only have I been struggling to get out of bed, but I have been struggling with sleep. The days are so filled with tasks and being a Mommy of two, but always on my mind is my little Eliana. When everything is finally quiet, and I’m alone with my thoughts, my mind is a restless wanderer. I can’t seem to make peace with my thoughts, but here I read that I can lie down, and not only will God grant me that peace, but He will also put gladness in my heart, even more than when things were going well! How can that be? Only because of the One who can do the impossible.

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am pining away; Heal me, O Lord, for my bones are dismayed. And my soul is greatly dismayed; But You, O Lord—how long? Return, O Lord, rescue my soul; save me because of Your lovingkindness…I am weary with my sighing; every night I make my bed swim, I dissolve my couch with my tears. My eye has wasted away with grief…The Lord has heard the voice of my weeping. The Lord has heard my supplication, the Lord receives my prayer." Psalm 6:2-9 & Psalm 7:1”

Wow…that says it all. David knew what it was like to experience great heartache, and He also knew how to cry out to a loving God. What else can we do, when the sorrow is so deep, when we feel helpless and broken? When I call to Him, He hears, and He answers faithfully with comfort and peace. My only hope is in Him. I have hope not only because of the shelter He provides me in the midst of the storm, but because I know that Jesus Christ’s death on the cross has won the victory over sin and death, Eliana is with Jesus, and one day I will be reunited with her in heaven.

The words of the Lord are pure words; as silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times. You, O Lord, will keep them.” Psalm 12: 6-7

Nothing compares to the truth of God’s promises. Eliana’s name means “fulfilled promise.” So many places in the Bible God promises to comfort us, to give us peace, to never leave us, here David reminds us, like silver, how strong, how pure and beautiful God’s words really are. Because of Eliana, I have already experienced the fulfillment of so many of God’s promises.

How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart all the day?” Psalm 13:1&2 “But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord because He has dealt bountifully with me.” Psalm 13:5&6.

Sometimes it is impossible to understand God. He works in mysterious ways, far beyond our comprehension, but yet He promises to work all things together for our good. (Romans 8:28) There are times when He seems to forget us, to hide His face. Can we still trust in His love? Can we even rejoice, and sing praises to Him? Okay, maybe this idea sounds a little crazy. If God is really all powerful, then why didn’t He allow my baby girl to stay safe inside my body, to grow and develop, and be born crying and healthy? The truth is, I don’t know. Maybe because she will never have to cry, she was spared all the heart ache this world can hold, and ushered immediately into endless love and light. But then, why must I be left to cry without her? I do not have an answer, but I know that her life, and even her death, were no accident, God has a purpose and a plan even in this. He is loving, and He is good, and in that sweet someday I will understand. When I stand before Him and He wipes every tear from my eyes and I embrace my daughter in His presence. Then we will worship and praise Him together. That is why along with David, I can pray, I trust in Your love, I will rejoice in Your salvation, I will sing praise to You. I don’t understand, but I will trust You.