Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Plan: Ours vs. God's

[We] had planned the perfect life, but God had interrupted our plans with with what seemed like a much worse plan of His own.  Have you ever felt that way?  If God had just listened to you, things would have been okay.  But now you're held captive by situations you never wanted to be in and can't seem to get out of by yourself.

If you've ever felt that way, you're not alone.

... that day in the waiting room, I began to see that God was using our hospital captivity to teach me about His character and to draw me closer to Him.  When I was alone pouting about how my plans hadn't worked out, God was able to break through my stubbornness and reveal another plan for me, a better plan - one that would draw me closer in my relationship with Him.

Myth: The plan I have for my life is much better than the place where God has me right now.

Truth: Where God has me right now is the best place for me.

Laura Story, When God Doesn't Fix It

This is a huge, important, hard truth, one that I still have to peek at through the spaces between my fingers, like you do when you're watching a scary movie.  My grieving heart still can't stare this truth boldly in the face, even three and half years after Evie's diagnosis.  It's important, so important, and I know it's there.  It just hurts.

It's hard to say, "This place, the one where two precious children of mine have died, is the  best place for me to be.  Yep.  Sounds good."  

See, that's hard.  And while I know it must be true, because God uses things like this to mold us into a more Christlike image, and because His character can't allow Him to do anything that is not good, it still hurts.

I don't know about you, but I feel like lately I've been observing how God often takes the thing we planned on most in this world to bring about that hard character molding.  For me, who always dreamed of a house full of my own children to care for and love on, He chose to take two (and please no more!).  And, let's be real, I will never again have a carefree pregnancy, should the Lord allow me to get pregnant again.  And, another reality, I have no assurance that we will ever be able to bring another baby home.  I sure as the stars hope so, but I truly don't know.  And all of these unknowns are forcing me to exercise faith and focus on the present and truths that keep me grounded.  I suppose I wouldn't have had to practice those in the same way had the Lord not taken Evie and Charlie.

Anyway, I hope this truth is one you can keep near and reference whenever you need it most, even if you can only peer at it for a moment, one eye at a time.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord.  Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.  Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  And you will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you, declares the Lord.  
Jeremiah 29:11-13

Saturday, October 31, 2015

31 Days of Grief: Day 31

So, you may have noticed, there aren't 31 actual posts on this 31 Day series.  I'm ok with that.  But there have been things I've wanted to say and yet lacked the time/motivation to get them down daily.  So I'm compiling into one long finale post.  I'm not sure if this is a trick or treat.  We'll go with that last one ;)

My husband celebrated his 30th birthday this past weekend.  30 years.  30 good years, I might add.  30 good years for a good man.  

Words aren't his love language so I didn't write anything sappy or sentimental on Facebook.  But, if I did, it would have sounded a little something like this ...

There's a song on the radio right now with this recurring line:

If I got locked away and we lost it all today, tell me honestly,
Would you still love me the same?
If I showed you my flaws, if I couldn't be strong, tell me honestly,
Would you still love me the same?

So, I've never been incarcerated (thankfully), but I have had a pretty big life-changing circumstance (losing two babies).  And those life-changing experiences showed my biggest flaws and left me feeling incredibly un-strong.  

Praise the Lord I am married to a wonderful man who, when asked honestly, still does love me the same even after all that.  He continues to comfort me and redirect my wayward thoughts and ground me in truth.  He wipes my tears and gives me space and gives me not space, as needed.  PRN, as he might say ;)  

Could a girl really ask for more?  Happy birthday to a truly wonderful man.  I love you forever, Josh Rieke.  

Anyway, that's what I would have written.  Or something similar.  I was also thinking of doing a more lighthearted post where I included this quote:
Haha.  Oh, marriage.  But really, he is wonderful.  

I've also been thinking a lot about this picture

It was me and Micah in March of 2012.  I had worked super hard to lose all (yes, all) of my baby weight.  And I was currently pregnant with a teensy tiny Evie-bean.  Life felt good.  I felt good.  I had my sweet boy and a baby in my belly and Josh was in school pursuing his dream and life felt like it was supposed to.  

In some ways I want to be that girl again.  Besides wanting those size six jeans she's wearing (hellllooo!  please??) I want to feel lighthearted and happy.  I want to feel free and optimistic.  I want conversations with others to be easy and not cast an awkward pall everywhere I go.  I want to be the girl I was back then.

But you know, in some ways I don't.  I like the post-Evie me that sees others in a more compassionate, understanding way.  I like the person that has a ministry here and that God is using.  And even though I would never pick this path and sometimes I wish it wasn't mine, I think it ultimately gives me the eternal perspective I'm supposed to have while I'm here.  I think those are good things.

It's been a painful path, a trial by fire for sure.  But I think I'm a more useful vessel now.  It's something to be thankful for.  Although I really would like those jeans back ...

Another thing I've been thinking about (I warned you ... long post.  and random.) is how much I hate the suffering around me.

I hate that so many women have lost babies.  And I hate their painful memories and experiences that go along with those losses.

I hate that my friend unexpectedly lost her husband while she was pregnant with their first baby.  I hate the way she has to now reconfigure her entire life.  So hard.

I hate that some loved ones have big financial burdens that seem to complicate typical life things.  I wish I could take it all away.  

I hate that people are lonely.  I hate that people have broken hearts.  I hate that kids get abused and mistreated and have hungry bellies.  I hate when darkness seems to win.  

I look at my children all the time and wonder what crap they'll have to endure as they go through life.  Does that make me a pessimist?  I don't know.  I think my eyes have just been opened and I realize that everyone has pain.  I hate that they'll have to learn that too.

I suppose that's why ... Jesus.  He overcame this world and lives in a perfect world now.  One day we will too.  That's a good thing.

Someone commented to me yesterday that I seem to have a lot of hope in the eternal - in the perfect world that Jesus promised, the one with no tears or suffering.  I think I need to believe in that world.  I need a world that exists where I can be with my babies I didn't get to know.  I need a world where I can be reunited with family and where every morning will feel like Christmas and the cinnamon rolls will have no calories.  My soul needs to feel the comfort of a place like this.  And the great thing is, it really exists.

Sure it'll be a while.  But it will come.  Until then, friends ...

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.  Therefore comfort one another with these words.
I Thessalonians 4:16-18

Come quickly, dear Lord Jesus.  

Thursday, October 22, 2015

31 Days of Grief: Day 22

I stood chatting with this cute young couple about their adorable little daughter, the sweet baby nestled lovingly in her mommy's arms.  She seemed to be about seven months and was wearing a lacy pink dress with a matching floral headband.  Cutie pie.  

The couple asked me if I had any kids.  I answered yes, a boy and a girl, ages four and one.   
"That's a good age gap."  The dad said, glancing at his wife's growing belly.

"Yeah, these two are only going to be thirteen months apart."  The sweet mama patted her middle gently. 

This whole interchange knocked the wind out of me.  I could hardly respond intelligently.  They probably thought I was crazypants for staring at them without speaking.  I just didn't know what to say.  My thoughts were reeling ...

A good age gap.  Except there was one in between.

Thirteen months apart.  Yeah, that's close.  Jocelyn and Charlie would only have been fifteen months apart.  Two small babies to snuggle.  It would have been crazy but wonderful, no doubt.

Luckily Josh walked up moments later and the conversation turned.  Hopefully I didn't seem as fruit-loopy as I felt.

Conversations like that are hard.  It's something I still haven't gotten used to, not in the almost three years since Evie left us.  I always feel like I'm lying a little or betraying two special members of my family if I leave them out.  And I know that I've spoken out about speaking out on that subject - answering truthfully to strangers about my children no matter how it changes the mood of the conversation.  But after an experience where I answered truthfully to a grocery store cashier about how many children I had and then broke down so hard that she came out from behind her cash register to hug me, I decided I needed to rethink my strategy.
(ps ... I love what this post says regarding speaking out about hard things).  

So anyway, it's just hard.  I think it's part of the wound that never really heals after losing a child.  

But not just losing a child.  I know there are some of you reading this who feel pain over not being able to regularly speak about a parent, spouse, sibling, friend.  

So here's to a heaven where we won't only get to speak about these loved ones, we'll get to be with them.  Three cheers for that day <3 

Monday, October 19, 2015

31 Days of Grief: Day 19

A few mornings ago, at the breakfast table, this was my son's prayer:

Dear Jesus, thank you for this day.  Help everyone to be good.  And help us to have a new baby who is healthy ... very healthy, and strong ... very, very strong and won't die ... 

I teared up.  How could I not?  It breaks my heart that my son has lost two siblings and this knowledge, that babies die, is part of his life experience, his life story.  

There was a time shortly after Jocelyn was born that Micah would get very serious, give her a big hug and say, Mom, I love her so much,  I just don't want her to die!

It took a lot of carefully chosen words to explain that not all babies die and that baby Evie had been very sick.  I think he gets it now.

Just last week I was addressing baby Charlie's birth announcements to long-distance family.  Micah asked to see one and smiled.  A few minutes later he was acting very strange and I asked him what was wrong.  He broke down, "I'm sad about baby Charlie!" He said it through loud wails, "I just want him!".  Tears from me too, of course.  Because that's what I want as well. 

Mostly Micah remains unaffected by Evie and Charlie's deaths.  He is a happy go lucky four year old boy with a big imagination and lots of dirt under his fingernails from sunny afternoons playing outside.  But every once in a while things come up.  

This time around we knew Micah understood what was happening with Charlie.  From the diagnosis day until now we tell him, if he wants to cry or not, both are ok.  If he feels sad or just normal, that's all ok.  We encourage him to talk to us and ask questions and, for a while, I was checking in and casually asking him what he thought about the baby.  We try to be open and very honest, we don't sugar coat what happened, but we do try to be sensitive.

I just have to remember that, just as Evie and Charlie have their unique stories and losing two babies is a part of my unique story, losing two siblings (and please God, no more!), is a part of my son's story.  I hope and pray very much that it gives him a special empathy for those who are hurting and makes him a better brother, son, and friend.   I hope it gives him a genuine zeal for heaven.  I hope one day, he can use this part of his story to further the kingdom's cause, just like his sister and brother.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

31 Days of Grief: Day 15 (Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day)

Yesterday I picked up my son's ashes from the funeral home.  

That sentence is all sorts of wrong.

Today I talked with the genetic counselor at my doctor's office about the findings of my baby's autopsy.  

Cool.  Just what I like to do on a nice Thursday afternoon.  

Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day.  One in four women experience these losses.  One in four, twenty-five percent.  It's a pretty staggering statistic, if you ask me.

With 25% of women affected by pregnancy and infant loss, you never know what the woman standing right next to you has gone through.  

The lady that walked absentmindedly in front of your car on her way into the grocery store?  She may have buried her baby the day before.

The woman sitting idly at a green light?  She may be trying to process the fact that the little life she is carrying will not be coming home with her.

The one at the library who seems to be staring at your child?  She might have lost a baby who would be exactly the age of your little one, and she's trying so hard to imagine what they might have been like.  

Losing babies, losing these precious lives, hurts.  It hurts to do painful things like pick out caskets and cremation urns or have invasive surgeries when all you really wanted was to worry about carseat installation and amazon reviews on pack and plays.  One in four women has these experiences.  

Today, please be aware that there are women out there hurting because they've lost something very precious.  And please remember those precious lives lost because they were alive and loved and wanted and they mattered.  Very, very much. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

31 Days of Grief: Day 12

Just thinking about my kiddos and how special each one is to me.  These photos captured the moments I first held each one.

Micah David Rieke, 12/19/10
 After Micah I remember feeling like it was so surreal.  I was a mom.  What did that even mean?!  lol.  Of course I was in love though.  He calmed right down after hearing my voice and laying on my chest.  Heart melted.
Evie Caris Rieke, 11/8/12
 After Evie I remember feeling so relieved that the crazy birth experience was over and she was safely in my arms.  I couldn't stop kissing her as they wheeled me down to whatever room they wheeled me to.  Precious girl.

Jocelyn Evie Rieke, 6/28/14

Joci's birth felt like the longest and most frustrating process.  After Evie I was expecting a lightening fast birth and it took longer than I wanted.  Plus I hadn't been able to labor in the birthing center with the hot tub because of meconium, which was very disappointing.  I was so thankful to finally have that baby girl in my arms.  She made us laugh right away by nursing immediately like she had been waiting for milk the whole time haha.  And, considering her current love for "nacks" (snacks), she might have been!  I love that girl.

Charlie Alan Rieke, 9/18/15

I was incredibly relieved to have Charlie in my arms as well, considering his birth was fast as lightening.  In fact, it was a little bit frightening ;).  But for real, I was glad when it was over.  I may have felt the most disoriented with his birth.  I feel like I hardly was able to grasp the fact that he was with us, and then he was gone.  I'm thankful to have held him while he breathed a few breaths.  Always wishing, of course, that it could have been more.

Four special little ones for me.  They all hold my heart in a very unique way and I love them all <3.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

31 Days of Grief: Day 11

A few lines of a hymn during morning worship today made quite an impression on me:

I could not see through the shadows ahead;
So I looked at the cross of my Savior instead.
I bowed to the will of the Master that day;
Then peace came and tears fled away.

That line does not sit well with me.  I am here to tell you, dear friends, that peace and tears are not mutually exclusive.  

I hate that this, along with many other hymn lines and Christian cliches, imply that if you are bowed to God's will and have peace ruling in your heart, there will be no tears.  


Jesus was perfectly bowed to God's will, obedient unto the cross, and still He was in deep anguish and sorrow over what He had to do:

And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.  Luke 22:44

He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death  Mark 14:33-34

If Jesus was this anguished and sorrowful, how can we expect ourselves to not be anguished and sorrowful during our deepest struggles?  And, if you're anything like me, tears go hand in hand with that anguish and sorrow.

I don't really know where the idea came from that peace and tears are mutually exclusive.  I remember struggling with this thought after Evie's diagnosis - I was crying soooo much.  Was I wrong?  Was I sinning?  Did I have super weak faith?  

I know now that you can cry over your deepest hurts and still heave peace with what the Lord is doing in your life and still have hope for what He's done for your future.  Some of my most sincere times of worship have been me, alone, face down on the floor, tears streaming down my face, sobs shaking my body and saying, Lord, this hurts so badly.  Please take this from me.  But, even if not, I still trust that You have a plan in this.  I still believe You are good.  I still place my hope in Your work on the cross.  Thank you for this peace that surpasses all understanding.

Peace doesn't have to look like blue skies and little lambs and songbirds on your shoulder. Peace can exist simultaneously with pain.  Peace and tears are not mutually exclusive. Don't let anyone make you think or feel otherwise.