Zion’s Story, Part 3

Part 1     Part 2

We pulled into the church parking lot that bitterly cold morning, and there was the hearse. The hearse for us. The hearse for him. That awful, concrete symbol of life turning into death, of joy becoming grief, of a deep sorrow that will never really go away.

I hadn’t been expecting it. I knew they were bringing him in his tiny casket, but I never considered they would drive him to the church in a hearse. Its massive, tomb-like essence shrouding his miniature body and carrying him to where we would gather with friends and family to mourn his premature death.

I inhaled sharply. My chest grew tight. My breath caught in my throat, and I covered my mouth with my hand, the tears coming in a sudden wave of sorrow and cascading down my cheeks.

“I didn’t know they would bring the hearse,” was all I said, as my Sister’s arm went around me comfortingly. It felt like it made everything that had happened over the last couple of weeks really real. It all came flooding back to me.  The grief and sorrow intermingling with the dark guilt hidden in the depths of my soul.

I had held him in my arms for a couple of hours the day he was born. I was overwhelmed with the knowledge that I would only have those few brief hours with him, and I intended to soak in every single second. After we took pictures with him, I just held him on my lap, or next to me on the hospital bed while we waited to be able to go home.  Harvene brought in a memory box that the hospital had put together. She took great care picking out a tiny crocheted blanket and hat for him. She wrapped him in first one blanket, then another, wanting to pick the very best things for him. Did we want to put something special in the casket with him when we buried him? No, I really didn’t. I didn’t want him in the casket, let alone anything else.  It wasn’t like he would ever enjoy a blanket’s soft comfort, or know that someone somewhere had knitted a miniscule hat for him.

Everyone was being so wonderful. So kind. So compassionate. They all called him “him” and not “it,” or even called him by his name. Zion. Their gentle care for me caused me to withdraw even more into myself, the knowledge of my shame hanging over my head like a dark cloud. If they only knew what had been in my heart, they would never be so kind.

I felt desperately protective of my son. I was acutely aware of his gestational age. 16 Weeks. Well, technically, 15 weeks, 6 days. But who was counting? I knew who was counting—thousands of clinics all over the country who didn’t consider a baby of my son’s gestational age a human life. He was under that 20 week mark. He could still be legally aborted in so many places, with unwitting mothers being told he was “just a clump of tissue” and that ending the pregnancy wasn’t murder.

I picked up those tiny fingers and counted the fingernails, the wrinkles on his knuckles. How could anyone say he wasn’t human? I had heard of enough people saying with the loss of a pregnancy “Well, at least you weren’t further along.” As if his size makes him more or less of a person? As if that eases the heartache of losing a child?

I knew that seeing a dead baby couldn’t be easy for anyone, but to me, he was beautiful. He was mine, and I wanted to memorize every little detail before I had to let him go. For a long, long time, I just held him. As the hours passed, his skin began to dry out, his body becoming more brittle. I began to be afraid of accidentally tearing his soft skin.  Suddenly, I didn’t want to hold him anymore. I didn’t understand why, I just knew a dark cloud of sorrow was forming over my head, and it no longer comforted me to hold my stillborn baby.

And then I realized why. With the passing of each hour, his body—warm when he was born—grew colder and colder.  His limp, unmoving form began to torment me.  And I began to smell…death.  I had never been with a person when they died before, and I wasn’t cognitively aware that death had a smell, but I suddenly knew all-too-well, that death most certainly did have a smell.  And my baby was wearing it.

I suddenly wanted him as far away from me as he could be. Harvene had asked if we were ready for her to take him yet, but as much as my aching heart longed to say yes, I couldn’t say it.  Once he was gone, he was gone forever, and I couldn’t bear that thought. But I couldn’t bear the thought of him lying there cold and dead, either.

“Stephen,” I said quietly, handing Zion over to him. “Please take him and put him over there. I can’t hold him anymore.” Thoughts plagued me that I couldn’t give him up yet—I would always wish for these moments back. I had to soak up every minute.  But I couldn’t. I just couldn’t hold him anymore.

It was taking hours for me to be cleared to go home, and I needed a distraction. Hannah had been by her phone all day, waiting, praying, texting encouragement back and forth.  She had said she would come over if I wanted her to, and I desperately wanted her to. Stephen headed to pick me up the Arby’s sandwich I was craving, and Audra came in to tell me she wanted to do a quick ultrasound to make sure everything was delivered safely.   Hannah came in and waited with me.  I felt self-conscious of my hospital gown, the IV hooked up to my arm administering fluids, the blood on the sheets.  All the signs of having given birth, but nothing to show for it.

And then the tech came in to take me down to ultrasound. I told Hannah I would be right back and climbed into the wheel chair they brought for me. I was only gone for a few minutes—everything looked great! I was cleared to go. They wheeled me back into my room. I carefully stood up and looked over to where Hannah was standing with Stephen. He had returned with the coveted food.

“Annie, you didn’t tell me he was over here,” Hannah said, her voice holding a question in it. It was as if she had really said, “Why didn’t you show him to me earlier?”  Stephen stood next to her, his face showing both sorrow and pride as he showed Hannah our son.

My heart dropped to my feet. Why hadn’t I showed him to her before? “Oh, um, yeah,” I fumbled lamely, hurrying to climb back into the hospital bed and cover myself up.  I wondered if maybe I could cover my shame with the blankets—like I had quickly covered up the blood when Hannah walked in.

Hannah knew. Hannah knew my secret. How could she even look at me? Look at him? Why had I thought it was a good idea for her to come? Surely she would chastise me the way I deserved to be. Surely she would tell everyone there to stop being so kind to me—that I didn’t deserve it.  That I was a terrible, horrible mother and should be punished, not sympathized with.

I couldn’t look in their direction. I felt like my heart was being ripped in two—part of me wanting to let Hannah see my baby, and the other wanting to run and hide. I pulled out my food and began eating, having lost my appetite, but desperately needing to keep my hands busy.  Hannah walked quietly over and sat next to me on the bed, her arms circling around me, her head resting softly on my shoulder.  Her compassion both confused and tormented me.  How could she really love me, knowing what she knew?

Harvene came in to make little ink footprints of Zion’s feet. Then she asked if I wanted him.

“Um, sure,” I muttered, not knowing how to say my heart couldn’t handle being near him anymore. I wasn’t finished with my sandwich, so she gently laid him on the bed next to me.

I couldn’t eat another bite. I silently wrapped up the leftovers and put it back into the bag. I didn’t know what to do next. I just wanted to get out of there. But we were still waiting for the paperwork. Hannah and I tried to talk about normal things—anything to take my mind away from where we were and why we were there.  Eventually, Hannah kissed the top of my head, gave me a tight squeeze and headed home.  Stephen and I were left alone in the hospital room as the sun slowly went down.  Stephen came over to the bed, pulled me into his arms, and I laid my head against his shoulder.  The room grew darker and darker with each passing minute as we just sat silently on the bed, arms wrapped tightly around each other.  Neither of us reached to turn on the lights. Neither of us cared.

I could feel the tears burning against the back of my eyes. “Stephen?”

“Hmm?” Stephen answered, his face against my hair.

“I…” My voice caught in my throat, and I cleared it self-consciously and tried again. “I…I didn’t want him.” I said it so quietly, it was nearly imperceptible. The tears came then, running down my cheeks in quick succession. The burden of shame was nearly suffocating, and I knew the only answer was to speak it, to bring it into the light.

“What do you mean?” Stephen began rubbing my back softly.

I cleared my throat again, attempting to speak a bit louder. “When I found out I was pregnant, I was mad. I didn’t know how I could do five kids.  Adoniah wasn’t even one year old yet! I was mad at God because He knew how much I didn’t want to be pregnant again, but He did it anyway. And I was selfish, and angry, and a terrible, horrible mother.” I was sobbing now, my heart breaking.  “What mother doesn’t want her own baby?? I don’t deserve to be sad! I don’t deserve to have anyone be sad for me!”

Stephen just held me for a long time while I cried. I finally allowed myself to cry all the hot tears of anguish, shame and guilt that had been pent up in my soul for so long. After a long while, the storm of tears abated, and Stephen spoke quietly.  “You are not a terrible, horrible mother.  You are a wonderful mother who loves her children very much.  But you are also overwhelmed, and scared and only human and the thought of having a fifth child was too much for you.  It’s only natural to feel the way you felt, and it doesn’t mean you didn’t love or want Zion.”

“Because I did want him! I really did!” I choked out. “I was just really scared.”

“I know you were. And there is grace for all of that. This isn’t your fault. God isn’t punishing you. And it’s okay to be sad.  Whether you were happy or sad when you found out you were pregnant, your baby lived and died, and you loved him, and you wanted him, and it’s okay to be sad.”  Stephen ran his hands through my hair and wiped the tears tenderly from my cheeks. “It’s okay,” he repeated softly.  I didn’t know if I really believed him yet.  But I prayed that someday I would.

The sun had disappeared behind the horizon and the room was dark and quiet. Harvene came in to say our paperwork had finally come through, and I was free to leave. But first, we had to say goodbye.

Stephen carried Zion over to me. I took him, one last time, and touched his rounded head.

“Goodbye, sweet baby,” I whispered. “I love you now and into eternity.  And I can’t wait to see you again someday. Say hi to your sister for me, okay?” Tears blurred my vision as I handed him to his daddy. I watched Stephen just hold him tenderly for a long moment, unable to speak.

“Goodbye, Zion Emmanuel. We love you,” he said, and then handed him to Harvene.

And then she was gone. And he was gone. And we were alone in the dark quietness of the room. Alone with the ache in our heavy hearts. Alone with our thoughts, our regrets, our sorrow.

And now I was sitting in my son’s funeral. His small, beautiful casket sat on the table in the front of the sanctuary, surrounded by my favorite picture of his tiny feet and his initials.

As we closed out the service, we stood and sang “It Is Well.” I sang the words feeling desperate sorrow but clinging to hope. Hope that this wasn’t really the end. Hope that I would see my little boy again.  Hope that Zion’s short life had made a difference.  Hope that God could bring beauty out of these ashes.

I would end up getting that phrase tattooed on my foot. Scrolled across the top of my left foot, in black ink that was permanently embedded in my skin—just like Zion was permanently embedded in my heart—I would be reminded day in and day out, that God had been faithful in the past, and He would continue to be faithful. In our joy and in our pain.  In our strength and in our weakness.  It is well, it is well, with my soul.

“And Lord, haste the day

When my faith shall be sight

The clouds be rolled back as a scroll

The trump shall resound

And the Lord shall descend,

Even so, it is well with my soul.”


Zion’s Story, Part 2

Click for Part 1


I’ll never forget the stillness into which he was born.

That moment, which is supposed to be charged with excitement, anticipation, and sheer agony—was utterly silent. I could feel him coming, and then—there he was. Just like all of my other babies—one minute we are waiting and wondering, the next second, they make their appearance in a shocking, unexpected rush.  But all those other times of quick birth were followed by a flurry of frenetic activity.  Nurses and midwives running to and fro, grabbing warm blankets, wrapping up baby, placing him on my chest, Daddy cutting the cord, everyone beaming with pride and relief. Welcoming them into the world with joy, tears, elation.

This time. Silence. Stillness. A quietness that screamed throughout the room that this—this was not how it was supposed to be in this moment. Birth should be the beginning of life, not the beginning of death.

He was stillborn December 1, 2016 at 12:46pm. Nine days after he passed from life into death, he finally passed from my womb and into our arms. I don’t remember much about those nine days of waiting. It passed in a blur, sometimes quickly, other times agonizingly slowly. The nights were the longest. I could keep myself busy during the days taking care of my other four littles, and friends and family often stopped by, bringing meals or just sitting with us to take our mind off what was to come.

But at night, the bitter reality would creep up on me as I lay in the quiet darkness. The utter stillness inside my rounded belly felt almost haunting.  I would rest my hand under where my baby lay quietly beneath my skin, keenly aware that I only had a few more days to hold him close, and then I would finally permit my pillow to absorb my silent, pent-up tears. I have never found it easy to allow my tears to surface. I often envy people who are able to cry, because, when the tears come, they often bring with them some semblance of relief. Like a dam of sorrow breaking and spilling out over parched ground. My dam rarely breaks though, and when it does, it is most often in solitude.

I knew that Stephen would be more than willing to wake up with me in those nights, to hear my heart, to dry my tears. And I am sure I should have allowed him the privilege of caring for me during those nights.  But I just couldn’t let myself bother him. He had been under so much stress himself, the last thing he needed was to lose sleep over me, too.

So each night, as the hours grew unbearably long, I would finally slide out of bed, grab my favorite blanket, and curl up on the couch. I usually turned on Anne of Green Gables or something familiar and soothing, and before long, I would have drifted off, the moonlight spilling in through the window over me as I slept.

As the days and nights came and went, it became increasingly torturous to notice that the baby inside me lay quietly, unmoving, and never would move again. As much as I wanted to hold on to him for as long as I could, it felt as if I was scooping sand through my fingers and watching it pour through the cracks and disappear forever. I couldn’t hold on to him anymore. He was gone, and I had to let him go. It was time to hold my baby in my arms for the first and last time, and then hold him in my heart forever.

And so it was that on the morning of December 1, I woke early after yet another sleepless night. We were to be at the hospital at 7:00 for the induction.  By the time we loaded the car and drove the 30 minutes there, I felt calm. The whole thing felt completely surreal. Almost as if I was watching myself from outside of my own body. Stephen held my hand as we stood and waited by the elevator. We were almost there. Almost to labor and delivery. I dreaded that moment. Stepping through the doors to sign the papers, meet my nurse, walk past all the rooms where other mothers were giving birth to living babies.

Who would I get as my nurse today? I had experienced bad labor nurses before, and I prayed that today would not be one of those days. Oh, why couldn’t it just be my own mama with me today instead of a strange nurse whom I had never met?

Harvene didn’t look up from her clipboard as she walked from behind the nurse’s station to meet me. Her short, black hair was cropped tightly against her head, and her face had an expression of no-nonsense as she studied my file.

Oh, Lord! I prayed. Please let this be a compassionate nurse!

Stephen was holding my right hand, but suddenly, I felt an arm slip around my waist from the other side. I turned to see Harvene standing beside me, smiling gently as she squeezed my middle.

“My name is Harvene, and I am going to just treat you like my own precious daughter today, because I have a daughter the exact same age as you, and she just lost a baby last year. I am so sorry this is what we are doing today, but I am just going to take care of you like I would my own girl.”

I was overwhelmed with gratitude and relief. Thank you, Jesus! If a person has to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, having kind and gentle people to walk alongside them makes all the difference.

There weren’t many people who came and went from our room that day. But both Stephen and I received so many texts, messages, emails, and voicemails, we couldn’t even keep up with them all.  People from all over the world were praying for us that day. And we could feel it.  We could feel the strength enter our weary bones and prop us up to do what had to be done.

Stephen stood beside my bed as Harvene helped me into the hospital gown and then started the IV. There would be no monitors this time. I wouldn’t have to wrestle with the cords of fetal heart monitors or blood pressure cuffs. This time was so different. So strange. So quiet.

My midwife, Audra, had come in and given me the medicine intended to induce me. They told me to be prepared for something fairly similar to a full-term birth and that the contractions should start coming pretty soon. And then we waited. And waited. And waited. I had never been induced before, so none of us knew how my body would respond to the medication, but we all hoped that it would kick in quickly and that I may even go home after supper.  Everyone kept saying I should be feeling some cramping that would grow increasingly uncomfortable, but so far, I felt like it was all just some nasty joke. Sure, I felt a couple of squeezes here and there, but at this rate, I felt like I would be in this hospital bed for weeks before the baby was born.

I watched the clock anxiously. I could take my next dose at noon, and I was hoping maybe that would jumpstart things. As it was, I had felt one or two cramps that were beginning to somewhat resemble contractions, but nothing to write home about. I was growing increasingly discouraged and mentally exhausted.

Around 12:30, Harvene came in to administer the next dose. Finally. There was a knock on the door and someone brought a lunch tray in and slipped quietly back out.  Harvene explained that there was a sign on my door—a heart with a tear drop—to let staff know when they entered to be considerate.  We may be in labor and delivery, but this delivery wouldn’t receive any congratulations or well wishes.  They wanted to be respectful of how difficult it was for parents in this situation, and they did an amazing job.

Audra came back in to check on me. She explained that once the baby was born, we could keep him with us for as long as we wanted.  We had arranged for a photographer—a good friend of ours—to come and take pictures once he was born. And then, once I was cleared to go home, we would say goodbye to our baby, and he would be sent to the funeral home to await burial. I was having a hard time wrapping my mind around the reality that we would be leaving the hospital today without a baby. And I wouldn’t be pregnant anymore.

I shifted uncomfortably on the bed. My back was beginning to ache from half-sitting, half-laying for the last 5 hours. Harvene had just checked my progress to see if anything was happening. Nothing. I hadn’t dilated at all.  I wanted to be like, “Are you serious?? I have been laying here for 5 hours hooked up to stuff and I haven’t made any progress??”

But as soon as she left, I began to feel strange. I couldn’t put my finger on it, though. Something in me signaled that things were about to start happening.

“I think…I feel…” I frowned, confused, at Stephen, and he frowned back—his eyes searching mine for clues as to what my body was doing. Stephen was always the most amazing support as I had birthed our last four children. He always stayed calm, listened to what I needed, and soothed me with encouraging words and a gentle touch.  Now he waited expectantly for me to finish my sentence and help him to know what I needed from him.

I didn’t know exactly what I felt, as I got up and walked to the bathroom, hoping to find relief from the strange, aching sensation around my middle. It felt almost like an intense heaviness deep within my belly, pulling in and downward.  I could feel a building pressure.  I felt I needed to sway back and forth, to rock myself, to—suddenly, I realized what felt so familiar.  “Oh! Stephen call the midwife back. I think the baby’s coming now!”

Stephen poked his head out the hallway and called for the nurse. Harvene hurried back and looked at me oddly.

“You’re feeling…how?”

“Weird. Just…weird,”

“Weird, like…pushy?”

“Yeah, kind of, I think so, I don’t really know,” I fumbled for the right words, instinctively rocking back and forth, hands on my hips, my brow furrowed in concentration.

Harvene said there was absolutely no way I could be ready to push, but up onto the bed I climbed for her to check again.

And suddenly I felt that feeling. That same feeling I have right before all my babies are born. I can’t really find words to describe it though. Pressure? Yes. Squeezing? Yes. Agony? Yes. But this time, not agony of body. Agony of soul.

I distinctly felt him come away from the warm safety of my womb. It was like a breaking of sorts. A breaking of the connection between his body and my body. A physical manifestation of how my heart was feeling.

And in one swift, fluid motion, he was born. Caught in the nurse’s panicked and unexpectant hands—held firmly in place while she quickly paged the front desk for help. I could hear the edge of alarm in her voice as the nurse on the other end calmly asked how she could help.

“I need the midwife now!” The nurse on the other end responded in a chipper voice that she was on her way.

And then we waited. Me half sitting, half laying on the bed, Stephen beside me, his hand protectively on my shoulder, and Harvene at the end of the bed, doing her best to keep that tiny baby in until the midwife arrived.

“I just don’t want you to bleed out,” she somewhat whispered. “We need Audra.”

I don’t really remember Audra walking in. I just know all of a sudden she was there, and he was there. Laying on the hospital bed still tightly cocooned in his sac. We could see his arms and legs through the translucent layer. The sac was so strong Audra had to find a pair of scissors and cut it open and then—finally—we could all see—

“Ohhhhh, it’s a boy!” Audra gasped as she oh, so carefully peeled the sac away from his body, as he lay curled tightly into a ball.

A boy?? Stephen and I looked at each other, shocked. A boy? We had no boy name! We had been absolutely confident that they baby was a girl, and that her name would mean resurrection and new life. The new life we anxiously awaited on the other side of eternity. The new life we believed our baby was already experiencing. We had found the perfect name for a little girl to represent God’s promise of a future hope. But a boy? It was a boy!

And now we were all marveling at his tiny form. Audra picked him up gently. He fit perfectly in her cupped hands as she held him. She wrapped him in a little blanket and Stephen cut the cord.  We all hovered over him—Harvene, Audra, Stephen and me.  No one spoke. We just looked at him in silent wonder.

View More: http://photos.pass.us/zionemmanuel

He was absolutely perfect. His skin was only still mildly translucent and had the appearance of being wet, while not actually feeling wet.  His eyelids hadn’t formed yet, so his tiny eyes stared vacantly up.  But even then we could tell they were blue.  We picked up his hands, his fingers—and counted every single one of them. Ten fingers. Ten toes. We saw his tiny fingernails. His knuckles. His elbows! His ears. Oh, those teeny, tiny, perfect, round ears!

Everything was fully formed, just so very, very small.

View More: http://photos.pass.us/zionemmanuel

And then they handed him to me. A baby to his mama’s waiting arms. I had carried him in my womb for 16 weeks. And now I cupped his precious, lifeless body in my hands. He was so plump! I hadn’t expected the round belly, the filled-out arms and legs. And he was warm. Not because he had life of his own anymore, but because of so recently being entombed within my life. His little body still radiated with the heat of being so close to my own.img_0285

I expected the tears to come then, as I held my baby there in that quiet hospital room. But they didn’t. I felt encompassed in a grief somehow too deep for tears.

Kamie came and took pictures. I had no idea then how much those few photographs would mean to me once he was gone. Kamie wept as she moved his little arms and legs to take each picture.  I felt overwhelmed with gratitude at her willingness to do something so extremely difficult.  The respect and honor with which she treated his miniature body was like a balm to my soul.

We still didn’t have a name for him. We hadn’t told our families that he had been born. Harvene took him and weighed him.

3 ounces. 6 inches long.

So much personhood in such a tiny being. But he was a person.  That much was blatantly obvious just to look at him. “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” But Dr. Seuss, have you ever seen a person this small? Not many people have.  But as we sat in that hospital room that day, each one of us affirmed the beauty and reality of his personhood.

The chaplain came in to pray with us and to explain the next steps of having the baby buried.

And then Stephen said, “Remember when Jubilee was born? We had a boy name picked out that you always wanted to use, and I think it would be perfect for him. Zion Emmanuel.”

Zion Emmanuel. “A memorial to God with us.” Yes, it was absolutely perfect for him.  For God had been with us every step of the way. We could feel his nearness, we trusted in his goodness, we took hope in his faithfulness.

“Zion Emmanuel Willcox,” I whispered the name over my baby’s unmoving form, still cradling him in my hands. “It fits.”

Part 3

Zion’s Story, Part 1

Zion Emmanuel Willcox

Stillborn December 1, 2016 12:46pm

3 ounces, 6 inches long


I specifically remember the rain that day.

It streaked the third-story floor-to-ceiling windows of the hospital, blurring my vision of the parking lot below. Or was it the tears pooling in my eyes that made it impossible to see the cars? I stood alone at the window, my arms wrapped tightly around myself in a feeble attempt to ward off the chill I felt deep in the core of my being. I was waiting for my name to be called. Waiting to be told what I already knew, but never wanted to hear.

My baby was dead.

The tears started spilling down my cheeks again, and I swiped them away, mentally reprimanding myself for crying before I knew for certain. I felt like I was in this awful limbo of knowing and yet not knowing.   The world around me operated as usual, but my whole world had just crashed to a halt.  I desperately wanted to talk to someone. I picked up my phone uncertainly. Stephen was at work. This appointment was supposed to be routine, one of dozens I have throughout the course of each pregnancy.  How could I have known it would be The One where he should be with me?  I couldn’t tell him on the phone.  That would be cruel.  I could text Sister. She would understand the haunting waiting, the ache that was beginning deep in my throat as I attempted to keep the tears at bay. They just kept falling, unbidden.

My phone vibrated in my hands, and I jumped, startled. Hannah, waiting for me to pick her up, had texted to ask when I would be ready.  I had dropped her off to get her hair done and was supposed to pick her back up when I was done with what was intended to be a short, straightforward doctor’s appointment.  Hannah was, as yet, blissfully unaware of what my tardiness meant.  I wanted her to remain in ignorance for as long as possible.  All too soon she could be walking me through the valley of the shadow of death.  My fingers moved to text my sister, three states away.  She had been down this road more than once herself.  I should tell her what I was afraid of.  But then I thought better of telling anyone anything before I was one hundred percent certain, and so I tossed my phone back into my purse. What was there to even say? I should wait.  Maybe, just maybe, there had been some horrible mistake.

I ran my hand over my rounded belly. I had just felt the baby kicking the night before. He—if it was a he—was still so small, but a few times a day, I could feel the fluttering of his little legs kicking, his miniature body rolling over and curling up into a ball somewhere deep beneath my rib cage.  But today there was nothing.  No movement.  No flutters.

No heartbeat.

This was not where I had expected to end up this morning. Waiting for an ultrasound to confirm that the little life inside of me had been prematurely snuffed out. Hannah and I were supposed to be grabbing coffee and running errands to prepare for my birthday the next day. Family and friends were joining us to celebrate Thanksgiving, and we had shopping lists and to-do lists, and with each passing hour, the preparations for birthday and Thanksgiving were growing more elaborate.

No one expected all the plans for merriment to be replaced with preparation for a stillbirth. It never occurred to me that instead of celebrating a gender reveal party, we would be attending my son’s funeral.

My midwife, Teri, and I had been laughing together just minutes before. She had delivered Adoniah, and we had formed a special bond. Stephen and I had actually run into her at a restaurant the week before, and when we saw her, we got so excited that our waitress thought we had seen a celebrity.  “Well, she is a kind of celebrity to me!” I replied, hugging Teri as she came past. The women who have delivered my babies are always extra special to me. Today, Teri and I had been talking Thanksgiving plans, guessing at whether the baby was a boy or a girl, and I had excitedly told her about plans to unveil the baby’s gender at an elaborate party the week before Christmas.

“What do you think? Boy or girl?” Teri had asked, squeezing jelly onto the Doppler.

I stretched out on the table, the white tissue paper crunching uncomfortably beneath me. I knew the drill. How many times had I laid down and listened for babies heartbeats?  At least 50 times throughout all of my pregnancies, I figured.

“I think it’s a girl. Well, okay, let me correct that. I kind of hope it’s a girl, because we only have a girl name picked out, and, I know this is trivial, but I have seriously cute baby girl clothes and I really want to use them again. But honestly, my intuition says it’s a boy. Obviously, I will be happy either way!”

Teri and I laughed about the silliness of wanting a girl based on clothing styles, and then I quieted down as she pressed the Doppler into my belly and slid it back and forth, back and forth. I didn’t want to miss the first quick “whoosh whoosh whoosh” of the baby’s heartbeat. It was always so unbelievably fast. Sometimes the Doppler would pick up my heartbeat, and I knew it was mine because it was so much slower than the baby’s.  And sometimes it would even pick up both of our heartbeats at the same time—mine slow and steady, and the baby’s next to it, thundering like a team of galloping horses. That was my favorite. When we could hear both of our hearts beating at the same time.

Teri pushed and jabbed with the Doppler, pressing deeper and deeper into my stomach. A minute passed. Then two. The room was unnervingly quiet.  Why hadn’t she found the heartbeat yet? I was so skinny that it never took long to find a heartbeat—or at least receive a swift kick from a stubborn baby avoiding the Doppler!  Teri found the baby’s form with her hands and prodded it toward the surface, hoping that might help the Doppler pick up the heartbeat.

Still, nothing.

I suddenly felt hot and cold all at once, my chest tightening and my throat closing as dread seized me. I nearly rocketed off the table in a full-fledged panic. What if…?? But just as quickly, I swallowed the scream forming in my throat and mentally talked myself down.  How could she find a heartbeat if I was running away and screaming? I forced myself to stay as still as humanly possible, not even daring to breathe for fear that might obscure the tiny heartbeat.

Then, suddenly, there was something coming through the Doppler. A heartbeat! But no—it wasn’t the baby’s. It was mine. A lower pitch than the baby’s would be, and so much slower. The Doppler continued to pick up my own heartbeat as she pressed the wand here and there, searching, searching. In the monitor, I could hear the thump-thump of my own heart growing steadily faster, as the panic continued to mount.  She should have found a heartbeat by now. She should have found it a long time ago.  Something was desperately wrong.   A deep sense of foreboding swallowed me, and my chest felt so tight I could barely breathe as Teri slowly lifted the Doppler away.

Tears pooled in my eyes and began streaming down the sides of my face, dripping into my ears as I lay on the table, waiting for Teri to say something–anything. She rested her hand on my arm, and I dared to look at her, my eyes wide and fearful.  Her face was sober, her eyes unreadable.

“Don’t panic. I am going to get the ultrasound machine so we can figure out why this baby is being a little naughty this morning.”  And then she disappeared.

Don’t panic. Too late for that.  I was gasping in shallow breaths, my whole body beginning to shake. I lay there, staring at the ceiling, tears streaming down my face unchecked. This can’t be happening, I thought over and over again as the minutes ticked by waiting for Teri to return. How many times had I imagined what it would feel like to walk into the doctor’s office and not find a heartbeat? Every single time I set foot in the doctor’s office, I did. Ever since I miscarried our second baby, I was acutely aware of the fragile nature of life—especially life in the womb. I didn’t take any of it for granted.

But today? The day before my birthday? It couldn’t happen now.  Not this far along. Not when everything was going so well, and baby always looked so perfect and healthy before. Not when I had just felt him doing somersaults the night before. What awful thing could have happened in such a short span of time?

And then Teri was back, wheeling the machine behind her. Surely when the baby popped up on the screen, we would see that heartbeat, see the little one squirming around inside, like always. I craned my neck around on the pillow to see the screen. I just needed to see my baby.  Even while I feared what I might see.

That familiar image appeared on the screen. There he was, curled up into a little ball, tucked safely into the circle of my uterus. Teri hovered over Baby and we both watched the screen intently, hoping beyond hope that just willing the baby to move could make it so.

But Baby didn’t move. He was utterly and devastatingly still.

There was no pulsating throbbing in his tiny chest, indicating a beating heart. There was no motion whatsoever. There was a little hand. Two tiny feet. A perfect, round head. I could see the blue and red colors indicating blood flow in my surrounding uterine wall. But Baby was completely still. No blood flow skittered across his heart.

Teri flipped off the monitor and placed her hand on my arm again. Her face was grave, her brow creased, her eyes deeply sad. “I am very concerned,” was all she said. She reached for my hand and helped me sit up. “I am going to send you downstairs for a thorough ultrasound with the technicians, but you need to know, it doesn’t look good.”

Tears were running down my cheeks, one right after the other, as Teri pulled me into a hug. A sob caught in my throat. Was it okay to cry? Or not. What if? Just what if it was all a mistake?

I walked the familiar path out of the office, into the elevator, and downstairs, tears still streaming down my cheeks. I didn’t even try to wipe them away. I knew I looked pathetic, but I didn’t care. The last time I had been here, I had seen a pregnant woman weeping as she rushed to her car, and my heart had broken for her because I didn’t need to guess why she was crying.  Right now I wished I had been the crazy stranger who ran up to her and gave her a hug. I wished someone would give me a hug, even if I had never met them in my life. My insides felt as if they were falling apart, and I needed someone to hold me together.

The rain was falling harder now, as I stared out the hospital window, waiting for the final ultrasound. I could see it pooling in uneven places of the parking lot below. My eyes searched the gray sky. The dreary day and gentle rainfall seemed so perfectly appropriate. The lyrics from one of my favorite songs came to mind, “Is it true that for every tear I cry, You cry a thousand more? You weep with those who weep.” It felt as if God were weeping with me, raining His own sorrow at the brokenness of this world into puddles on the sidewalks. And somehow, that gave me a small measure of comfort.  God saw me. He was near.

I heard my name and turned to see a nurse holding a door open for me. Her face was somber, her eyes sad. She knew. She knew this wasn’t just an ordinary ultrasound. I wondered how often she had led mothers to the room where they would be told their baby was gone.

I walked into the room. It was dark, and two technicians stood by the bed, waiting silently. It was all so quiet, so suffocatingly silent.

I laid down once again, and the warm gel went back onto my belly. My baby’s quiet form flashed onto the screen in front of me. This one was much clearer, much bigger than the last one. The technician never said a word. She just measured quietly, clicking pictures as she went.  She measured his arms. His legs. His head. His spine.  She had no difficulty getting the measurements, since the baby never moved once. Not even the slightest bit.

And then, that little heart filled the screen. I have seen enough ultrasounds by now to immediately recognize a baby’s heart, with its four chambers. Usually its rapid pulsing would make it appear somewhat fuzzy until she would freeze frame it and outline each chamber of the heart.

But today there was nothing fuzzy on the screen. His heart and all four chambers were as perfectly clear when she was looking at it in motion as when she freeze-framed it. Click. She froze the shot to take a picture and typed HEART above it. Then she switched it back into live mode. There was no difference between the picture and the live ultrasound. There was, very clearly, no heartbeat. Which meant my baby truly was gone.

And yet I just desperately needed someone to tell me that.  I needed to hear it from her. I needed someone to confirm that every mother’s worst nightmare had in fact become my reality.

The tears were pooling into my ears again as I barely choked out, “Can you please just tell me if there is a heartbeat?”

“I’m not finding one, no. I’m sorry.”

There. She said it. There was no more denying it.  I began nodding dumbly, my head bobbing up and down, up and down in affirmation that I understood, but in reality, I was attempting to cover the sobs that I could no longer hold back.  The technician flipped off the machine, and I sat up, covering my face with my hands. Teri walked in and wrapped me in a warm hug, rubbing her hands across my back.

“I’m so, so sorry,” she said quietly.

“It’s okay,” I shuddered out, my instincts always to comfort others even when I am the one who needs it.

“No, it’s not, I know, and it’s okay that it’s not. I wish I could just take it all away for you.” Some minutes passed as she rubbed my back. “And tomorrow is your birthday,” she said sadly. The tenderness in her voice was my undoing.

Yes, I wept into her scrubs. Yes, November 23 was supposed to be a celebration of the day I was born. But on November 22, I learned that I would never get to celebrate my son’s birthday. November 22 became the day I tried to listen as my midwife explained that, sometime in the next week, I would be admitted to labor and delivery and give birth, yes, but not to life. I would have to give birth to death.

Part 2

Part 3

Home is Where We Are Together, and No, it Will Never be Perfect

At the conclusion of our own Series of Unfortunate Events, we hoped things might calm down a bit around here as we settled in to our new roles, in our new home, in our new state.  But as I unpacked box after box in our temporary, already furnished residence, I felt a war of confusion and discontent waging within me.  I am innately a homemaker. Wherever I go, I want to make it “home” for us, whether it is a tiny, rundown, Chicago apartment, a beautiful home on the end of a quiet cul-de-sac, or even a small bedroom in someone else’s home. But a part of me also holds back.  We have moved so many times since we were married nearly ten years ago.  A cynical voice in my head whispers, “Who knows how long you will be here? Probably not long. Don’t waste time settling in and creating home for your family. Don’t get too close to anyone, because you or they may be ripped away again. Don’t pour yourself out here, because you may only be here awhile, and then you will have wasted your time.”  As we prepared to move across the country, I became all too aware that the whole time I had lived there, I held myself back, just waiting to have to move away again.  Sure, I decorated and unpacked and made friends, but it was always only partway.  Always aware that we probably wouldn’t be here long, so why even bother.  But when my husband accepted the position of pastor, the calling we had prayed for for years, I knew this was it.  This is what I had been waiting for.  Now I could truly create “home.”  With every box I packed, I thrilled at the opportunity to create “home” again in our new place. I imagined where I might hang this picture, or display that figurine. I bought window treatments and storage devices for our new place and could hardly wait to unload and unpack and begin creating “home” for us in a new world of total unfamiliarity.

But all of that had fallen apart and we had suddenly found ourselves homeless a week after arriving with all our worldly goods.  By God’s grace, we were offered a mission house that was sitting empty, but only temporarily–and we weren’t really sure whether temporarily meant a couple months or a year.  So as I looked around at the stacks of boxes in a kitchen that was not mine, in a home already decorated with things that were not ours, I fought against a despair at being able to make this place home for us. Sure, I knew we were only here temporarily, but I desperately wanted to make it feel more like home by being able to decorate and strategize about how to improve each detail of the house.  I knew I was going to have to come up with a balance–an ability to create a homey atmosphere even in a place that was not our home, and we didn’t know how long we would be here, nor where we would end up when our time here was over.

Balance is not something I have ever been good at.  I am an all-or-nothing person.  And I often find myself completely paralyzed by the fact that I cannot do something perfectly, or all the way right now. So I just don’t do anything at all.  Or I plan and scheme exactly what will create perfection and then set about to accomplish it and it gets interrupted two dozen times. Or destroyed by sticky, chubby fingers. If I can’t start and finish something in the same instant, I feel I have failed. And, let’s face it–life with Littles is comprised of all things started and never finished in the same sitting. And when I don’t do everything right, I beat myself up over it for months, thinking and re-thinking what I could have/should have/would have done differently. I wrestled over how much time and energy to invest in this place to make it “home,” wondering if I would regret the time spent if we had to move shortly.

And then, in the midst of my confusion about how to make a short-term home feel like “home,” we got our answer on how long we would be in our temporary home–only two months.  Much shorter than we had expected, but again, we knew going into it that this place was only available short-term.  If you understand the housing market in our little town on the edge of a blossoming city, you would know that housing is at a premium.  Our town is currently two hundred roofs shy of what it needs. As soon as anything–house, apartment, townhome, goes on the market, it is snatched up.  As soon as we found out what our deadline was, we picked up the phone and started calling places in town to see if there was openings. No, there was nothing open until end of September/October–oh wait, unit is suddenly opening up next week in a townhome right in town.  God’s provision, once again.  We are giddy to be moving into town, to be near the church (Stephen will walk across a meadow to work each morning), to be able to pile everyone into strollers and baby carriers and walk the streets of our new hometown.  But we are not giddy to be moving again.  Now suddenly, I am packing everything back up that I just unpacked…and I’m still confused.  I am asking God, “Lord, why did our original housing have to fall through in the first place? It would have been perfect! It still would be perfect! Much better than what we are getting even.  And then why did we have to move to a different place only to move again to another place two months later? I know you have all things work together for good, but I am having a really hard time seeing how all of this is ‘good.’ Other than it building character and sanctifying us all. Hopefully.”

But those two parts of me that were at war when we moved in here are still at war.  Part of me wants to make our new home our home.  To put up our pictures on the wall and make it ours.  But another part of me is tired. And cynical.  That other part of me still says “Why even bother? Who knows how long you’ll be here before you move yet again? Don’t waste time investing in making yet another temporary residence a home.” For years I have thought, “Surely, we are nearly old enough to ‘settle down’ and be some place permanently and have everything just the way we want it and have it stay that way–right??” I know in my head “This world is not my home, this world has nothing for me,” but in my heart, I just want to feel at home in this world–someplace.  I am so tired of waiting to “arrive”. I am so tired of holding myself back from feeling free to truly live wherever God has currently placed me.

I recently picked up a book entitled “The Nesting Place: It Doesn’t Have to be Perfect to be Beautiful.” The title instantly grabbed my attention.  I have been longing to create “home,” to create beauty wherever we are at, no matter how long we may or may not be there.  But my inner struggle for perfection has been paralyzing me.  I feel that if I cannot do it perfectly, and have it stay perfect forever, it is not worth doing it.  And lately everything I do comes undone and even if I achieve perfection, it is immediately tainted by real life.  So I grow weary of the struggle and think perhaps I should just give up and not even try.  But my soul seems to shrivel up and die if I do not at least attempt to create beauty. I believe God caused me to stumble on “The Nesting Place” at just the right time to help me understand two things: Wherever we are, that is where home is. And it doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.  In fact, my striving constantly for perfection may be deterring the very thing I long for–a restful, welcoming, life-filled home.

One of my favorite lines in “The Nesting Place” sums up pretty well how I am feeling.  Myquillin Smith writes, “I’ve finally figured out that almost no one is living in their dream house.  And I don’t know anyone whose life has gone exactly like they would have planned.  You make the best choices you can at the time with the information you have, and then you deal with the consequences, and that’s the part where your life happens.  Every major decision we’ve made involved prayer and advice from wise people, but there was no guarantee that it would turn out the way I wanted, with a little white house and a picket fence.”

I’m done waiting for perfection to arrive in order to start living fully. It never will. And requiring perfection in order to live fully only paralyzes me from living at all. Tomorrow we will sign papers and receive the keys for our new home.  How long will it remain our home? Who knows? Only God knows for sure. Despite our best intentions, plans, hopes, and dreams. And our hopes and dreams are that we can call it home for a couple of years while we save up and wait for a home that will better meet our growing family’s needs.  But while we are there, I plan on being grateful and living fully. I intend to make it a respite–not only for us, but for everyone who walks through our doors. I pray that God will grant me the wisdom to live in the balance of “already and not yet”–in the reality that this world is not our home, and yet we are called to make it our home for however long God has us walk this earth.  But our homes here on earth ought to ultimately point us and others to our eternal home.  And in our eternal home, there will be perfection.  Done things will not become undone again. We will not be uprooted again and again. We will finally have truly arrived.

Our Series of Unfortunate Events, Conclusion



2014-06-20 00.27.41Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

I am sitting on our front porch, steaming cup of hot coffee in one hand, freshly baked mocha chip muffin in the other, looking out over the miles of corn fields. Country dirt roads cross up and down the hills, and in the distance, I can see cars driving on the interstate and the even more distant blinking lights of the airport.  But out here it is still, quiet, peaceful.  The crickets chirp, and the mud swallow cheeps, fluttering overhead, frustrated that we keep knocking down the nest he was building over our window, then on our porch light. I can hear the cows lowing in the back yard. I hope they didn’t get out again.

The past few weeks has been insane. Tumultuous. Hectic. Crazy.  A strange mash up of both awful and wonderful all at once. Our transition to our new life was anything but smooth.  But it was blessed. It was grace filled. At every turn, we’d look around the corner of confusion and anxiety, and see God’s hand at work, just like always.

In the weeks since we have moved, there have been times when I just sat down and cried from sheer exhaustion–so many new people, new places, new things.  There have been emotional eruptions similar to that of Mount St. Helen when I am asked a simple, innocent question by one of the kids.  And there has also been supernatural calm, comfort, and peace of “God with us.” Through all the changes, God has been good.

When we received word that our new temporary home was ready for us, a group of church people came over to help us unload and welcome us with all sorts of delightful homemade treats: strawberry rhubarb jam and fresh rolls, blueberry rhubarb jam, sweet rolls, the list goes on.  We were overwhelmed with the love, support, and encouragement we met with upon our arrival.  We have been meeting so many new and wonderful people and exploring delightful, fun places. And we really, really like it here.

Despite feeling comfortable here and settling in, there have been times when I simply long for “normal”–I long to simply be able to get dressed and brush my teeth in the morning instead of being faced with still more boxes needing unpacked.  I wish I could put up our wedding photo at the end of the hall, just like it always has been, but since this place is furnished already and we hope to move in a few months, we are trying to keep as much of our things packed up as we can.  But that doesn’t stop me from wanting to put the kids’ baby pictures out in their bedroom, and find the best possible way to organize each closet and space. I want to have our “favorites”–parks, hiking trails, biking paths, restaurants, playplaces, friends, etc. Everything that feels like home. I am ready to feel “normal” here.  But I know it will take awhile.

In the meantime, I love the “normal” of holding my baby, snuggled into the crook of my arm contentedly after a good feeding. The milk-drunk glazed eyes that stare up into mine as the tiny thumb pops into her mouth and she coos quietly past her thumb, her little leg thumping softly in her mellowed, blissful state. I take an extra few minutes to rock with her and wait for that precious, beautiful feeling of limp heaviness as she passes into sweet slumber before I lay her down for the night.  I love the “normal” of driving a Lego car around with my kids, reenacting a storyline always including bad guys vs. good guys.  I love the “normal” or sautéing butter in a pan and the sizzle as I add the garlic and onions and enjoy the aroma of a home cooked meal. For now, these are my “normal,” and soon we will have a new “normal” that feels just as normal as the last one did.

As I sit on my front porch and enjoy the stillness, I am amazed at how God has worked these last few weeks. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to relive them.  They were majorly stressful.  But God’s mercy, grace, and love was evident every step of the way. We never felt abandoned or alone. He brought us through to the other side, up to the top of the mountain to see the valley below and see the paths on which he carried us. And I know He will continue to carry us on this journey.  He will lead us, guide us, and give us strength for each new day. He is faithful. And He is good.

Our Series of Unfortunate Events, Part 3

Click here for Part 1 and Part 2.s

That night, I got sicker and sicker until, by morning, I knew I could not take care of the kids while Stephen went to church. So, on our first Sunday at our new church, we all stayed home, sick and miserable. It was not at all how we wanted to start our ministry, but we had little choice.  So we prayed for grace and buckled down.

We were staying in a beautiful basement apartment, thirty miles into the country and on a lake.  It was idyllic, restful, and a tremendous blessing.  But with five people and one bedroom, a week was about the longest I was praying we would have to wait before we were into our new place.  We had found a large, three bedroom apartment with a two car garage across the road from the church, and I had spent the last month meticulously charting out each room for furniture and decor arrangements. I had ordered new window treatment, shower curtains, and we had taken a huge shopping trip to Ikea to buy bunk beds for the kids and everything else we would need to make life work in our new apartment.  But it wasn’t vacant until the end of the month, which gave us a week-10 days to wait until we could get in.

As I lay in bed, drifting in and out of troubled, sickly sleep, I kept having a sense of foreboding that something would go wrong in our plans, and we wouldn’t be able to get into the apartment right away.  I worried that maybe necessary paperwork had been packed, or the people wouldn’t vacate, or that somehow the whole thing would fall through. And if it did…then what? We were in a tricky spot because we had not sold our home back in Illinois. We were renting it out with the intention to sell to the renters in a year.  At that point, we could then buy a home.  But until then, we needed to find a place to rent.  And there was a serious shortage on houses or rentals in our new location.  We had already been watching the market for the last six months, and the pickin’s were extremely slim. The apartment we had found was the only thing large enough for our family that was also affordable.

By Tuesday evening I was beginning to feel better, and the world was looking like a brighter place. Wednesday, we woke up to an email from the apartment complex.

“I’m sorry, but, because you still own your house and yadayadayada super complicated, etc. We are not able to approve you for our apartments.”

My blood ran cold. This was the one thing we were concerned about and waiting for the final answer on. This simply could not be happening. I immediately picked up the phone and called my parents, realtors and landlords themselves. We talked through every possible solution and the ins and outs of every detail.  We called our bank and crunched numbers and drew up spreadsheets to prove to the apartment complex that we did indeed qualify, they simply were not understanding our situation correctly. The whole time our housing hung in the balance, I was filled with a strange mixture of both dread and peace.  I had no idea what we were going to do if this fell apart.  But I knew that God knew about all of this before the beginning of time, and He had a plan of His own.

Wednesday night, Stephen came home from work. He came in through the sliding door, closed it, and leaned back against it, his face ashen.

“I don’t feel so good,” he said.

Ellie had been acting fussy and hot all day, and I was concerned that she was catching The Sickness, too.  And in two days, Paul Tripp was coming to our church for a marriage conference that Stephen was supposed to be at–and we wouldn’t miss for the world–come on, Paul Tripp??!!

Normally, I would have tucked Stephen in on the couch, pulled out all of my supplements and essential oils, and begun a healing regimen as I prayed that God would spare him The Sickness.  But all of that had been packed in the truck.  I had Campbell’s chicken soup from our host family, and that would have to do. We were waiting by our phones, anxiously awaiting the final word on whether or not the apartments would reconsider, and that added to our digestive misery.

Thursday morning we got our answer. No. We would not be approved. We had no choice but to look for other options.

My phone rang.


“Hello, this is Old Dominion, and we have your moving truck full of all your stuff. Where would you like the delivered and when?”

The truck had made it.  All our stuff was here.  Now, where were we going to put it? I briefly explained our situation, and asked how long they could hold off on delivering it. I knew once they dropped off the truck, we had three days to unload it. That would buy us a little time, but we still had to know where they were going to unload. If at all possible, we wanted to avoid unloading the whole thing into storage for a few days only to turn around, get another truck, and move it to wherever we were going to live.  And the bigger problem was that there was so much stuff buried and randomly packed into that truck that we really, really needed.

The trucking company said they would hold our truck until we let them know where we wanted it. “Thank you, thank you!!” I said, relieved that we at least had a couple more days to figure this out.  I instantly dove into motion, calling, emailing, and spreading the word through the church that we were desperate for a place to move into in the next 48 hours.

The next twenty four hours were a blur of phone calls, emails, and prayers for provision.  I didn’t even have time to think about how disappointed I was not to be in the apartment.  I knew God had a plan, and whatever it was, it was for our good.  At any one time, we typically had two or three housing options.  And as soon as I hung up one phone call that closed one option, another one opened up. My mind was spinning going from one possibility to the next.  Finally, Thursday night, Stephen got a phone call. When he hung up, his face beamed.

“We have a place!” He exclaimed.

“What? Where??”

“I don’t know,” he said. “Someone has a missionary house that is being vacated this weekend and will be empty for the next 8-12 months.  They are offering it to us for as long as we need it, rent free!”

Relief washed over me. We had a place! We could unload our things and begin unpacking. We had never seen the place, we didn’t understand whose it was, where it was, or what it was like, but we had a place. And that was all we needed to know for the moment. The Lord had provided.

To Be Continued…

Our Series of Unfortunate Events, Part 2

For Part 1, click here.

The morning of The Big Drive to South Dakota dawned crisp, clear, and very, very early. Light streamed in through my in-law’s large guest room window, and Jubilee kicked and cooed softly in her bed. It was 5:40am, but there was no going back to sleep now. Our adrenaline was pumping, and we were just ready to get going on our new adventure.

I wrapped a borrowed robe around my mother-in-law’s floral nightgown and headed to the kitchen for coffee. As soon as my clothes from the day before (the one pair I had, remember) finished in the dryer, we would say our goodbyes and head out. I hate goodbyes and much prefer “see you later” with a promise to visit soon. I was ready to be done feeling sad and start feeling excited for this next step. We had been waiting a long time for this!

We had to swing past our house one last time though before leaving town, to fill up our coolers from our fridge and freezer. But I could only find one cooler. With a sinking feeling, I realized the other empty cooler had been packed into the truck. I would just have to leave half my food behind.

The first leg of our trip was a short hour and a half to my parents’ house for brunch on our way past.  I stopped at my favorite “baby and mama” store to grab two pairs of jammies I had been wishing for, thankful for a good excuse to buy them:) We got to my parents’ house, where my brothers, their wives and little ones were waiting. As we sat down to brunch, Mom eagerly presented me with a Target bag. Her eyes glowed as she prompted me to open it.  I reached in and withdrew three blouses and a cardigan.

“Jenna helped me choose,” she beamed, and I knew my sister had FaceTimed from Indianapolis while she shopped.

I exclaimed my delight and thanks as Jess handed me another bag.  “This is from us and Jenna and Joey,” she explained.

Eyes wide, I reached into the proffered bag. Inside was a beautiful necklace and two gift cards.

I gasped. “I LOVE this necklace!! Every time I go to Target I covet it!”

“I know.” They smiled.

“And Starbucks and Subway giftcards…we HAVE a Subway in our little town! Thank you, thank you!”

Stephen and I were overwhelmed and so grateful.

The Brother handed me my absolute favorite treat of all time: Coffeesmith’s white chocolate mocha and chocolate chip cookie dough. “For the drive,” he smiled.

Mom mentioned there were also diapers to load into the van before we left. Oh, and a going away dress Sister had bought me that mom meant to give me the week before, but had forgotten.

“I am so glad you forgot! Now I have something to wear to church!”

Before long, it was time to get back on the road. We all gathered around and prayed God’s blessing on us as we headed into the great unknown. Then, we loaded up again and hit the road.

I drove the van with Jubilee and a host of boxes and suitcases, while Stephen had the two older kids in his car. Forty five minutes into the 5 hour trip, he called me.

“Shuah says he is going to throw up.”

My stomach dropped. “Seriously?”

“He’s huffing and puffing.”

*panic* “Pull over NOW!” Few children hate throwing up as much as Shuah does. He does anything to avoid it. But if he starts huffing and puffing, there is no stopping it. It is inevitable.

We whipped into a gas station and got Shuah out of the car just seconds before he got sick.

Praise God for not having to clean it out of the car!

And 7 hours later, we pulled into our temporary residence in South Dakota. Just seconds before I got sick.

Praise God for that, too!

It was late, we were all exhausted, but we had made it in time for Stephen’s first Sunday at church.

We wouldn’t be going to church in the morning, though.

To Be Continued…