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…


Our Series of Unfortunate Events, Part 1

Lemony Snicket’s got nothin’ on us this last week.

To quote my favorite youth pastor, quoting his favorite movie, “Lemme ‘splain. No ‘stoo much.  Lemme sumup.”

For those of you who don’t know, my husband, Stephen accepted the call of associate pastor in South Dakota a few weeks ago.  Ever since then, we have been busy planning, packing, and preparing for moving our family of five out to make a new home for ourselves among the people there.  The plan was to rent an apartment for a year while waiting to sell our house back in Illinois so we could buy something here.  We found a great apartment, right near the church, which was the same size as our house PLUS a two car garage! But it wouldn’t come available until the week after we had to be in SD. So we planned to pack up our suitcases for the week and stay in the basement apartment of some wonderful and generous church members while we waited for our apartment to be ready.  I spent hours laying out the floor plan on the computer, calculating every piece of furniture and where it would go, analyzing window treatments and assessing where to use which and which to replace…and on, and on, and on. I am a planner. I love to plan.  I don’t always love to follow the plan, but I totally love the planning part.

Turns out God doesn’t always follow our plans either.

As the Big Moving Day approached, I had lists and charts and plans all over the place of what needed packed and when it was going to get packed. I had The Plan, and I was more than ready to attack it. The problem is I also have an imaginative 4 year old, an inquisitive 2 year old, and a just plain, simply adorable 5 month old.  And they do not ever seem to follow The Plan.

With just twenty four hours to go before the moving help from church descended on us, I looked around my home.  Mass chaos surrounded me.  And not the kind the was neatly organized and packed into nicely labeled boxes, stacked and waiting for the moving truck.  The kind that was socks strewn about the floor, legos under chairs, dishes piled on counters, and unmentionables hanging out to dry.  Still.

This was not the way I envisioned my house looking twenty-four hours before The Big Day. I sent a quick SOS to some of my moving help to let them know there was an urgent need for more boxes, tape, and bubble wrap…and that they might need to just plan on finishing packing for a couple hours before the loading started.  I figured my packers could show up at 9, and my movers could come by 11, and we should have things squared away by then.

In a perfect world, all of the things we needed to live “intermediately” for the week, like clothes, toothbrushes, food items, pack ‘n plays, kids toys and books, etc., would be tidily, carefully, orderly packed into the back of my van long before the moving craze began. But Moving Day dawned without even having the back of the van emptied and ready to receive all its goods. I looked at my list of things that still needed packed:

-desk stuff

-hall closet

-coat closet

-storage room

-storage hall


-laundry room



Seriously. It felt like half the house still hadn’t been packed.

And then they lowered The Boom.

The movers were not coming at 11am.

They were coming at 8:30am. That’s what time had been announced at church. And that’s what time people would start showing up. My heart dropped to my stomach.  It was 7:49, and the first car pulled in the driveway to help.  I looked around my very messy, very unpacked house.  It was officially time to panic.

While the guys ran out to get donuts for the movers, I threw on some clothes and began gathering up the kids things to run them over a block to Grandma’s for the day.  I couldn’t think clearly about a solution until the little munchkins were no longer underfoot. I strapped the two oldest into Stephen’s Corolla (we had moved their seats into his car in order to use the van to transport stuff) and realized the infant seat was not going to fit. *sigh* that meant another trip over. I dropped the kids off with hasty, haphazard instructions and drove back for the baby. As I pulled into our driveway, I saw a steady stream of men carrying all of my worldly goods and loading them into the truck.

Oh, no, no, no! I thought. They’re not ready! I’m not ready! Then…The unmentionables!! They were still out in plain sight. Tears of humiliation, panic, and sorrow over leaving our home began to prick at my eyes, fighting to finally be released. Up until this point, I hadn’t let myself think too much about the fact that we were not only going to a new place, we were leaving a beloved place.  This quaint home on a hill with a yard that melted into a woods and a ravine at the bottom.  A home we bought with our first baby in hand, dreaming of our kids running, playing, and having adventures in the woods.  The home that we spent hours meticulously planning and finishing the basement into a beautiful addition that enabled us to stay there as our family grew and grew.  The home where we lost one baby and welcomed two more.  The home where we learned firsthand that jumping headfirst into God’s plan resulted in the joy that was having Rehan be our host daughter for a year.  Our first home–a home with so many sweet memories.  Packed up in boxes, and being carried into a truck.

And as I stood back to survey the scene, I knew it was too late. It was too late to turn back and change our minds. This thing was really happening.  And, as far as my Plan was concerned, it was happening all wrong.  But there was no stopping the momentum now.  The movers had arrived. They had a job to do.  And all my complicated directions about “this goes, this doesn’t,” etc. were of little use now.  The best I could do was get the baby to my mother-in-law and hurry back to do some damage control.

The emotions that had begun to well at seeing my household carried out in boxes (and some not) grew deeper and deeper, finally overflowing into a cascade of tearful sobs as my mother-in-law opened her door to receive me and her grandbaby. My wonderful mother-in-law folded me in her arms and just let me cry, sobbing out how my house wasn’t ready and for goodness’ sake I had nursing pads on the floor, and she empathized and consoled and comforted as only a mom can do. I finally stood back, wiped my puffy eyes, and said “Thanks. I just really needed a good cry.” I put on my brave face, and headed back to the chaos.

The first thing I noticed upon arriving back on the moving scene, was that the nursery was now empty. Completely empty. Where was the suitcase of all the kids’ things for the next week?? I hurriedly went from one man to the next, asking “Has anyone seen a black suitcase?” Finally someone said yes. He had loaded it on the truck.

I ran headlong to the truck, where Mike was meticulously packing everything into the truck with order and precision. I relayed my request, and he looked back in dismay, then hope, then dismay.

“I know I packed it in here recently. Let me see if I can access it.”

Oh, Lord, let him access it. Grandma just took us on a major shopping spree to clothe all three kids for the next six months, and they are all in that suitcase!

“Found it!” He exclaimed, proudly presenting the suitcase.

“THANK YOU!” I cheered, and promptly moved it to the van. After securing the help of one of the boys to take down all the seats in the van, I quickly began thinking through everything else that needed to be set aside to go with us in the van. I ran around the house, gathering as much as I could between being stopped and asked for direction.

The Cavalry, also known as the Freeman Clan, had arrived with more boxes, tape, and many hands to help.  I hadn’t even seen Jenny yet, but I could hear her already at work in my kitchen, elbow deep in suds washing the mounds of dishes that littered the countertops. Just like my Mama would do, I smiled to myself, eager to thank her.

DeAnna closeted herself in the laundry room (literally), folding clean laundry, packing it in boxes, then starting the next load as I delivered the rest of the bedding, towels, and curtains from our last night’s stay.

And finally, at 11:00, my best friend arrived all the way from my hometown, two large coffees in hand. She instantly handed one to me and said, “Where do you want me?”

I was really thinking we have some of the best friends ever.

I sent her after more boxes, and all the random little items began disappearing into boxes, clearly and neatly labeled by my ever-thoughtful sister-in-law.

And then, everything was gone.

I went from one room to the next, surveying the scene.  Every room was empty. Every closet, every cupboard.  And now it was time to clean. The moving team transitioned into cleaning, and I began delegating tasks to each person.  Windows. Check. Window Wells. Check. Fans. Check. Floors. Check. Cupboards. Check.

One by one each task was checked off. And one by one each wonderful, helpful friend left to go home.  Until it was only Jenny and me left. We were still in the kitchen. Singing “Sound of Music” and our favorite hymns as we wiped every last crumb from every last corner (we hope!). And then Jenny was gone, too, and it was just Stephen and me in our empty little house.  We had a final family farewell cookout at 5:30, and I knew we were almost done, so I sent Stephen to his parents’ house to shower while I mopped the last rooms.

That’s when the First of Many in our very own Serious of Unfortunate Events was noted.

“Where’s the green tag for the moving truck? It was on the top of the fireplace with the paperwork, and no one was supposed to pack it.”

We had no idea where it was, but it definitely was not in the house. Surely the moving company would have a replacement tag? I thought, hoping, praying, all the while feeling a hard knot forming in my stomach.

I checked in each one of the rooms and closets one last time before I left that evening. And each time I saw those vast, empty rooms, that knot in my stomach tightened. I looked in the study and thought, oh no, oh no, the pile of things that needed to be returned, the library book included…it’s in the truck somewhere! and The books I set aside for the kids for the road trip…they are in the truck somewhere.  And The diapers-THE DIAPERS!!!! That huge Sam’s club box of diapers and wipes I bought specifically for the move–it’s packed AND all the cloth diapers got packed–all in the truck somewhere!!

I was feeling sicker and sicker, realizing with every minute, more items which we needed in the next week that had been quickly swiftly swept up in the hubbub and loaded into the truck.

Oh, well. I thought. We will survive.  All I wanted was a hot shower and some clean clothes.  I was overwhelmingly thankful for all the help we had received that day.  We never could have done it without them all.  All our stuff was packed, loaded, and the house was spotless and ready for the new occupants.  God was good.

When we finally got back to my in-law’s that night, exhausted and spent, I headed for the shower, opened our suitcase, and rifled through it for my jammies.

Stephen’s clothes, Stephen’s pants, Stephen’s socks…Wait a minute. Where are my clothes?

I sank back against the wall as realization hit me.

They, too, were packed somewhere in the truck.

In all the crazy and the chaos, I had set aside my clothes to pack into the suitcase, but I had not finished getting them to the suitcase.  When the men arrived, I set aside the suitcase, saying “Don’t pack this!” but forgot that my own clothes were not yet in there.  When the guys asked about the dresser, “Hey, there’s still some stuff in here, is that okay?” I thought it was just those sachet packets and some nylons and waved them past.  When they asked about the clothes in the closet, I only remembered Stephen’s piles that had yet to be packed.  Not my own that had been set aside for the suitcase.

The whole thing was a comedy of errors that was in no way comedic.  A million things could have been done to avoid all the catastophies that descended upon us that Moving Day.  But we just didn’t have time. We didn’t get them done. And we would just have to survive the next week without all that stuff.

And it will only be a week, right, Lord??

To be continued…





Another Time, Another Place: A Conclusion to The GAPS Introduction

If you have been following this blog in hopes of GAPS information and resources, I profusely apologize.  Shortly after we posted our initial post, my friend (who was going to co-author with me) moved halfway across the country, I gave birth to my third child in four years, and we moved our entire family two states away to start a whole new life.

Needless to say, blogging has not been one of my highest priorities.

And as much as I would like to detail our journey, I find that this simply is not the season of my life to do that.  Maybe someday. But today is not that day.

I also found that, much to my relief, the internet is now alive with wonderful, amazing, informative GAPS blogs and websites and information!! There are so many great resources out there, and all you have to do is Google “GAPS diet” and you will find the best sources for recipes, helpful hints, stories, information, etc.

So go there, enjoy those sites, because it is all we can do just to keep our heads above water, here:-)

If you are interested in hearing about the “whole new life” mentioned above, then, by all means, keep reading! As time permits, I will post updates, pictures, stories, from our personal lives for those who know and love us.