I Danced

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Last Saturday morning, I walked with a family as they said goodbye to their baby. My heart ached for them as we created some tangible memories. I carried them with me…pieces of their pain, forever woven into the fabric of my heart. Every time I wash a tiny baby foot, the humbling privilege of washing feet, as mentioned in scripture, washes over me. How our Jesus values every single life.

As I left in the van, the tears I carefully held back dripped down my face. I watched them holding hands, entering a world without their baby. I felt the ripping raw pain as I drove. Their pain. My pain. The pain of thousands of other parents who once walked out that door into a completely different world.

Life was waiting for me at home.

My son’s band was playing at the Corn City Festival, and our house would be filled with guests. Soon the combination of music and being surrounded by people I love, lifted my heart a bit. I thought of Angie Smith’s famous words, “Life is a sacred dance of grief and joy.” Yes. Yes it is. There’s so much grief carried in this tattered heart of mine.

But…there is also joy. And, sometimes, these tired feet just have to dance.

I danced most of the night, thanks to friends and my darling kitchen boys. I danced with every one of them. At first, I felt a little self-conscious. I’ve never been heavier or older than I am right now. Curvy girls jiggle when they dance. For just a wee moment, I was uncomfortable, silently focusing on my flaws. And, then this fabulous freedom swept over me, as one of the kitchen boys twirled me around in the middle of the street, in front of the stage, at our tiny railroad town festival. This life is short, and I may never have the chance to dance in the middle of the street with my beloved, beautiful kitchen boys and half the town…and eventually in the arms of my husband…again. (Even he can’t resist that kind of contagious joy.) We don’t know what tomorrow holds. So, I danced, with complete abandon. For hours.

And, once I stopped worrying about the things that just don’t matter this side of heaven, I began to feel beautiful. And, loved.

I felt loved by my friends, my kitchen boys, my Tim…and most of all… loved by God.

I felt Him whisper as I laughed and spun…

You are cherished. You are beautiful. You are dearly loved. You are Mine. And, I see you, dear daughter of my heart.

Oh, how grateful I am that I did not allow a few extra pounds and some grey hair to keep me from dancing freely. The kind of dancing that heals the soul-ache of a weary heart. Dear women everywhere, there is nothing more beautiful than a confident, joy-filled, free woman. No matter how she is packaged.

You are cherished. You are beautiful. You are dearly loved. You are His. He sees you, dear daughter of his heart.

So, dance. Dance freely, covered in His grace and love for you. And, remember…radiant joy covers a multitude of jiggles (and other flaws).

 

Photo credit

SGM Christmas Extravaganza Day Four: Words and Pictures

Today’s giveaways are…

1…. a Wooden frame with various slides you can display, offering words of comfort for grieving hearts.

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2. A memorial picture frame
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To enter, please leave a comment telling what you hope to win and some words that have been an encouragement or comfort to you in your grief. ♡

SGM Christmas Giveaway Extravaganza Day 3: Dreams of You and Angels, Too

Each year, Sufficient Grace Ministries sends hundreds of Dreams of You memory packages to grieving parents worldwide. We never charge parents for our products or services, but do ask for shipping donations. However for the rest of this week, we will be offering our FREE Dreams of You packages with FREE Shipping thanks to the BGSU Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity who recently held their annual Build-a-Bear for Moms fundraising/bear stuffing event! Comment on the link on Facebook to let those amazing gentlemen know how you feel about their efforts. We are so grateful they have the courage and compassion to help spread awareness, stuff our Comfort Bears, and support SGM as we support grieving parents. (We will be writing a post soon to share more about their amazingness!) We will accept up to 50 orders. So EVERYONE (up to 50 families) who would like a Dreams of You package can request one here. Please allow 3-12 weeks for delivery as we finish making the Comfort Bears.

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Also…Yesterday, I forgot to add 2 angels in our heaven post…so they are options for today’s giveaway! :)

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Leave a comment to enter. Share on Facebook and Twitter for additional entries. Please leave an additional comment for each entry or share.

The Miracle Before Christmas: Gianna’s Gift

I spoke with Heather just a day before we would meet. Neither of us knew the extent of the miracles waiting for us as we chatted about the upcoming delivery of her sweet baby, diagnosed with Trisomy 18 earlier in the pregnancy. We weren’t sure whether she was having a boy or girl or how long she and her family would have to spend with their little one before saying goodbye. Together, we planned the best we could in our brief conversation. I packed a bag of items that would be fitting for either a boy or girl and an overnight bag for myself in case I needed to stay in Columbus for longer than expected. (I actually spent the next few days in Columbus supporting families, but that is for another post!)

Heather and Dan were prepared to have moments with their baby as she was not expected to live long after her birth. We asked to have both the photographer and the priest in the operating room, bending hospital protocol for these most special circumstances. Sometimes I have to fight to get birth professionals to allow the photographer in the OR, so to have a priest and photographer there was unprecedented. It was important to Heather and Dan to have their baby baptized immediately, while she was here. We were so grateful that the hospital made an exception to allow that to happen. The entire staff was very supportive of the family’s wishes and helping us to make the most of the time with their sweet baby.

It was the first time the young priest would support a family facing the loss of their baby. Father Tony didn’t look much older than my twenty-one year old son. And, although he was quite capable and comforting as he supported this family, I felt myself wanting to make sure he was ok, feeling protective and compassionate, as I knew he would be forever changed by the events that were about to unfold.

There is always an excitement when waiting to welcome a life into this world, even when that life is expected to be brief. I met the family as we waited for Heather to go into the OR, the sweet brother Luciano and sister Ava, the grandparents, the aunt, the godparents. Love filled the room, even as we waited to meet Baby H.

We gowned up and sanitized. I held my camera, positioning myself strategically in the operating room. It was my first time being allowed to photograph in the OR. I spoke a silent prayer for the family, for Father Tony, for my own photography abilities.

Lord…please give them our best. Please give them time with this sweet baby. Please give them the grace and strength to endure what lies ahead. Please carry them.

Heather’s face was filled with the peace that surpasses all human understanding and the sufficient grace God gives…just the right measure when we need it. She shone with the joy that mothers feel as they wait to meet their babies. They had hoped and prayed just to get to this moment. It was already a miracle that their sweet baby had come this far.

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She was born, so tiny and beautiful. I snapped the pictures, as Mom and Dad glimpsed the first glances at their baby girl. After assessing her, the nurses and doctors said we needed to move quickly for the baptism as it seemed Baby Gianna had only moments. She was not breathing, but her heart was beating slowly. I grabbed the Baptism bib Heather and Dan brought. Father Tony held the holy water in his shaking hands. Dan, father to baby Gianna, released the emotion he had carried for months as his knees buckled a bit. I put down my camera to hold him up for a moment as the tears fell. Dan found his voice to speak his daughter’s name with authority after a moment. Father Tony poured the water over her head, and as he said the familiar words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” …the next miracle happened. Baby Gianna coughed and sputtered and breathed, and her heartbeat rose to a normal rate. Her skin turned a healthy shade of pink. We all stood in awe: medical staff, support staff, and family. Godparents and grandparents listened over a special system the hospital uses to communicate.

Dan carried Gianna down the hall to meet her brother and sister and the rest of the family. Tears fell. Love filled the room.

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Heather was finally able to hold her sweet baby girl, and she glowed with the peace and love that oozes from a mama-heart. They hoped for moments with their baby. God gave them days to love on their girl. She was passed around the room. Moments were captured. Her first moments.

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Her sister and brother were able to give her a bath.

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The family soaked in the miracle of those moments as time stood still. A lifetime of love filled the room to welcome baby Gianna. With her life came the gift of time.

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Gianna breathed on her own and was able to eat, such a mighty little warrior!

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Just days after her birth, she was able to go home with her family. She passed away in her home, feeling nothing but the love that filled the room…the love that will be carried in the hearts of her beautiful family all the days of her life. It was an honor to meet Gianna and her amazing, brave family.

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Here are their words about the experience:

From mom, Heather:
Trying to find the words to express my gratitude to Kelly & SGM…
From the moment we first spoke the phone I knew we were meant to meet. If I was blessed enough to meet my baby…I wanted to have family pictures. I waited until the day before my c-section scheduled to reach out. It’s hard to find the words to explain to someone that I’m not able to keep this baby with me. Only days before would I even allow myself to pick out a few items. I was so scared to buy any items and never be able to even use them. Due to other circumstances of
my pregnancy I found out very early in my pregnancy my unborn baby would be diagnosed with Trisomy 18. I’ve had so many people tell me how strong I am. I’ve only been able to get through this experience with faith. Every day of my pregnancy was a blessing. Gianna was a special gift. Sharing her story makes me smile & so happy. My heart aches & I miss Giana dearly. Every bit of heartbreak and pain was worth it. I would carry her all over again just to have those precious hours. I had hoped and prayed so much that I had a misdiagnosis, to then praying that I could have even a few minutes. I find it so comforting to share.
Kelly not only captured this by photographs but witnessed first hand the most personal raw & loving moments of Gianna’s birth & Baptism. Gianna had a purpose. I adore that she & Father Tony were able to witness such a miracle with Dan & me in the operating room. She also made sure to include older siblings Ava & Luciano. The photos & sharing her story & keeping her memory alive. Dan & I are blessed to have such an amazing community of support from our parish & friends & family. We hope this helps others by sharing Gianna’s story & to share SGM.

From dad, Dan:

My Dear Gianna,

We were so extremely lucky to have you in our life for 47 hours. When we were told of your Trisomy 18 we knew from the beginning you were a gift. It was only fitting that you were named after a saint. You taught me so much about strength and fight that I will carry for the rest of my life. I asked you to fight so we could have time and you responded to allow everyone to experience your love. You brought so much joy to your mother, brother, sister and myself. I can’t believe the impact you have had on so many lives in a short amount of time. I am so proud to be your father and will think about you everyday. It is hard to let you go but know you have a purpose. I know you will watch over us and protect us. We will miss you dearly but thank you for teaching our family about faith, strength, love and compassion.

Love you
Dad

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To learn more about the support offered by Sufficient Grace Ministries, please visit www.sufficientgraceministries.org.

SGM Christmas Giveaway Extravaganza Winners 2015

Congratulations! If your name is below then you are a winner! Please email your shipping address and the name of the item you won to sgm.shipping@gmail.com within the next week to claim your items. We hope you have a gentle Christmas as we celebrate the birth of our Savior. ♡

Day One

Melissa Norris, you win ornament #1. Please include your baby’s name when emailing your shipping info so we can personalize your ornament.

Janette Grigsby, you win ornament #2.

Brigette – ornament #3

Melanie Cameron – shell ornament

 

Day Two

Shyann – #1

Loretta- #2

Amanda – #3

Jennifer Couture – #4

 

Day Three

All entries for this day win!

Day Four 

Kara Gerken – Invisible Mothers

Jenn P – You Are The Mother of All Mothers

Kirsten O’ Leary – Sufficient Grace

Kim Villalva – You Are Lived

 

Day Five

Jennifer Couture – Angel figurine

 

 

SGM Christmas Giveaway Day 4 and 5!!

Today we will give away two days worth in one since I needed a day off yesterday! Busy week!

This was meant for Day Four…Book Day!

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As a writer and reader, I love the printed word. Stories are so powerful and the stories of our sweet babies matter! There are four book options for this giveaway:

1. Invisible Mothers by Emily Long is a wonderful resource for mothers who have said goodbye to their only children. Invisible Mothers gives voice to the experience of love and loss for mothers whose babies have died during pregnancy or infancy…those with no living children. This book provides a safe haven for the loneliness of grief and inspiring words that resonate with moms with empty arms and aching hearts.

“I see you. I know that you love. I see your motherhood. You are not alone.”
~ Emily Long, Invisible Mothers

2. You Are The Mother Of All Mothers by Angela Miller is one of our favorite books to give to comfort grieving hearts. A book of beautiful and powerful affirmations to combat the lies whispered to a grieving heart in the dark. “You are a warrior, mama…You are the mother of all mothers.”

“So, breathe mama…keep breathing. Believe mama…keep believing.”

3. Sufficient Grace by our very own Kelly Gerken
Sufficient Grace chronicles not only Kelly’s own family’s painful journey through the stormy sea of grief after the loss of three of their five children, but also shares the lessons they learned about the true faith and grace God gives to His people, even in the midst of life’s storms.

4. Book #4 I know nothing about! But it looks like it’s probably an encouraging book…love the title: You’re Loved No Matter What.

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Day Five Giveaway

Beautiful Angel figurine
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To enter:
1. Leave a comment on this post sharing which book you are interested in winning and/or if you would like to enter for the Angel. (You can choose as many as you’d like to enter for!)

2. For additional entries Like the SGM Facebook Page and follow on Twitter and Instagram (@SuffGrace).

3. Share this post or our event page.

Please make sure you leave a comment for each separate entry in order for them to count.

Winners for the week will be announced later this evening!

 

SGM Christmas Remembrance 2015 Day 3: FREE SHIPPING on Dreams of You Package

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Sufficient Grace Ministries offers beautiful free Dreams of You resources and support to families around the world. While we typically charge shipping only for bereaved parents to receive our packages valued from $25 to $175, today….sponsored by the gentlemen of Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity, you can enter to win FREE shipping for your Dreams of You package!!

We will be choosing 25 winners! International included! :)

 

To enter, leave a comment with a snippet of your story in the comments.

Extra entries to like our Facebook page or share this link on social media.

SGM Christmas Giveaway Extravaganza Day Two: Remembrance Jewelry

I am so excited about today’s giveaway.

My beautiful friend, Amanda Plunkett, from Owens Gift and ABP Keepsake Jewelry has donated two gorgeous gifts for you all!!

Amanda creates one of a kind custom keepsake jewelry from your child’s/loved one’s/Pet’s cremation ashes, placenta, umbilical, dried flowers, teeth, small peices of fabric. She has given us two amazing items!

1. One is a bird nest necklace with Pregnancy and Infant Loss colors to wear in memory of sweet babies in heaven.

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2. A gift certificate for $50 for you to purchase a piece of custom jewelry from ABP Keepsake Jewelry with any memento items from your loved one or cremains.
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3. Footprints on the Heart Necklace

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4. Footprints in the Sand Necklace

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To enter:
1. Leave a comment on this post sharing who you are missing in heaven this Christmas and which jewelry item you would like a chance at winning. (You can choose as many as you’d like to enter for!)

2. For additional entries Like the SGM Facebook Page and follow on Twitter and Instagram (@SuffGrace).

3. Share this post or our event page.

Please make sure you leave a comment for each separate entry in order for them to count.

All winners will be announced on Friday. Please check back to enter for giveaways throughout the week!

SGM Christmas Giveaway Extravaganza 2015 Day One: Ornaments

Welcome to the SGM Christmas Giveaway Extravaganza 2015! Today is Day One of our week of giveaways…ornaments. Our Christmas Tree should tell a story, the story of our family. And, that includes those we are remembering in heaven each year. We would love to help you add to your tree of stories and memories with an ornament in memory of your baby or loved one in heaven.

#1. Our first ornament is so special. The Dreams of You ornament is hand painted and was created exclusively for SGM by Deanna Shoemaker from Payton’s Precious Memories. This ornament will be personalized by the creator with your baby’s name. Information about ordering can be found on the Support SGM page.

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#2. While this Hallmark “Born in Our Hearts” Ornament was created for adoptive parents, I also think it applies beautifully to parents whose babies are born into their hearts…but now live in heaven.

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#3. Add a copy of your baby’s handprint or footprint to this special keepsake ornament.

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#4. This one is for anyone missing someone in heaven…does not have to be a baby or child. “The ones we’ve lost are found in our memories.”

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To enter:
1. Leave a comment on this post sharing who you are missing in heaven this Christmas and which ornament/ornaments you would like a chance at winning. (You can choose as many as you’d like to enter for!)

2. For additional entries Like the SGM Facebook Page and follow on Twitter and Instagram (@SuffGrace).

3. Share this post or our event page.

Please make sure you leave a comment for each separate entry in order for them to count.

If Only You Had Enough Faith

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A conversation yesterday regarding a mother facing a life-limiting diagnosis in pregnancy unlocked emotions laying dormant in my depths for more than a decade. Those words, spewing the barbed accusations of not enough.

If you only have enough faith you will be well. Your babies will be well. Your mother will be well.

If you pray believing, then it will be so.

People are only sick because they don’t pray with faith, believing they will be healed. They have doubt in their hearts.

In one fell swoop, I was back there…on my knees begging God to show me how to pray with faith. Begging God to spare my son. Because if only…if only I could just learn the lesson I failed to learn the first time I stood beside the tiny grave that held my twin daughters Faith and Grace…then I wouldn’t have to stand beside the grave again holding our son Thomas who had been giving the fatal diagnosis of Potter’s Syndrome.

I was desperate to understand what was required of me. Desperate to have enough faith. To pray correctly. To be counted among the righteous. Desperate in my broken. Desperate as only a mother can be. Desperate.

I tore open my bible, laid on my face covered in tears. Drowning in tears. As the storm raged relentless, both outside and within.

Show me. Show me the kind of faith you require. Show me how to have the faith that pleases you. Show me what I failed to learn the first time, that we would be spared this agony. Show me.

And He did.

In Chapter 7 of my book, Sufficient Grace, I cover the faith-wrestlings by delving into His Word:

Was it enough to believe that God could heal our baby, or were we expected to believe with confidence that He would heal our baby? That seemed a little presumptuous to me. But I wondered about this faith thing. Was my lack of faith the reason for all this agony? If I could just learn the lesson somehow, would we be spared?”

I wanted to understand faith…so I devoured Hebrews chapter 11…known as “the hall of fame of faith.”

I read about how faith is the substance of things hoped for…the evidence of things not seen.

I read about Abraham and David and Rahab and Noah and Moses…all flawed and broken. All full of doubt and unknowing. But still considered faithful. Still considered His.

Most of all, I read about Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Did He skip to the cross…knowing all would be well, without a moment of doubt or hesitation? What did His faith look like? After all, He is our example. Did He ever wrestle with what lay in front of Him?

I read in Hebrews how Jesus endured the cross despising the shame…yet He did it for the joy set before Him. The joy of heaven, of our restoration. Yet, He asked the Father to take this cup from Him…if there was any other way. He asked three times, resisting to the point of sweating great drops of blood. And, yet…He is our example. He didn’t love the idea of the cross before Him. He knew the beginning from the end. And, it still was agony. Was I faithless because I didn’t love the cross in front of me? No. Even Jesus wrestled with the agony of the cross. And, yet…He surrendered to the Father’s will, believing Him…even in the midst of the agony.

In Hebrews, this powerful verse spoke to my tattered heart in those silent months of carrying our Thomas:

…the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:38-40)

They had to believe God without seeing. To believe Him when things didn’t go as planned. To believe Him when He gave a different answer than they hoped. To believe Him when they didn’t see the promise this side of heaven.

What of Job? Job…counted as righteous, pleasing to God…and yet he lost all that he had.

And, what of Jesus’ conversation with Thomas in John 21…

You believe because you see, Thomas…blessed are those who believe without seeing.

I stumbled in my desperate search, still hoping I could unlock the code, even amongst all this evidence that faith wasn’t about me.

Faith isn’t about how well I believe, how certain I am. How strong. Faith is about trusting my God. No matter what. Believing when I don’t see. Sufficient Grace is about knowing that His strength is made perfect through my weakness. It is not about me getting it right or performing well enough. Such nonsense diminishes the power of my God.

Still…I longed for an answer. So when I read the familiar story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, my mama heart lept. Could it be?

This sickness will not end in death. No, it if for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.

Will he save my Thomas? Is that what He is saying?

I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?

Yes, Lord…I believe this…and I finally understood. Over the course of a few days, the message sunk in. No matter what the outcome, Thomas will live. God whispered to my heart, whether Thomas lived physically on this earth or whether He was made complete in heaven, He would live. He would live…and his life would be a miracle…no matter what. So…I was expecting new life. New beautiful, amazing life. God whispered His promise in the quiet of my kitchen as my tears dripped on the bible before me.” (pg. 83 Sufficient Grace)

So many people praise God when they see the miracle this side of heaven, the miracle of physical healing. But, God is still good when He chooses to heal by taking a soul home to restore brokenness…by healing a marriage, saving a soul, restoring broken faith, deepening our relationships on earth and with Him.
God is still good and worthy of praise when we don’t get the answers we asked for or when there seems to be no answer at all.

This world is a broken place. Filled with brokenness and suffering. Not because God willed it to be so. He is not a Father up there…shaking His finger…saying “If only you believed enough. If only you sinned less. If only you could figure out some hidden lesson, then you would be healed.”

If you never hear anything I’ve spoken or written…please, please HEAR this…that lie that “if only we had enough faith”…is from the pit. It is NOT from God. If that were so, there would be much less suffering and many would never die. I prayed. Desperate prayers. Elders laid hands on me and prayed. But, God still chose to heal my Thomas by taking him Home. That doesn’t mean I am not His. That doesn’t mean He rejected me. That doesn’t mean I am not “faithful enough.” There is no such thing. There is nothing I could do to earn His love or salvation. To be worthy on my own. I am worthy solely because the blood of Jesus covers me. His love, His grace covers us…carries us. He longs to wipe our tears. To mend our broken places. He waits for us outside of the pit, offering a hand…He sits with us in the pit…until we are ready to take His hand. Nothing separates us from His love. Nothing.

I share much more about our faith journey in my book, Sufficient Grace. Because I just want you to know about His Sufficient Grace, I want to offer it at the special bulk rate for anyone who read this post and would like further encouragement in their own faith-wrestlings. Use the bulk-rate button this week until November 21, 2015 to get the $8 rate.