Wednesday, June 24, 2015

My Butterfly Babies

My butterfly babies–
Livia and Lucy, Lucy and Livia
Your names are the windchime song of summer
The lilting dance of butterflies on the breeze
Your names belong together.
They are the signifier of your twin identities
Never separated in life or death
So my picture of you is hand in hand
Stifling giggles, whispering secrets in a language all your own.

Yet– you are not the same
And the only way I can know you now– in my heart–
your personalities bloom.

Livia, my dancer
Fearless, vibrant
The butterfly who soars high on the breeze,
reaching for the stars
A star-child
Stubborn, and mischievous, the instigator always!
You would have led your sister into trouble
and then come charging in to rescue her
Fierce in love, protective,
my Livia.

Lucy, my nestler
As you curled up close to my heart
And waited– quiet, patient
The butterfly who rests on a flower and pauses
soaking in the beauty
A sunshine-child
Gentle, loyal– a child of storybooks and snuggles
Steadfast in love
My Lucy.

And I can't help but wonder
In those last few hours your spirits remained
Did you know what was coming?
I pray, I pray, I pray there was no pain
Only peace.
Livia, I see you taking Lucy by the hand
to lead her through the door to Eternity
Your bold spirit eager for the adventure beyond
And Lucy, quietly trusting, following your sister.
And He was there to welcome you.
Somehow, I think you both knew Him–
knew the gentle touch of His shepherd's hands
knew the quiet tone of the love in His voice
And I like to think it was His voice
which first spoke your names to you
as I would have done
And I like to think that it was His nail-pierced hands
that caught you up together 
as your daddy would have done
And you both laughed for joy
Joy is all you'll ever know.

My butterfly babies– sweet Livia and Lucy
I dream of the day when I walk through that door
And I like to think He'll be waiting for me– and so will you.
I picture us running across a green field
The last sprint of a lifetime to reach you– 
the only tears now and forever are tears of joy
As I call your names like a windchime song
And hear your voices for the first time,
And His voice, rejoicing over us with singing.

Happy birthday, my precious daughters.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Tender Heart: A Tribute to my Husband on Father's Day

When I was a teenager, I romanticized the strong, silent type of man. The heroes of the fantasy tales which filled my notebooks and computer files were mostly a mixture of Aragorn, Darcy, Rochester, and Jim from Moccasin Trail– mysterious, brooding men, passionate and stern, occasionally melodramatic, what I imagined as masculinity embodied.  The men in my stories never cried. They might be overcome by emotion that left them more silent and brooding than ever. They might be angry, and I, daringly, might let the word "damn" fall from their mouths as an expression of just how angry they were (heady stuff for a homeschooled girl!) but as far as weeping? That was extremely rare.

Then I grew up, at least a little, and fell in love with the man who is now my husband, and we married. And for three and a half years I have had the privilege and the blessing of living with a gentle, tender-hearted man. At the beginning of our marriage, I didn't see or recognize this beautiful characteristic for what it was. Though I appreciated the fact that even in our biggest arguments, Nate never raised his voice to me, never stalked off, and never stonewalled, it dismayed me to find that when I sinfully said things that hurt him, he let me see the wounds. I wished he would become angry so that I could be defensive or justify myself. I wanted him to fight back. Instead, this gentle man who is my husband was not afraid to bleed out his pain and sadness in front of me. And then there was the flip side– on the occasion when he (almost always unintentionally) did or said something that hurt me, and I let him know in no uncertain terms, his responses left me speechless. Where I would have tried to defend myself to prop up my own pride, he was humble. Where it might have taken days for me to acknowledge my own sin, he was quick to apologize and ask forgiveness. And where I would have had a thousand mental dialogues trying to justify or to shift blame for what I had said or done in an attempt to avoid my guilt, he showed me a tender heart that truly broke over his own sin.

When I think of how the tender heart of my husband has impacted me it calls to mind the phrase from Hero's soliloquy in Much Ado About Nothing when she overhears someone saying that Benedick, with whom she has always enjoyed verbally sparring, is in love with her: "And Benedick, love on; I will requite thee/ Taming my wild heart to thy loving hand". God is surely using the tender heart of my husband to tame and sanctify my own wild, stubborn, prideful heart.

But what does this have to do with Father's Day?

Simply, that though Nate's tender heart has been a glimpse of Jesus to me since the beginning of our marriage, that glimpse became more than a glimpse– it became a living picture– when we became parents. In all the heartbreak and grief and ups and downs of the past year and a half, from conceiving Livia and Lucy till now– awaiting their first birthday in Heaven on Wednesday, and the birth of their little brother any day now– I have come to be thankful in the deeps of my heart and soul that a tender-hearted man is the father of my babies.

The morning after Livia and Lucy were born, I asked my friend and mentor, Blythe, to visit us in the hospital. Later she told me that the most powerful moments of that time for her were to see the tenderness with which Nate treated me. When Blythe arrived, we had a wonderful, kind photographer there taking the only pictures of our girls we would ever have. Our doctor and nurse were in and out. Our pastor was there, and so was my sister and Nate's mom. There were enough people that a lot of men would have at least tried to seal off their emotions, to be "strong". Instead, my husband got into the hospital bed next to me and we both sobbed as the photographer did her work. And that was just the beginning. In the year since, there have been countless times we have held each other and sobbed for our daughters... so many times when out of the blue Nate will turn to me with tears in his eyes, because something he just saw or heard or thought about reminded him of our Lucy and Livia. Throughout this whole pregnancy with our son he has been unfailing in his gentleness to me. There has been no charade of strength. He has embraced me in my weakness and I have embraced him in his, and we have looked to Jesus to be our only strength.

Only a week or two after we found out we were pregnant with our Tadpole, I wrote a letter to him (though of course at the time I didn't know if he was our son or our daughter.) At the end there is a line break, and then this:
I had to pause, because your daddy came home and was receiving the brunt of my pent-up frustration over our healthcare. It is not his fault, poor man– and know, Tadpole, that you have a very, very patient father. Your daddy is a man with such a mild disposition– the very furthest thing from an angry man I have ever met. I see Jesus in him the way he meets my anger with gentleness, my frustration with patience, my bitterness with love, and my irritability with comfort. You have a good father, Tadpole– one who will, God willing, model Christ to you much better than I can. He is gone now, to buy steaks to grill for our supper. He left a little before five this morning and now he runs cheerfully off to the store so that he can make his cranky, irritable wife dinner! Tadpole, if you are a boy then I can point you to no better model of husband-hood than your father. He loves me well and lays down his life for us both. If you are a daughter, Tadpole, a little girl who may someday grow up to be a woman who desires, like I did, to be loved by a good man, then look for someone like your father. He is only twenty-seven– if you are born when your estimated due date is then he will just be twenty-eight– yet he has a humility and a gentleness that many men lack well into their forties or fifties.
In our moments of weeping I look at my husband and I see Jesus because Jesus wept. In our messed-up world there are so many definitions of what it means to be a man, and I say that the only safe model is the God-Man: the Jesus who wept, the Jesus who was tender-hearted and gentle with those whose spirits were broken. I read about husbands needing to lead, about fathers needing to step up, about what manliness means, but I have never seen a clearer example of leadership than in my husband taking charge of cooking and groceries and so many other household things in the course of both pregnancies in the last eighteen months. I have never seen a more beautiful picture of fatherhood than in my husband lacing his fingers in mine and crying freely and unashamed at the grave of our daughters. And when I think of real manhood, I think of my husband and his gentle, tender heart.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Home Stretch

I am contemplating the fact that our son could arrive pretty much any time in the next three weeks. This, however, is balanced by the fact that my older sister doesn't arrive until three days before my due date, so if he wants to come early it will have to be in spite of all the prayers that he'll stay put in time for Emily to arrive.

How did we get here?
I am officially over being pregnant–  hopefully that's not a shocking statement. Out of the past eighteen months I have spent fifteen being pregnant. Perhaps that's why being this close feels so surreal, why I still can't quite believe that sometime in the next few weeks, there will be, Lord willing, a newborn in the house. I have told Nate I feel ready for labor, ready for birth, but after that? How do you ever feel ready to care for a tiny human being who is 100% helpless and 100% dependent on you... all the time? I was thirteen when my oldest niece was born and I got to watch her and my other nieces and nephews growing up throughout my teen years. But "auntie-ing" and "mothering" are leagues apart, I know. Nate will occasionally glance at me quizzically and say, "Are we qualified to have a baby?" I usually say, "No. But that's okay." We remind ourselves that the human race has survived this far, and we're not about to die off, either, so clearly parenthood must not be something that only the experts can achieve (no matter what the Internet tells you).

We're now in the "safe" zone for our planned home birth (in the state of South Carolina it is legal for a certified professional midwife to attend a home birth when the client is between 37 and 42 weeks pregnant.) Our midwife and her assistant came last week to our house for the official home visit, so that they know how to get here and are already familiar with our house and where everything is. Emily shipped me one of her own birth pools (I love having an older sister who is a midwife!) Tadpole's clothes are all washed and ready and waiting in the new chest of drawers in the guest bedroom. Nate assembled the co-sleeper last weekend; it's living in his office until the baby arrives, since once it's attached to my side of the bed I will have to crawl in and out of bed from down at the foot, and that's next to impossible in my current hippopatomus state. I have the recipe for the Tadpole's from-scratch chocolate birthday cake on the refrigerator: my plan is to make it during early labor. I have joked with Nate that if I have a hard time during labor, he can encourage me by reminding me that once I'm finished I'll get to eat cake!

We are mentally framing the labor as my marathon. When people wonder why anyone would want to have a natural birth without drugs, I think perhaps they forget that not all pain is bad. I've labored before and I know it's hard. But it's hard like running a marathon or climbing a mountain is hard– the pain is (usually) productive. With the girls, I had to have Pitocin to help augment my labor, since my body at 22 weeks couldn't make my contractions steady enough for them to arrive (though it was trying hard). But I chose not to have an epidural because I wanted to be as present in their birth as possible, even though I knew there would be no "birth high" at the end. I've never run a marathon, but Nate has, and he's described the "runner's high" that comes at the end with the flood of natural endorphins that are the reward for the hard work of running so long. Because Livia and Lucy were stillborn, and because of the Pitocin, there was no birth high. In fact, remembering the labor and actual moments of their birth is not hard for me– it's the hour immediately after they were born that was traumatic. Where there should have been baby cries there was silence– and the weeping of all the rest of us. Where there should have been life, there was death. My soul felt dead. It is that hour which I need to be redeemed in my son's birth, a redemption of those post-birth minutes which left wounds in my heart that still bleed. And so we pray for redemption, and we pray, sometimes hopefully, sometimes numbly, nearly every day, that this birth will be a healing birth. 

A lot of the natural birth blogs and crunchy-mama blogs talk about having a mantra during labor– a short statement that you can cling to in the midst of the hard work and pain and exhaustion, to tell yourself and have your birth team say to you. Something that my friend Beth, who has been counseling me since the girls' death, said to me a couple months ago has stuck with me and become my mantra for pregnancy and for this birth– God will meet me. I have struggled with surrendering control of our son's birth, in realizing that though we have laid our plans and done everything we can to ensure it will go as we envision, but ultimately our son's life and birth is every bit as much in the hands of God as Livia and Lucy's was. I don't know how it's going to play out. But I know that God does, and I know that He will meet me in it and give me the grace that I need– even if that grace doesn't look how I expect. He did not abandon me in the birth of the girls; He was not absent when my soul felt dead as I held my dead daughters. He is not absent now in my insomnia and tiredness of these last weeks, in the hope and fear of anticipating Tadpole's birth. He has met me. He will meet me. He will give me the grace I need.