Leif’s Story: Day 5

8/31/17

Breauna

I woke up this morning a little stronger—a little lighter. My chest was no longer throbbing and I sighed as I looked up. Thank you. I had a few things I wanted to get taken care of before Leif’s funeral and it gave me purpose. My resolve to place pieces of my heart in every aspect of Leif’s funeral carried me through a solo trip to the city where I encountered pregnant women and babies at every turn. But, I couldn’t help reflecting on a moment I’d had the day before with Luxe. I was sitting on the couch watching her dance. The little girl loves to dance and it’s thoroughly enchanting. I caught myself with a grin of amusement as I watched her and thought, I’m grinning. She stopped and said, “Mama, dance!” just to dart into another twirl and spin. I laughed and stood up, feeling free in that moment to just goof off, So, I did. I danced just to keep her dancing and laughed while I watched her. I thought to myself as tears started to spring, Oh, Luxe, you sweet, precious girl. You are serving right now and you don’t even know it… used by the Lord and He honors your name. Light.  

Baby girl was bringing the sunshine. I see You, God. He winked. The great I AM. Ever resourceful. A shattered heart felt a little less broken. I soaked up the warmth of Luxe as the arms of God encompassed us both. I gave myself permission to feel the joy without guilt and I felt His blessing, knowing He created the moment and called it good.

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Before I went to sleep that night, I opened my Bible to read. I had read Ecclesiastes 2 the night before, so Ecclesiastes 3 was the text for this  night and the timing was no coincidence because right in front of me–on that particular evening–were these words: “In every season, there is a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:4)

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Tears of gratitude welled up and comfort saturated my heart. I had divine permission to grieve, yes…but also blessing in moving forward. To have happy moments did not mean that I didn’t love Leif… just like being entrenched in sorrow didn’t mean I cared less for the children in front of me. This verse was drenched in grace and I was struck with wonder. Here I was… suffering, broken, so small in the grand scheme of things that go on in the world…and Almighty God was right with me…stooping down in tangible ways to show how He draws close. And even though I hurt, to experience Him like this created a hunger for every single morsel He had to give.  I see You, Lord. Let me see more.

 

Leslee

I dug his grave today. I wanted to. Needed to. I’ve cried many tears and I know I’ll cry more, but today they fall in the form of sweat. It pours out, soaking my shirt.

I work hard and hard work builds muscle. My muscle is one thing I can offer Leif right now—and my family. I hit tree roots and rocks. It only makes me more determined.

Breauna and I chose this resting spot for our son and it is perfect. He’ll be right under a maple tree. Not only will it be beautiful this fall, but it will provide shade for Leif. This was symbolic for Breauna and I. Our biggest and most important goal has always been to plant trees in the lives of our children that provide them strength, trust, faith, love, and shade. This is done by raising them in the Lord. Those trees will be a refuge—a cover—for them as they encounter ugliness on their journey to Heaven. Leif has already made it. But, we still wanted Leif’s little body to rest in the shade. And if my pain brings me any joy at all, it’s knowing that my son and one of my daughters have already been successful in their journey.

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Leif’s Story, Day 4

It’s been almost 8 months since we lost our son and–by the wonderful grace of God– so much healing has occurred in that span of time. We’re all in a good place. However, something still compels me to share the valley we walked through because it is flooded with His grace and goodness. And so, today, the story continues if you so choose. 

8/30/17

My eyes opened to another morning. It was tough to get out of bed. Not only was I sore from giving birth, a wreck from waking up every morning thus far to a nightmare, but my chest  was starting to throb. Sunday. Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. My milk was in full production. It’s too bad my body wasn’t aware that I had no baby to feed. It only stood as a cruel, cruel reminder. I had to let off some of the pressure—even though I was told not to pump. I couldn’t get mastitis. I didn’t have time to get sick. I had to plan his funeral and nothing was going to stop me from attending it.

As I stood in the bathroom, expressing just enough milk to relieve some pain but not cause my body to produce more, tears ran down my face at how absolutely tragic this scene was. Heartbreaking to watch play out. Gut wrenching to go through.

Clear tears ran down my face. White tears close to my heart.

God, please help me. I’m thankful that my body is doing what it’s supposed to, but I can’t take this. Please stop the flow. It hurts and it only serves to cause me more heartache. Please make it stop.

I walked out of the bathroom and made my way down the hall to the living room. The girls were sitting on the couch watching cartoons. Leslee had started back to his milking routine but had fed the girls before he left. I said nothing and made my way to the coffee pot. Numb. Present physically, but not emotionally or mentally. It was so hard to smile. I stood there sipping my coffee at the counter staring off into space as Taegan got up off the couch and came to stand beside me.

“Are you sad, Mommy?”

I could only look at her as new tears welled in my eyes. I nodded my head and squeaked out the word, “Very.”

“I wish Leif was here,” she sighed with the sincerest look of understanding a 7-year-old can muster. I appreciated her reaching out, her attempt to be my company in the misery. Tough- as-nails, rock solid little Taegan who rarely showed emotion was trying to meet me in the pain.

“Me too, baby….me, too.”

I walked back to the bedroom, coffee cup in hand, to put my make up on. Silly, really…knowing how much I would surely cry over the course of the day.  We would go pick up Leif’s casket from some sweet friends who custom made it and deliver it to the funeral home this afternoon.

I reflected on one of the things my OB had said before we left the hospital…that this was going to be the worst month of our lives. She knew nothing of Leslee’s past, but I was certain she was right about me. So, I found my planner, opened it to August, and crossed out the 27th, 28th, and 29th. 3 days down. 28 more to go.

 

Leslee

 

We had spent a lot of time driving, it seemed, and today was no different. We drove in virtual silence, but that was ok. No conversation was necessary. No questions needed asking when tears would well up. A pat on the leg, a squeeze of the hand, a sympathetic look was the only exchange. I would look at her and wonder what was going through her mind. How she was feeling. How she was processing. I reflected on the “stages of grief” I went through and wondered if Breauna would hit those or whether I could help her skirt around a few based on my own experiences.

I took her out to lunch after we delivered the casket to the funeral home and we talked about the coming days and other things. It was probably the first time we had a conversation without crying. We left and on the drive home, Breauna sat looking up at the sky. Her face was always turned to the window. What was she thinking about? I wondered that a lot. Sometimes, I pressed for an answer and she was always willing to talk, but other times I just left her alone with her thoughts. I had a pretty good idea.

A song came on the radio and she reached to turn it up. I remember the song—“Wild West” by Runaway June—a current favorite of hers. It was the first time since Leif left us that I’d heard my wife sing. I just sat there and listened. To say something might have caused her to stop and I didn’t want that. I sat there and let the low, rich tambre of her beautiful voice wash over me while I rejoiced in my head. She loves to sing. She’s singing! My grieving, heartbroken wife is singing.

The song ended and I couldn’t hold back. “I’m so in love with you,” I told her. “And I’m so happy to hear you singing.”

She turned to me and gave me that little grin she does.

That was my first indication that she was going to be ok. That we were going to be ok. If she was ok, I was ok. I would walk with her through every stage of what she was going to go through in the next month and more, but she was singing… It reassured me. Amidst the brokenness, I held onto the beauty of that moment.

 

***

That evening, after milking, I walked up to the house. All the lights were on and it was dark outside, so the fact that I was simply standing in the yard staring into the windows went unnoticed. It wasn’t my first time to enjoy watching my life—my family—without them knowing. I actually did it quite a lot.  It never failed in giving me a sense of awe. The stunning woman in that house is my WIFE! Wow…speechless. Those beautiful little girls were MINE to shepherd. I definitely didn’t deserve any of this privilege.

I enjoyed taking a moment to stand here and be outside of it. Outside of myself for a moment just looking at my life and reflecting on where I’ve been. Where I am now. What I’ve seen…and the sadness overtook me out of nowhere. What I’ve seen…

I couldn’t help reflecting on the weeks following Luxe’s arrival. Starting at 5 p.m. every single night, she would start screaming and crying and it would last until exactly 8 p.m. I, of course, was always milking most of the evening, so Breauna would have to walk up down the hall and in and out of our bedroom bouncing, swaying, and pacing to somewhat calm Luxe. She wore a path through the house until Luxe grew out of the colic. I would see this each night as I walked up.  Well, actually, I could hear it, too, so I didn’t stand there very long. I’d walk in ready to relief pitch…even if it was only for about 20 minutes.

I remember all that. And this moment looked a lot like that. We’d come home from the hospital. The girls were in the living room. My wife was standing in the kitchen. Hair piled on top of her head. Sweatpants. T-shirt. Everything looked like it should have. Like it would have. But, there was no baby in her arms. There was no Leif… and there never would be. Empty arms was the distorted image I saw through my windows and the pain washed the moment in gray. Even my house seemed to sag from missing something it knew it was supposed to contain. I did my best to pull myself together before I walked in the door.

Say Yes

I’ve been reflecting today a lot on the last 6 months—how we’ve loved and lost, how we’ve come up against obstacles, how fast change has been enacted in our lives, how doors have opened, how others have closed, how one chapter has ended while a new one is beginning, how prayers we’ve been praying for so long occur in a moment, a blink of an eye and we got what we asked for. A blink of an eye and we’re on a new path. A blink of an eye and suddenly we see so much clearer things we’ve never seen before. Or maybe we’ve seen them, but retreated in fear. No more.

A new path could be worrisome because we’re not really fans of unpredictability, but we embrace it because we trust the Trailguide. He promises adventure.

There’s a quote that says, “It doesn’t matter where you’re going. It’s who you have beside you.” True…A new path doesn’t seem daunting when you embrace it with the one you love. When the team is solid. United. And working toward a common goal together. But, I think it’s better said, “It doesn’t matter where you’re going when you know Who’s in front of you, Who’s beside you, and Who’s behind you. Just say yes.”

I praise You, God, for moving our mountain! I praise You for giving Leslee and I the grace and power to please You through Jesus! I praise You for giving us Your strength in our struggles so we’re more solid than ever in our love for each other and our faith in You! And I praise You for everything else You’re about to do even though I can’t see it. I simply say yes. Let it be, Lord. Let it be.28378910_10156444720881435_1641743548690420011_n

Growth and Gratitude in the Worst Year of My Life

1/1/2018

A new year. I enter it markedly different. I suppose we all do, but after a year like 2017, I feel like I’ve been carved into a very different person. The worst year of your life will do that to you. It hadn’t just been awful since the end of August. No…January began and train wreck after train wreck. Storm after storm. (In April, literally.) Challenge after challenge. There were so many prayers answered “yes.” One big one answered “no.” And so many still up in the air. It occurs to me to be thankful that I have so many things to pray for and about. The ones that He quickly answers give me hope for the ones He’s silent on. The answered ones keep me going when He says no. And even His big no was only a “Not right now…” A painful, deferred yes that I both ache for and anticipate with great joy.

I spent a LOT of time on my knees in 2017 praying for change—and the thing that changed the most was me. God worked some miracles for me and He also brought me to the end of myself so many times I can’t even count. Every strength wasn’t strong enough. Every weakness seemed to be laid bare. Every place in which I relied on myself—even unconsciously—was no longer reliable. Distractions no longer distracted. My efforts to plant dreams or make plans were completely uprooted to the point where I felt paralyzed to even dream or make plans. There was literally nothing I could control.

And I think that was the point. I AM is God of your life, Breauna, not you. I heard that loud and clear.

So, I spent a lot of time also asking God, “What do you want from me? What am I not seeing here? I’m begging you for blessing, Father, and I trust you, so I know there’s a reason You’re not honoring my requests. What do you want from me?” Not in a frustrated way…in a willing one.

“You. I want you,” is what I started to understand. “I want you to seek Me because you just want to be where I am. I want you to seek me simply to draw close. To understand and know Me. You remember how you were when you were a child? In some ways, you need to go back. Let go of control. Let go of thinking you are in any way in charge of your life. Let go of expectation. Let go of your own ideas of what you think a blessed life is and be present in the blessed life I’ve placed you in. I want your gratitude.”

“But you have it, Lord! I am grateful!”

Not when I bless you and then you’re on to your next request. Achieve one, move to the next. Open your eyes, daughter. I AM everywhere. I want you to see My favor in your life in spite of the challenges, storms, and disappointments. An easy, comfortable life does not equal a blessed one. An easy, comfortable life does not mean you have My favor. When you were a child, it was just you and Me. You had dreams, but no expectations. No comparisons. No notions of what a “happy” life was supposed to be like. You just lived. My pleasure in you and love for you was not based on my action. It was simply based on your belief that I AM what I say I AM.

Trust Me.”

As water poured out of my eyes in my closet, living water was carving riverbeds in my soul. 2017 was an exponential growth year. I grew…because I shrunk. The paradox of moving forward on my journey was all in the setbacks. I needed to revert to mature. I needed to decrease so He could increase. It’s ironic to me that my whole mantra since moving to a little dairy out in the middle of nowhere was “Bloom where you are planted.” I now see God’s motive was “Make a whole new flower.” Your struggles, challenges, setbacks, etc. are not the pain of the executioner’s whip, my daughter. My no’s and my silence are not punishment. Nor are they you somehow missing the road signs or messing up My plans. You, dearheart, are not that powerful. You’re simply impatient. In the meantime, I’m  using my scalpel to fix a few things. I’ve got Your life in my hands. You’ve seen Me in action on your behalf enough to know that. Trust me with it.

I do, Father. I am trusting You. And thank You.

It took me 11 months to stop praying for the things I wanted and start simply asking God to bless me with the things He wanted me to have. To open my eyes to those things when they came. To open my eyes to Him everywhere. To feel Him. To see Him. To experience Him. To be completely fulfilled in all things Him. I sat down with my Bible simply to read—with full faith that if He wanted to me to know something specific, I would end up there at the perfect time. And I told Him I would try my best not to bring my own requests for material or physical blessing, but simply humbly accept what He saw fit to give and cherish with gratitude everything I had. Not because it’s wrong to ask for those things, but because I wanted to put my trust into action. It’s been tough! I’ve had to overhaul some habits and do some major mindset work—or maybe I can’t even take credit for that as my own strength. All good that I do is Him.

Last month, a friend gave me an idea that I prayed about weeks. A word. I simply wanted a word. Something to hang onto as I entered 2018. I prayed for it. Waiting. Watching. A day or two later—the word “prepare” was jumping off book pages. It was everywhere I looked. It was a broken record in my head. I looked up. Is that you, Lord? Is that Your word? I timidly asked because it had a positive feeling with it, a hopeful connotation, and I’ll admit to being afraid I was intercepting it wrong. Afraid of getting my hopes up.  Things expectations are made of. And yet, this word would not leave me alone. Prepare.

Weeks went by. I kept my eye out for a different word. A different message. I’ll admit I’m still doing it. I just don’t want to get it wrong. And yet, this pesky prepare is still here.

Prepare…prepare for what?

I’m not sure…the only thing I can be sure of is that change is always certain.

Prepare for change? Is that it? At this point, I feel like I’m prepared for anything. Having no expectations will do that to a person. Anything can happen. I simply have to roll with it, which completely goes against pride and my own self-accomplishment.

There’s a sense, for me, that prepare was an apt word for 2017. Brace yourself, Breauna. This is going to be a long, dark, bumpy ride. Major growing pains around the next bin.

And yet, here we are in 2018, with this positive, hopeful “prepare.” What was He preparing me for in 2017? And not just me…but Leslee, as well? I’m reminded of Jacob after wrestling with God. Leslee and I can relate to walking with a limp. We come limping into 2018, but with newfound strength, as well. And  humble, grateful hands wide open for whatever the Lord wants to give.

And the word is… “prepare.”

Day 2-3: Walking On in the Ugly Beautiful Bitter Sweet

The sun went down on our first day home and pain blindsided me in a moment I didn’t expect. You might wonder how it blindsided me when it had been the only constant, but some happy moments were even sadder than the sorrowful ones. I glanced outside as the sun went down to see Leslee pushing our girls on the swings.

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It was a sweet moment, but I felt the bitter start to build inside me. He was smiling, they were giggling…laughing, and I was having a hard time with the image of happiness this scene was portraying. It was surreal…standing there fully aware that this was my life and yet I was so far removed from it. In my mind, I was wherever Leif was. That’s where I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be witnessing a happy family. I didn’t belong there.

I remember a conversation I had with my mom before I left the hospital. A conversation about how life goes on in spite of you. I told her I didn’t know how in the world I was going to move forward. That I had no desire to. I can’t remember everything she said, but one line stuck with me. “That’s the hard, but somewhat merciful thing about life…Whether we want to move forward or not, as life moves forward, it tends to drag us along with it.”

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I stood there looking out the window and realized this was one of those moments. This beautiful, ugly, golden, bitter moment where I first experienced that she was right. I was going to be dragged along whether I liked it or not. It was happening as I stood there. My family was going to drag me along.  I might as well find the beauty over the ugly. The sweet over the bitter. I got my camera. It occurred to me that I might want to remember this. This…the moment  life started to move on. The moment life looked like nothing horrible had happened to us.  A normal, happy family playing in the yard.

I saw Leslee pushing the girls and I wanted to embrace his strength. This was a joy-filled moment. For him. I was sincerely thankful for that. He found solace in two little girls. I took pictures. Someday, we’ll all get back to this, right, Father? I have to believe that.

**

My head hit the pillow that night and I passed out. But not before I cried some more. For as I had gone to turn out the light under our cabinets, there lay the pacifiers I had bought last week.

**

I woke up the next morning feeling a lot more rested. A little stronger. I moved through the fog that surrounded me and prayed a thousand prayers. Every moment, I need You. I need You. Give me the strength to get out of this bed. Give me the strength to make breakfast. Give me the strength to plan my son’s funeral today. Let me feel you, Lord. Heal my broken heart. Give Leif a hug and a kiss from me (I love you, sweet boy). I need You. Please comfort me.

If my own prayers weren’t enough, I was covered.  In prayers and love. I could feel it. A warm embrace. Prayers went up…the Lord’s presence intensified. So tangibly. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced and it’s difficult to put into words. He was there…through a loving, specific, well-timed word from Leslee. Through a heart-felt message from friends or family.  Through hugs. Through generosity. Through meals. Through His Word. Through tears. Lots and lots of tears. When I broke down, He carried. When I leaned into the pain and the flood broke forth, His strength could handle the storm. When I whispered, He whispered back.

However, that day was a hard day. We met with the funeral home and made the arrangements for Leif’s service. I sat there and could hardly speak. I was grateful that Leslee did all the talking. We wanted a little handout for people to have at the service. I was frustrated that I didn’t have full control over the design, the font, the colors, the EVERYTHING about it. Amidst my gratitude that the funeral home was willing to do an infant service for very little cost, it worried me that it might not be our idea of perfect. I just wanted everything to be perfect. I wanted to control the details because I couldn’t control anything else.

And then I found out I had to write the obituary. I guess I assumed they would have kind of a fill-in-the-blank template for us.  Yeah, something mindless would be best for me right now. I don’t want to think. However, in my current state, I’m certain I would have wanted to hijack that, too. I needed something to give me purpose. Something to throw myself into. I couldn’t be pleased. And the responsibility of writing my baby’s obituary left me feeling overwhelmed.

The ride home was long. There was silence, but feelings and thoughts filled the car.  I stared up out the window, blue sky, white cotton clouds, trying to draw near to those heights. Trying to lose myself…hear God…find my son. Tears were ready and then Leslee grabbed my hand and squeezed intuitively.

“What are you thinking right now?”

Floodgates opened as I turned my head to look at him. “I miss my son!” I wailed. As I cried, he squeezed harder and continued to hold on as tears brimmed in his own eyes. No words were necessary. He missed him, too. His generosity in asking me time and time again to share my thoughts was not lost on me. Giving me permission to unload on him is what he’s always done, but it’s easier to hear when you’re not in it. When you’re not the one unpacking the baggage. We were sharing a suitcase on this journey.

“I love you, Breauna. I miss him, too.” A phrase he uttered countless times never grew old. It grounded me.

When we arrived home, he went to take care of some chores and I sat down at my computer, wrote the first line of Leif’s obituary, and sobbed. I wrote another line and had to stop because I couldn’t even see the screen. Another line. And another…until I had reached 8 lines that I absolutely hated. If ever anger presented itself, it was in that moment. I was angry at myself for not being able to articulate what I wanted to say about my baby. A baby I had only known through little kicks and twists and rolls in my belly. A baby that knew me so much better than I knew him…or would ever get the chance to.   I should have been able to DO this, but it sounded so flat. I looked up and said, “Father, You’re going to have to help me with this. Give me inspiration. Give me the words. I need You.”

 

I decided to leave it for a while. Walk away and put it off. I needed to message a friend and tell her I was using her poem in the ceremony. Little did I know she would help me finish the hard part of his obituary with her response. Her words were perfect.  Yet again, and as always… there He was.

 

Leslee

I finished up my chores and went for a little drive around the farm to clear my head. I had gotten upset upon arriving at the funeral home to find my son was still at the hospital. I beat myself up. I should have brought him there myself. I left him thinking they would pick him up that day. He spent another night at the hospital alone. The thought cut me to the core. I know I was somewhat irrational, but just because he wasn’t living didn’t make me any less his parent. It didn’t make me love or care for him any less. It’s not a switch I can turn off. The funeral director assured me someone was on their way to get him as we spoke, but I was visibly frazzled. These woods and hills brought me peace.

I decided checking my cameras would be a nice distraction. I enjoy tracking the deer population on the farm, hunting sheds…hunting, period. I like to watch the little bucks grow and ponder what they might mature into. I had had my eye on one in particular. I had watched him grow. I had held onto his sheds. He was on my list. I loved how symmetrical he was. The best way I can explain it…He was just my kind of deer. And we had a history. He was stealthy, though, which made him even more of a challenge.

I drove up to one of my cameras, scrolled through a few photos, and there he was. Front and center. His face and his antlers filled the screen. Yes! I thought. What day was this?

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I looked down and it suddenly hit me. 8/27/17. I’ll admit I’ve always been more a believer in coincidence when it comes to details. Small things. This feeling that washed over me was more up Breauna’s alley. I always just kind of grinned and let her tell me a story about details she saw God’s hand in and thought, Well, maybe…But I’ve never felt or experienced anything like that personally.

God wasn’t going to let me write this one off. There stood my special buck—the one I’d hardly talked to anyone about—on my camera on the day we said hello and goodbye to our son. The photo sent a message straight through me. I know you. I know all of the little details. Things you don’t share with everyone. And I know this moment because I know this buck is special to you. Hear Me: It’s going to be ok. If this photo says anything to you, let it be this. If I can work about this tiny thing that speaks volumes to you, I can work about the big things. Start trusting I do indeed speak and work in the details.

I hopped in my side-by-side and ran home to show Breauna my picture and the date. She would know. She would understand what it meant to me and I understood her even better now. I had a story—an encounter of my own—about how God reaches us and how very resourceful He is.

I named the buck Leif’s Buck. Never had I wanted to see a deer live so bad in my life. As long as he stayed on the farm, he was safe. And that day was a turning point for me. God had my back and all the little details in between. He orchestrated them and there was a peaceful blessing in being able to see. I simply had to put the right glasses on when I scrolled through the camera.