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.

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Walk, Not Run (The Struggle of Being OK with Less)

4/3/18

I went on a walk today. I had a little time to myself and decided a good dose of Vitamin D was in order to make up for all the depressing, cold, rainy days we’ve had of late.

Walking is hard for me. Walking is an all out struggle. It goes against everything in me to be ok with walking. My natural preset is run. Push. Challenge. Perform. Improve. Learn. Grow. Learn some more. And then do it again. Do. Do. Do.

I’m self-aware enough to know this about myself and realize that sometimes our natural presets work against the very progress we seek, so as I shut the front door, I stepped out on the porch and said a little prayer, Lord, just help me be. And walk with me.

 This is a concept He’s been driving home with me ever since Leif passed away–that action is a comfort zone for me. Action keeps me focused on what’s ahead—always working towards the next ____________…living in anticipation and being underwhelmed with the present. If I can just get to the next spot in the road—the next highpoint—the next whatever…and yet…I can’t finish that sentence because I don’t know what I’m even running towards. I don’t know what happens “if” I get there…I just figure it’ll be better than what I’m dealing with right now. I’ll be better than who I am right now.

It’s interesting how an introspective person has a problem staying who they are…where they are. Has a problem just walking. It’s interesting how I keep coming to the Lord asking him to change me. To grow me. To help me evolve into who He created me to be and yet…never being truly satisfied with who that is. The best version of me is never who I am right now.

Herein lies my ephiphany: Breauna, if you’re just doing all the time—crossing things off a list, living by checkpoints, constantly challenging yourself to be better, faster, stronger, more this, more that, are you ever truly being?

And so we come back to the walking. Walking requires me to just be. I don’t have to think about it. I don’t have to get my mindset right. I don’t have to perform because walking doesn’t require anything of me. It’s mindless. And yet…my mind runs rampant as it clears. The gravel crunches under my feet, still mush from the rain. The wind rushes through the pines in a hollow. It sounds like a roaring creek and He knows it soothes me. A warm breeze softly caresses my face. Angel breath.  Just be. With Me.

I talked. I talked a lot. He knows my heart. He knows my motivations are pure. I listened. What better insight can one gain than from the One who made them? From the Father who knows what He wants each of His children to be? He created me this way. He created this driven, disciplined, high-energy woman, but the real challenge—the rewarding journey that leads to satisfaction—is not becoming more of that. It consists of learning how to temper it. Tempering my own intensity. It serves me and my personal growth, but it doesn’t necessarily serve others. And He desires that I—that we all–serve others. And in serving others, we have to learn how to walk. We come alongside…and we walk. We slow down. We be present. And we be open and aware to His promptings. Being “busy” with productivity and efficiency leave little space for impact. And impact is my heart’s greatest yearning.

It’s always interesting to me that even in the smallest of ways, God has to get me outside of my comfort zone to do exactly what I’m asking Him to do. On a measly, mindless walk with a long list of things I should be doing, the Almighty Runner—the Ultimate Doer– comes alongside me…and He walks. And He shows me—yet again—that’s it’s ok to be less sometimes. Because, for a personality like mine, that is where the growth is. That is the evolving. Evolving into less. Because less is more. Not for me, but for Him.

 

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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.”

It’s A Wonderful Life

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11/25/17 – Our Thanksgiving was a blessed one. It wasn’t stressful, we didn’t spend a lot of time on the road, and somehow we managed to see a lot of family AND take a cute photo for our Christmas cards over the course of two days.

Leslee and I were doing good. Great, actually.  Our focus was on the present…not the past…not the future.

The past is now something I don’t want to talk about. Saying that makes me feel a little guilty, but in my mind, it has nothing to do with Leif, and everything to do with choosing joy. Choosing healing. Choosing to continue on this path the Lord has me on in cooperation with His will rather than dwelling on what mine was.

The future is always uncertain. So, the day I have is mine to enjoy. One good family photo was all I needed, so we sat for it and my mind was on making sure the girls were doing what they were supposed to be doing while I was still maintaining a smile.

We got up and started back for the house when sadness snuck up on me. Our family photo was missing a person. I should have had my little guy in my arms. My arms were empty. And this photo on my camera looked as if nothing had ever happened.

Inhale, exhale. Get it together, Breauna. I had actually been avoiding family photos to avoid this feeling. However, Luxe wasn’t a part of any of our family pictures to date, so I took the opportunity I had on this one.

We walked in the house and the girls were a blessed distraction as they bustled around trying to put play clothes on and go their separate ways with other family members. I sat at my desk in the silence and touched up a few things on the photo. The next task was perusing the different holiday cards for the perfect one.

I scrolled and scrolled thinking, Meh, not right for us….too many picture slots…too much pizzazz…etc. I wanted something very simple. At the very end of all the card choices, I found it. Just the right one. It was a simple family photo card and across the bottom it said, “It’s a wonderful life.”

I sat there and pondered that for a bit. I overanalyzed what people might think of me–with my empty arms—sitting there on a card that says it’s a wonderful life. The enemy was in my ear. “Is it a wonderful life, Breauna? Really…for you? I’m pretty sure a person wouldn’t call losing a child a wonderful life…”

No…no, they wouldn’t. But, that still didn’t define everything that this family in the photo was…or is. Losing Leif didn’t make the people or the pieces that still remained any less wonderful. It didn’t make me any less full of wonder when I thought about how this life had been specifically orchestrated for each of us by a Master Conductor.  How each day was another piece of the puzzle that I was certain was going to be wonderful when I got to see it all put together and finished.

It is a wonderful life, I firmly declared and went about setting our photo in that card, all the while still feeling melancholy.

Leslee walked in from doing chores and peeked around the bedroom door.

“Whatcha doing?” he casually asked.

“Oh, trying to get our Christmas cards ordered…It’s got me in a little bit of a funk.”

“Oh, yeah? Why’s that?” he asked.

“Well, I look at it and I can’t help thinking about what it’s missing…”

“I totally hear that. I was thinking about that earlier,” he replied.

“But…,” I looked up at him, tear-filled eyes, as he looked at the proof of our Christmas card, and said, “it’s still a wonderful life…right?”

“Oh, babe…absolutely,” he emphatically replied. He circled the three girls in the photo with his finger and said, “There ain’t nothin about this that isn’t wonderful. I look at the three of you and think, ‘Man! How did I ever get so blessed?!’ It is a wonderful life. Send that one. That’s the card.”

I guess all I needed was his corroboration to bolster my own belief. It’s interesting how choosing a simple Christmas card made me question my truth, but it wasn’t even about me, really. It was about me looking at my life from the outside–the tragedy of it–and wondering if someone would question God. What kind of God gives someone a baby and allows it to die? And how in the world is that woman still calling her life wonderful? She’s delusional. She’s out of her ever-loving mind!

See, that’s the point that I can’t explain to my own humanness. It defies understanding…this peace. This wonder that still remains. This joy. The wholehearted belief that God is still so good. It’s impossible to wrap a mind around.

Which brings me back to the card. It’s a wonderful life…when the Lord is in it. A wonderful life. Full of Him. Full of  wonder.