Leif’s Story: Day 6

Note to reader: This will most likely be the last piece of Leif’s story I will blog about. As an avid reader, I feel this particular part is a satisfying stopping point and a good chapter’s end.  There’s so much more to tell and so much wisdom we gained on our journey from a deep pit to standing above it, but I hope this leaves you feeling convicted that God is awesome in the details. That you are seen. That you are so loved. And that He comforts those suffering in tangible, special ways when we surrender. I’ve got the pieces of a book on my computer and so much writing still left to do, but until it is finished, I’m so grateful for all those that have followed along, supported us, sent encouraging messages, and prayed for us. It truly meant the world. –B

 Breauna

(Sep. 1, 2017) I woke up the morning  of “the day” with tears. The dreaded day when we would lay our baby boy in the ground.  The day before had felt like progress, but this morning felt like square one. It was the day of his funeral. The day I had dreaded all week. Everyone would be travelling and gathering not to celebrate the birth of our son, but to mourn our loss. I cried as I picked out what to wear. I cried as I straightened my hair. I cried as I put my make-up on—an exercise in futility.  I could not pull it together…could not stop the tears. I looked up to the Lord and said, “Father, I can’t do this!” I prayed for strength, but it just wasn’t coming, so I continued to cry. And I fretted. I worried that something was going to go wrong. I worried about how many people might be there. What if I didn’t know some of them? Could I keep my composure? What would they think of me? Would I act how they think I should act? What if someone made me smile? Would they think I didn’t love my son? What if I bawled my eyes out? Would they think me unstable? My nerves were frantic as I thought about being a spectacle—how my grief was going to be on such public display. And I continued to cry.

Leslee

When I was a little boy, I enjoyed going to a certain hill on my family’s farm. I never talked about this hill much because I considered it a sort of boyhood retreat that I kept to myself. On this hill was something that always intrigued me: iron ore—rocks that iron is extracted from. I would walk around up there as a young boy, fantasizing about being a miner. I pondered  those rocks because they riddled the hill and wondered why this hill—of many hills on our place—was the only hill that boasted these rocks.  I liked that hill.  In the quiet, I would think about iron.  My  thoughts would always wander to words of strength. Steel. Metal. Iron. Ships. Trains. High rises. Bridges.  The small rock in my hand—in large quantity—was capable of so much.  It could hold things together. It could hold things up. It could hold things high. It could haul the heavy and sail lightly. It could hold things protected. And wandering thoughts would turn to wonder. Little bits of great strength were all around me a half mile away.

I needed strength. I needed it badly.  I would lay my son to rest in a few hours and I was about to do something so absolutely hard that I planned a back-up in case I couldn’t get through it. I was going to speak at Leif’s funeral. It didn’t seem right for anyone else to do it. It had to be me… and I wanted to. I wanted to so badly. I wanted to be strong for my son. He deserved to have his dad do this…but I’ve never been good at holding my heart protected. It’s not made of iron. It’s soft and it resides on my sleeve. I’m an emotional guy. It’s something I’ve always hated about myself. I’m not made of iron…because steel doesn’t cry. Right?

On our drive home from the hospital, Breauna asked me who we might have say a few words at Leif’s funeral. Immediately, I knew it was me. She looked a little shocked when I told her I was going to do it because she knows me so well.

“Are you sure, Leslee? I mean…I love that idea. There’s no one better…but are you sure you can do that?”

I felt confident in that moment. “Yeah,” I said. “I can do it for him.”

Over the next day or two, I chewed on ideas of what I would say. I thought of all the conversations Breauna and I had had over the last nine months about Leif. The dreams we had. The influence, leadership, and impact we asked God to give him. I had all these thoughts, but they were completely unorganized.  A jumbled up mess in my head. So, while travelling one day, I unpacked all the thoughts and handed them to Breauna.

“Can you help me organize that? You know, make it flow?”

With a wistful grin, she said, “I love it, Leslee. Those are beautiful thoughts. Perfect. I definitely think I can work with that.”

She typed it up and thanked me for allowing her to be a part of what I would say. On that paper laid my ideas blessed by my wife’s gift with words. In a few hours, they would be said for the first and the last time.

I walked to the house from the barn. I had checked on the guys milking for me that morning and assured myself that they had everything under control. The walk from the barn to our house is a short distance, so I might have missed it had I not been looking down in that moment. There…in the middle of my path…was a piece of iron ore. I stopped short. No way… I stood there for a minute–just staring at it–trying to wrap my mind around how this chunk had travelled to the middle of my driveway. I bent down, picked it up, and understood to my core what it was doing here. It was affirmation. No one else but Him would have known just how significant a rock in my way would be. I got the message. I’ve got you. I’ve had you since you were a little boy. I know you.  And I know you’re about to do something hard. But, Leslee, you’re tough. If a soft heart isn’t strong…if steel doesn’t cry… what do you say I am? You are a small rock in My hand…and I am capable. I hold things together. I hold things up. I haul the heavy and sail lightly. I hold things protected. In My hand, you are iron. A small bit of steel with a great amount of strength. Trust Me. You’ll be fine today.

Breauna

When we arrived at the cemetery, a few family members had already gathered, but the hearse—and Leif—had not arrived yet. I could tell Leslee was silently drawing on the strength he needed to get through what he was about to do. Speaking at Leif’s service was going to be no easy task. Luxe was sleeping in the car and I used it as an excuse to stay put. Taegan got out to go greet her cousins.

Leslee turned to me as he put the car in park. “Do you want to get out or…?” Leslee asked.

“No… I just want to hide,” I replied as my face crumbled and the tears started falling again.

“That’s fine, baby. That’s fine. I’ll get out, say hi, and you can stay here.”

“I’ll get out when he gets here,” I feebly replied, grateful—so very grateful—for my husband’s sensitivity and understanding. The man was walking, talking proof that one can be incredibly masculine and incredibly soft-hearted at the same time. I couldn’t begin to tell a person all the ways Leslee had comforted me from the day of Leif’s arrival to this day—where we, his parents, were saying goodbye to him on this part of all our journeys. However, as soon as the thought of journeys occurred to me, it also struck me that none of our journeys were over. They would never be over…and that brought me some comfort for a moment.

Still…I didn’t know how I was going to do this. Of all the times I had prayed for strength, the Lord didn’t seem to be providing it this time. I cried some more.

The hearse arrived and pulled up behind us. Leslee hopped back into our car and led them to Leif’s spot. As they started to get things out and set up, I stood there watching. People continued to gather and park, but they had to walk up the hill to get to us. I was grateful for the added time it brought me to try to gain a semblance of composure.

When they laid his little casket on top of the table, a whole new round of tears fell down my face. It was a sturdy, custom made box of old barnwood. It had been sanded to a smoother finish and stained a dark brown. I loved the texture—all the pock marks and imperfections. It was perfect and beautiful—made even more so by the fact that it had been gifted to us by some sweet friends who are in the business of casket-making. Doing this for a baby was something they hated, but we knew this little box was made with love. And in it lay a little body that I loved more than life itself.

The minutes before the funeral began were a blur. My uncle opened it up by reading Leif’s obituary.

“Leif Owen Krider was born to Leslee and Breauna Krider on August 27, 2017. He measured 18 ½ inches long, weighed 5 lbs. 13 oz, and was perfect. His hair was blonde and he had his mommy’s long toes. His parents’ prayer for him was that he would be strong and mighty in the Kingdom one day… and they believe that’s exactly what he is. The Father decided Leif would get a free pass from all the turmoil and trouble this world offers and carried him home before his family could meet him. He waits there with Jesus for that great reunion when all of God’s children get home. Leslee and Breauna are so thankful for the gift it was to be his parents. He lived his entire life in a hug right below his mother’s heart and all he ever knew was that he was loved and wanted by her, his father, his big sisters, and a multitude of family and friends.

Leif joined his grandfather, Lonnie Krider, in Heaven and he is survived by his parents; his sisters, Taegan and Luxe; his grandmothers; Karen Fae Krider and Trish Rogers; his grandfather, David Cauthron; his great-grandmothers; Laurolee Rogers and Betty Cauthron, and a large family of aunts, uncles, and cousins who love him very much.”

After he read that sweet poem we loved, Leslee stood up and made his way to a point right beside the little box holding Leif.

“Breauna and I would like to thank all of you for coming to support us and love on us through this. We have been so grateful for the outpouring of prayer on our behalf, the outpouring of tears cried with us and for us, and the thoughtful, comforting words sent to us and the girls.  I’m going to attempt to stumble my way through a few words here because I want to. I want to do it for Leif.

“One of the most popular questions we were asked when deciding to name our son Leif was ‘Why Leif? Does that name have a special meaning for you?’ We realized it was uncommon and even liked it because it was. Breauna loves history and thought that was just the coolest name since a famous Viking carried it. Naming your son after a famous Viking’s got to bestow some sort of masculine ruggedness upon him, right? Bravery, leadership, influence, strength—all those things parents hope they are able to foster in a son were hopes we had for Leif. At the top of the list, a man who lived to love and obey the Lord. A man who was a force to be reckoned with in the Kingdom. A man who could fight valiantly against the enemy’s attacks and win. A little seed that would grow into a mighty tree. Those were the things we prayed for over our son.

And you know? God heard those prayers and He answered them…just not in the way we expected. You see, Leif was just a unique name we liked until we actually looked up what it meant. The Scandanavian meaning is “descendant” or “heir.” It took on a new significance for us when we learned that because I am the only Krider of my particular line that got to keep that name. And our son would carry it, as well. Leif was the only heir to my last name and so we felt it fit the situation perfectly.

As I sat there in that hospital room trying to process the fact that the Lord had carried away our son before we even knew it, the thought occurred to me that Leif was always His first. He chose us to give Leif’s little soul to for a time, but his true father was the One who created him. He was not just my descendant or heir. I could only give him love, guidance, and a last name he could keep. But, he was God, the Father’s, heir. God, the Father’s, descendant. And he is with him now. Victorious. What heartbreak we feel… but what mercy and favor was shown to Leif in getting a free pass from the ugliness of this world. And we find comfort in knowing he is all those things up there with our God. Jesus is showing him what true masculinity, bravery, leadership, influence, and strength is all about. We cry because we missed out on an opportunity to know him here, but we trust that our little seed has already become– or is being shown–how to be a mighty tree.”

This part did not make me cry. I simply felt bolstered. I had watched my easily touched husband get up there and talk about our baby with such passion while remaining so stoic. It moved me greatly. I couldn’t have been prouder of him only because I knew how much getting emotional bothered him. It would have been completely understandable for someone to fall apart. Natural. But, he held it together. And I knew Who held him.

Out of the corner of my eye, something got my attention. I looked to my right. Sitting on the other side of my grandma was my eldest daughter, shoulders hunkered, quietly sobbing into her hands. Grandma looked at me sympathetically as she patted and rubbed Taegan’s back.  Someone else needed some holding.

***

A sweet prayer from the heart was offered by a good friend and the service was over. It was hard to accept condolences. It was harder to see people smile or laugh when they noticed someone they hadn’t seen in forever. Stop watching people. Let grace abound. A gentle voice amidst the sarcastic, angry thoughts bouncing around in my head. How could someone laugh or smile on a day such as this? This is the second worst day of my life and people are happy! However, conviction trumped emotion.  I was certain I was unknowingly guilty of the same thing. Laughing…smiling…on the worst day of someone else’s life. Yes, grace was necessary. I had surely needed it myself.

We thanked everyone for coming and as people started to leave the cemetery, I stood there with my mom’s arm around me and watched Leslee, Aaron, and Leslee’s uncle, Robert, lower Leif’s casket into the hole his father had dug. A painful, painful moment. The first few bits of dirt and dust fell off the shovel into the hole. A rock fell with a loud “thunk” on the little box and I winced. A couple more rocks fell on top of my baby’s casket and I started to lose it. Right at that moment, Leslee dropped the shovel and knelt, siphoning as he pushed soil into the hole so no more rocks would crash onto Leif’s casket. It had gotten to him, too. I was touched that Aaron was right there beside him on his knees in his suitpants pushing dirt as Robert used the shovel to get the big rocks out from his side.

I stood there and watched until the hole was completely filled. Numb. A surreal feeling of “This cannot be happening to me.” I had just buried my baby boy.

 

***

We got into the car to drive home for one last little piece of ceremony that Aaron and Maddi wanted to do for our girls. Maddi was sitting with me in the car as Leslee saw to everything being finished up. She turned to me in characteristic fashion of good humor and said, “Well, I think I know Leslee’s future career path. You’re gonna be married to a preacher. Breauna Krider…preacher’s wife.” She raised her eyebrows, blew out a big breath, and slyly said, “You better get your act together.”

I laughed. Second worst day of my life…and I laughed.

 

***

We arrived home ready to take it easy in a little solitude, but there was one last thing we wanted to do with the girls. It had been Maddi’s idea. She had texted me mid-week and said, “Hey, I want to run something by you. How would you feel about Aaron and I getting the girls a couple balloons that they could write or draw on and letting them turn them loose after Leif’s funeral?”

“I think that would be really special,” I replied. It was.

With markers, Taegan and Luxe started creating on their balloons. My thoughts wandered as I waited and I was pulled back to Earth by Leslee.

“Breauna, look…” He held Taegan’s balloon. On it were written the words, “I love you, Leif” and below stood a little stick figure with a crown on his head. She got it. Taegan understood. I was completely touched. So was Leslee.

We stood the girls out in the field and told them to let go of their balloons. Taegan was all too ready to watch it fly away…up to Leif. Luxe was a little more hesitant, but upon finding out there were two extra balloons to play with, she let go.

I watched the balloons float up, up, up…and a little piece of me let go, too. The balloons soared and I envied them because they were just a little bit closer to home than I was. I wanted to go home. Up, up, up. But, for whatever reason, I was still standing here watching green balloons become specks amidst the clouds. A wave of determination rolled through me. I’m still aliveso You’re not done with me yet. I trust You—no matter how much this hurts. You’re still good. You are God and You are good. This—all of this–has been filtered through Your sovereign hands. You’ll create something beautiful out of this. I believe that because it’s who You are. Carry me with that hope. Help me hold on…and let him go.

As our balloons to Leif vanished, I whispered to the sky, “Bye-bye, baby boy. I’ll see you soon.”

Leslee

As our friends left, we made our way inside the house and the girls continued to enjoy their balloons as the evening went on. Taegan cut the string off hers so she could bounce it around while Luxe let hers proudly float in the living room as we turned in for the night. I shut all the lights off and glanced at the balloon—still floating, but maybe having lost some of its pep.

Luxe hopped out of bed the next morning in a hurry to get to the living room. Little feet flew past our room only to fly back down the hall into our room as she exclaimed, “Mommy, where’s my bawoon?! It’s not in da wiving woom!”

I got up thinking, It’s probably on the ground and she just hasn’t spotted it. But, indeed, it wasn’t in the living room. It had ventured down the hall and made a right-hand turn…directly into Leif’s room.

Luxe came up behind me. “Oh!” she giggled. “It’s in Weif’s woom. I didn’t even see it there!”

I smiled and acknowledged the special wink from God. “Luxe,” I sighed. “I think your brother liked the balloons.”

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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.