Month: June 2017

Praying When You Hurt

Grief and Infant Loss

Have you ever hurt so bad inside that you can’t even speak? Have you ever hurt so badly that try as you might, you cannot corral all of your thoughts and emotions into a coherent sentence? If you have ever lost a close loved one, especially a child, then I’m certain we share this experience. Even if you haven’t suffered such a great tragedy, I would bet you have had times in your life when you were so grieved or upset that it was hard for you to put your thoughts into words.

Now, have you ever tried to pray when you felt this way? Have you ever tried to pray when you can’t even tell God what’s bothering you and you don’t know what to ask for other than to make it stop? In times like these, getting alone with God and laying all of your cares on Him are what you need most, but the barrier to talking with Him can seem insurmountable.

In the months after our son, Luke, died I had many of these occasions to varying degrees. I normally have my personal prayer time early in the morning before anyone else gets up. It’s just about the only time of day when there is enough serenity to be able to devote more than five minutes to something other than the chaos created by four small children. During the first two weeks, our schedule was so chaotic, I have to be honest and tell you that my prayer life suffered big time. I made time for small prayers to get me through the days, but I don’t recall being able to set aside any meaningful time to talk to God even though I desperately wanted and needed some alone time with Him.

After a couple weeks, the chaos and flurry of activity from funeral arrangements and family visits began to wind down. That’s when prayer really began to get hard. Suddenly, I had time to be alone with my thoughts and feelings, and it was utterly devastating. There were many mornings when I got up for my prayer time, got down onto my knees and leaned over the ottoman or couch and could find no words to say to my Comforter. The more I tried to spit something out, the more my tongue froze. Instead…I wept. As much as I wanted to talk to God, all I could do was cry, usually uncontrollably. Sometimes I was there so long it was difficult to straighten my knees back out to get up. Other times I could manage to groan out a few words crying out non-specifically for His help.

During one of these times, I had an amazing realization. When I could come up with nothing to say, I could hear my heart singing:

I need Thee every hour
Most gracious Lord
No tender voice like Thine
Can peace afford

I need Thee oh I need Thee
Every hour I need Thee
Oh bless me now my savior
I come to Thee

I need Thee every hour
In joy or pain
Come quickly and abide
Or life is vain

I need Thee oh I need Thee
Every hour I need Thee
Oh bless me now my Savior
I come to Thee

Immediately, Romans 8:26-27 came to mind:

“Likewise, the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is in the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God”

Despite my complete inability to communicate by putting my thoughts into words, God was hearing everything I didn’t say. In that moment of realization I had such great comfort and a glimmer of joy! It was so plain to see that I was never alone and not so far from Him. God was not only listening intently, He was saying the words that I couldn’t!

I knew this in my head, but in the midst of devastation it’s sometimes hard for the heart to catch up.  What a blessing we Christians are given when we experience tough times! Even when we don’t know what to say to God or can’t put our thoughts and feelings into words, God knows exactly what we need to tell Him. We may think that our inability to speak well or to speak at all is a hindrance to our prayer life and our ability to communicate with God, but nothing could be farther from the truth. I would go so far as to say these times can be the most effective prayer we have because there is no pride and selfishness getting in the way. There’s no masking of our heart to appear so holy and reverent before God. Everything is stripped away and we see ourselves as God sees us…broken. For once, we are on the exact same page as God.

How can this be?? The Bible tells us that the moment we called on Christ for salvation and got saved, He sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within us (John 14:16-17, 3:1-8; Titus 3:5). Oh Christian, let me encourage you. You are never alone when you have the Holy Spirit! You never have to wonder if God really knows and understands how you feel! When you need to pray but you can’t find the words or can’t speak through your tears, God hears you loud and clear.

When you’re hurting, the best thing you can do is to get on your knees before God and let Him comfort you as He promised He would (John 14:18). Rest assured that He knows exactly what you need in those moments.

Amazing Grace

Grief and Infant Loss

When we found out I was carrying twins, I was incredibly nervous about how difficult the pregnancy would be. I typically have severe morning sickness all day, every day for the entire nine months. I’ve had pretty major complications with every pregnancy. We lost our first baby, Azaliah; with our firstborn, Mason Paul, I had pre-eclampsia (BP got up to 240’s/220’s before he was born); I had cholestasis with #2, Jonah James, as well as a precipitous delivery (under 3 hours total) that ended up with him being born at home, unplanned, at only 36 weeks 4 days (Daddy delivered him on our bathroom floor and that’s a story for him to tell 😉); our third born and only girl, Eliana Grace, was also a precipitous delivery and I almost hemorrhaged as a result of it. So because of all my history, a twin pregnancy was just a scary thing for me. Much to my surprise, I did not have the extreme sickness with these little guys like I had with the previous 3. I was so thankful for that mercy from above because as I said before, we had 3 other babies at home to look after that at the time were ranging from 11 months to barely 4 years old. I couldn’t really afford to be so sick again.

Initially we weren’t able to detect the thin membrane and I knew the complications of a twin pregnancy in which the babies shared a sac were pretty serious and those mommas end up admitted for 24/7 monitoring starting at 24 weeks due to the very high risk for cord entanglement.  We asked for prayers that they would find a membrane separating them and once we were able to find this a week later, I felt a huge amount of relief. They were officially monochorionic-diamniotic (mono-di) twins.  I had no idea, even as a nurse, that there were incredibly serious issues that could go on with mono-di twins as well. Because of the type of pregnancy it was, I was deemed “high risk”, which meant I’d be seen a minimum every 2 weeks throughout the pregnancy. That also meant we got to see the babies a lot more than a normal singleton pregnancy.

Baby A is Luke Oliver

And baby B is Asher Luke

It never gets old to see your sweet baby on the screen of the ultrasound and watch as they grow and change with each subsequent visit. It never gets old to hear a healthy heartbeat at each visit either and it never gets old to see TWO babies playing together in the womb. The boys were head to feet majority of the time and we would watch them kick one another in the head and then reach out and hit or grab at the other.  At one point in the pregnancy, the high-risk doctor (MFM) I was seeing suspected I may be showing signs of early Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome (TTTS) but that cleared up by the next week.


Asher is caught with his feet against Luke’s head!

I also was put on bed rest for about a month due to high blood pressure and my cervix shortening too early. But once again, those issues cleared up and I was able to go back to our normal routines.  Each week that passed, I felt a greater sense of security about our future as a family of 7. We celebrated every little milestone along the way. 20 weeks. 24 weeks (they were officially viable!) 28 weeks (chances of survival without severe-lasting complications greatly went up here!) I really wanted to make it to 36 weeks before delivering.

Around 29.5 weeks I’d been having some pretty serious contractions and mentioned them to my OB. She sent off a fFN test (fetal fibronectin) and it came back positive, so the next day I went in for my first of 2 steroid shots to help the boys lungs mature a little quicker. This was on a Wednesday. Thursday morning I woke up and my stomach was HUGE. Not like twin pregnancy in the third trimester huge, but H-U-G-E. I literally had grown over an inch overnight. It was so big and rock hard and breathing hurt. Friday morning, I had a NST (nonstress test) appointment, so I went in and they couldn’t get both babies on monitors so they did an ultrasound and found A LOT of extra fluid. She said the fluid was in both sacs. We tried unsuccessfully for over 1.5 hours to try to get the NST done and finally decided to reschedule it for Tuesday. I went for my second steroid shot that afternoon after leaving the NST appointment. Monday morning I had an OB visit scheduled and we discovered that I had gained 12 lbs since the Wednesday before when I’d been in the office for the fFN results. My OB suspected pre-eclampsia so she sent me into the hospital to be evaluated for that. Once again, they were unsuccessful at getting both babies on the monitors because of all the excess fluid, and once again an ultrasound revealed what looked like excess fluid in both sacs. My pre-eclampsia work up came back normal, so they sent me home and told me to keep my appointment the next afternoon for the NST. Thankfully my momma flew in from out of state as soon as she knew I was going to the hospital for a pre-eclampsia workup so that she could keep the other kids for us in case I ended up being admitted. The next morning I began having consistent contractions once again. I continued to go about my day as planned until around noon, at which point I decided that I needed to be seen, so instead of waiting for my 2:30 appointment, I went into the MFMs office. I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time by going back into L&D just to get sent home again and I honestly thought the MFM would tell me my contractions weren’t real and send me home too. I got there and they immediately sent me to L&D; should have saved myself some time and gone straight there. Once I got into triage, they discovered I was dilated to a 5 whereas the day before I wasn’t even a 1. Excess fluid can cause preterm labor, and this is exactly what happened.

Both babies were head down and doing great, so the doctor on call wanted to get me settled into a L&D room for a vaginal delivery, which up until the week before this I had insisted on at least trying for as long as baby A was head down. When the excess fluid issue began, I actually told Matt just before bed one evening that I had a feeling I wouldn’t make it another week and that I was also uneasy about a vaginal delivery now. I didn’t know why I was uneasy…..I just knew that I was. So when the doctor voiced this plan, I quickly stopped them and said I wanted a C-section. He asked me why and reiterated that I was a perfect candidate for a vaginal twin delivery. I told him I just had a gut feeling that I shouldn’t and he actually laughed and said “oook.” We waited for my OB to finish clinic for the day and get up to the hospital, all the while both babies were still doing amazing. I was nervous, but mostly just about them being born so early. I was only 30 weeks 6 days. What kind of troubles would they have to overcome? How long would our family be separated? We had JUST signed a new lease the DAY BEFORE this and given notice at our current home! We were moving across town and I was having major surgery and our twin boys were going to be in the hospital for who knows how long!

The rest of this story deserves a trigger warning. Even for myself, sitting here typing it out has me shaking. It’s also not a story many people have heard or know in full.

Once my OB arrived, I got prepped for surgery. Once again, both babies were doing great just before they took me back to the OR. About 20 or 30 minutes passed between the last time we were checked and the moment they were delivered. Once they opened me up, I heard the on call doctor, who was now assisting ask my OB “did we know about the twin to twin??” She told him “no” and I honesty didn’t think much else of that. They got baby A (Luke Oliver) out and I remember hearing the nurses reminding them to do delayed cord clamping and he sternly told them “that’s not a good idea, someone get this baby so we can get the other out.” Again, I didn’t immediately think anything of it. Matt remembers him then saying “and here’s the big one” when they got baby B (Asher Luke) out, but I don’t remember hearing that at all. The next memory I have is suddenly hearing the nurses/NICU doctor call for epi (epinephrine). Now, I’m a Registered Nurse myself with several years of ICU experience. I know what epi is and what it’s used for. I know that in a normal delivery, epi should never need to be used. Even in a “normal” preterm delivery, it should not be needed.

Now the panic set in and I asked what was going on. My OB stood up and calmly said “Sara, the placenta tore away from the uterus and baby A has no heartbeat. But they are doing everything they can to get him back. And we are working on you to make sure you don’t hemorrhage.” I remembered screaming “no!” And then I repeatedly said “no, no, no” over and over and over. I asked Matt which baby it was, although my Dr had already told me Baby A. But I just didn’t want to believe my little Luke was fighting for his life. I also didn’t want to believe my sweet Asher was either. I wanted them to say “someone else’s baby. Not one of yours.” And yes, I realize how horrible that makes me sound.

Matt began to sing Amazing Grace to me and stroke my head to calm me down and what seemed like 2 minutes later, the neonatologist came to get Matt. He stood by Luke’s side as they called a time of death and he sang to him. Jesus Loves Me has been the first song all of our babies have heard. It was the first song Asher heard as they pronounced his identical twin brother dead. I was a mess. I still am honestly. But in those moments, God truly did provide Amazing Grace for us. He held us up when we couldn’t even stand. And instead of Luke hearing his daddy sing Jesus Loves Me, he heard Jesus say “I love you.”

God’s Amazing Grace is what has kept me going for the last 8+ months. It is only because of Him that I’m still breathing. Only because He picks me up each and every day.

My OB came by my room the following day and we chatted for a bit. I learned that our boys had both Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome (TTTS) that came on very suddenly and very severely; as well as Twin Anemia Polycythemia Sequence (TAPS). Whereas they thought the fluid was in both sacs, it was actually only in baby B/Asher’s sac. The high pressure from the extra fluid caused the placenta to tear away from the uterus sometime in the last 20-30 minutes before delivery and Luke’s blood supply was cut off. If I had not listened to that nudge from God and had continued to insist on having a vaginal delivery, both Asher and I would be dead as well.

I don’t know the plans God has for our boys, but He has big plans for them both. Luke’s little life has touched so many already, and I pray that it will continue to do so.

Daddy, Will You Play With Me?

Parenting

Way back in 2013, my wife and I had a great idea. We decided to have a second baby. Our oldest, Mason, was almost a year old at the time and we thought that if we had another baby so soon they would be super close and great playmates. Yes, we actually thought this through and came to the conclusion that having two babies 18 months apart was a smart decision in more ways than one! I mean, two kids close in age…they’ll be best friends for life! They’ll play together and we can get other things done. Best. Decision. Ever.

As you may have noticed (or will notice) in some of our other posts, my wife and I have adopted this saying:  We plan, God laughs. Usually, we say that meaning that His plans are different than ours and we end up finding blessings and enrichment in life taking a different path. However, for this one, I think it was more of God saying, “Oh, you think that’ll be fun? HAHAHAHAHAHA! Ok, let’s do this!”

God answered our prayers and just 19 months after Mason was born, Jonah rumbled into our lives. To make a long story short and get to the point of this post, Mason wasn’t exactly pleased with Jonah’s arrival and his subsequent loss of only-child status. Now, Mason has been a pretty good big brother and they do play together some; but they also fight a lot and Mason wants to do things sans-Jonah. Big shocker, right? I’m sure they will be close as they get older, but for now at ages 5 and 3 ½, it’s an hour-by-hour relationship.

Despite our “flawless” plan to build the perfect brother-playmate relationship, Mason has not lost that desire for parental attention. If I am home, I am usually the designated playmate. On most days, I am barely two steps in the door after work when I hear, “Daddy, will you play with me?” Sometimes he specifies a board game or to play in the sand box or sit in the little kiddie pool with him. The requests always boil down to a simple, “Daddy! I need your attention!”

Truly, there is no reason he should be expected to completely forget about Dad and play with his brother nonstop from sun-up to sundown, but as a father of four with dozens of other things in life demanding my time (much like you, I’m sure), it can be easy sometimes to forget that it’s a great thing that my kids want my attention. If you’re a working dad, you understand the need to relax and take a breath once you finally get home from work. You just want to sit and decompress a little bit before jumping back into chaos. You might think that it’d be easier on days off, but then the fact that Dad is home all day means Dad can play all day and all of those chores and projects you’ve been lining up in your head start to get pushed to next weekend again.

If you’re a goal-oriented person like me, it can get very frustrating over time and you may find yourself saying something like, “Go play! It’s not my job to entertain you all the time!” Sure, there’s some truth to that statement. There are things that husbands and fathers need to get done as a part of their duty to take care of and provide for the household and our children need to see us working and doing what is necessary. However, we need to be careful in not letting this become the go-to excuse for why we don’t want to play Candyland or Chutes and Ladders for the umpteenth time.

I have to stop and remind myself how fleeting this period of life is. There will come a time when I won’t be an all-knowing, all-powerful, superhero in my kids eyes and they will find things that are so much more interesting and entertaining than Dad. I absolutely love these years of my kids’ lives when I’m still the most entertaining thing in their world. If we are not careful to live intentionally with our children, there is a real danger that we will look up from our busyness and grown-up leisure and wonder in our own amazement how those precious years passed us by so quickly.

As parents, part of our daily prayer life should be for God’s provision in raising the children that He has entrusted us with. We should be asking for help in raising them with biblical principles and helping them develop a Christ-centered worldview. We should be asking for help in being a godly example for them to follow. These are the bare basics. I have recently added this intentional living to my daily prayer list for my children. “Lord, help me love them through action. Help me say yes to games and play time and one more bedtime story. Help me embrace this time in their lives so they will still look to me in times to come.”

These early years are so in impactful, but they are often the ones we take for granted. It is so much easier for us to sit them down with a smart phone or a tablet or in front of the TV and check off everything on our to-do list than to simply sit on the floor with them and play a game or read a book. If we do that too often, though, we are sending them a loud and clear message that they are less important than anything else. We are telling them that they need to sit and be quiet while we live life. Then a day will come when it’s their turn to live life and we will be told to sit down and watch our shows so they can get things done.

You see, if we want to relate to our children as they grow up and move on; if we want them to come to us for godly wisdom and guidance, that relational foundation is laid with Candyland, sandboxes, tea time with Care Bears, popsicles, super hero capes, legos, Christmas forts, baking cookies, and folding paper airplanes. I’m not saying we need to make their childhood a sugar-coated fantasy land where life revolves around playtime. Rather, we need to always remember that the close relationships we hope to develop with our children begins with our willingness to engage them on their level. If we want to have an influence in raising our children to be faithful followers of Christ, we must be intentional in being a part of their world.

-Ματτ

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