On This Day

The clock read 6:04 am. I laid on my left side with most of my body uncovered by blankets. It was September 17th, and our temporary rental home was hot. Maybe it wasn’t that hot in the house, but I was always hot at 39 weeks pregnant with my fourth child. My eyes squeezed tightly closed, and I knew that I had no chance of sleeping any longer. I was uncomfortable, my belly was enormous, I wasn’t having contractions, but my abdomen felt constantly tight. “I won’t make it an entire week. I can’t be pregnant another week”, I lamented in my mind.

I got out of bed with tremendous effort and began slowly getting ready for the day. A couple of hours later, while readjusting the position of my stance and rubbing my back, I started pouring bowls full of cheerios for my older children. Robert had graciously already made me a cup of coffee, and our usual Sunday was beginning without event. We left for church, and I prayed I wouldn’t have to do much in the preschool class that we taught. It was an uneventful morning. I don’t recall the sermon, the songs, or the many faces we passed. I thanked the good Lord that a small toddler fell asleep in my lap, allowing me to sit for the entire Sunday School hour.

At home, we sat for lunch. Well, my family sat for lunch. I kept standing up and sitting back down. Occasionally, I would pace and rub my stomach. Robert’s gaze followed me studiously. “Are you ok?” he asked gently.

“I’m fine. I’m just uncomfortable.” I sat back down, proving a point. I grimaced slightly.

“It’s possible I’m having some contractions, but they are really irregular. I’m fine.”

We began clearing the table and helping wipe sticky hands. Emma, at age five, was happily chattering away about everything she had done at church. I smiled and nodded, but I wasn’t really hearing her. Leah, age three, and George, not quite two, played as we ushered them towards their rooms for nap time. Robert’s glance lingered on me occasionally as he would ask, “are you sure you’re ok?”
The kids were tucked into bed and resting quietly for their nap time when Robert met me in the hall. “Casey, we need to call a babysitter. I think you’re in labor.”

“I’m totally” there was a long pause as I closed my eyes, held one hand to my belly, and grabbed a nearby door frame with the other. “fine!” A single bead of sweat rolled down my face.

“Casey. You haven’t been finishing your sentences. You’re squatting in the hallway right now! Sweetheart, you have had three other children; I think you know you are in labor. Call the babysitter.”

Three phone calls later, a grandmother on the way, a neighbor coming through the door, and a husband insisting he “was not delivering this baby!” I reluctantly grabbed my hospital bag and followed my husband to the car. I turned to tell my neighbor something about the kids’ snack when Robert shouted, “I’m going to the hospital with or without you. Please get in the car.”

Just a couple of hours later, with barely enough time for an epidural and just two pushes, I held one of the most beautiful baby girls in my arms. Out of five children, Jane Frances Martin still has one of my favorite birth stories. There is much more to the story. More moments that are comical now but were anxiety-inducing then. More memories of how she entered this world, bringing joy and ease. So much more that could be said and has been said. It’s a sweet story, and it’s mine.

This morning, I woke up, and the clock said 6:54am. I was on my left side with blankets covering me. I wasn’t too hot. We built a beautiful home and moved into it almost four years ago with a six-week-old baby girl. My belly isn’t enormous, but it does bear scars of holding the life of five precious babies. I squeezed my eyes tightly shut, not wanting to go back to sleep but instead wanting to wake to a different reality. I knew that too was impossible. “I can make it the entire day; I’ve made it this far.” I recited to myself.

Today, I sat with my big kids, Emma, now 9, Leah, now 7, and George, almost 6. We talked about how today is the anniversary of Jane’s birth. That’s really what all birthdays are, but the difference is that we aren’t marking growth; we are only looking back. It’s a day worth celebrating. What a joy and privilege it is to have been Jane’s family. To know her was to love her; it is still to love her. The kids picked balloons, we’ve eaten our fill of sweet treats all day long, and we’re watching Jane’s favorite movie tonight. It’s a celebration of sorts. But it’s just an anniversary now, and we have to make room for the grief permanently invited to our table.

Is she four today? I’m not sure. Has she grown-up or stayed the same? It’s a thought that doesn’t matter to someone until it matters.
“Jane loved Minnie Mouse, but she might not have liked Minnie anymore. Right, Momma?” The voice of the child gets smaller as reality dawns. “I wonder what Jane would have liked now.” says another child. I wonder that too. I see the little sister playing with balloons; she never met the one whose birthday we celebrate.

I almost didn’t make it to the hospital four years ago because I can’t stand being thought dramatic. If you have read anything I’ve written in the last year and a half, that probably surprises you. My apologies. I don’t want to be dramatic; I want to be honest. I won’t wallow in self-pity; I will talk plainly about grief.

On this day, we hold joy and grief. It’s an exercise we have repeated numerous times throughout the last year and a half. We are better for it. Our heart has grown, our compassion has increased, our knowledge has expanded, and our gratefulness is immense. Our grief has not gotten smaller; our lives have grown larger around it. Our joy is not dependent on circumstances; it is supplied by the Giver of all good gifts. It seems complicated and simple all at the same time.

Today I grieve, and I wait. I celebrate, and I mourn. I remember sweet times, and I remember horrific moments. I acknowledge a gracious God who gives and takes away. Today is the anniversary of one of my favorite birth stories. Today is Jane’s birthday. And on this day, I am thankful the story and little girl belonged to me.

An Answer Prepared

“Are these all your kids?” When out in public with my children, it’s a question I hear frequently. It’s a question that possibly has two different meanings. It usually means, “are you the mother of the children present?” The answer is yes. It sometimes means, “Do you have four children?” The answer is no and the answer is complicated.

How do I tell people how many children I have?

The day following Jane’s death I sat down with a woman that I love dearly. I grew up spending so much time in her home and learned so much from her that I affectionately call her my second mother. This dear woman has lost two children, a stillborn and an adult child. I had watched her walk these roads of suffering and now sitting on the couch with her I wept from the depths of my own similar sorrow. With a round pregnant belly, three children playing upstairs and one daughter being prepared for burial, I looked at the woman and sobbed, “How do I tell people how many children I have?” With grace, patience and a truly understanding demeanor, she squeezed my hand and said, “That’s hard. It’s still hard for me. You may find that the answer changes at different times and circumstances. I have always found that it is a way to tell others about Jesus.”

I have always found that it is a way to tell others about Jesus.

It’s true. I find the questions hard, because our loss hurts and it’s uncomfortable to invite strangers into personal pain. I also find that my answer changes. The truth that I have five children never changes, but there are times when I understand the answer that is being sought is that I am in fact the mother of those present. It isn’t the time to make others unnecessarily uncomfortable. Sometimes, I understand the question to mean how many children are in our family and will answer accordingly. Other times, my bold and truth telling children, will quickly correct and call any stranger’s attention to the fact that, “we have one more child, but she died.” No matter the situation, I have also learned that my second mother was correct. It is always a way to tell others about Jesus.

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.

1 Peter 3:15

1 Peter 3 has a lot to say about suffering and suffering to the glory of God. At some point in the last year I realized that in order to both best mentally prepare for questions that would come and honor the Lord, I needed to be prepared to give an answer. I will be the first to admit that for most of my life, I have not adequately given an answer for the hope I have in Christ to strangers. I was quick to sacrifice the truth for a laugh or answer with one word in order to save time. It’s not that I didn’t love Jesus or know my hope was anchored in Him, but unfortunately he wasn’t on the tip of my tongue and I was answering from my flesh instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to order my words. When asked how my day was going, I used to say things like “Fine” or “At least we’re all here” or “The kids are fed and alive, so we’re ok.” Even typing that last response now feels like acid poured over an open wound. Not only is that not the case for me anymore, it was never giving glory to God. I was never truthfully telling people how I was making it through the day. I confess, it used to irritate me when people made rude comments about how many children we have and I was quick to respond with a sarcastic joke and take a quick jab back. It was neither handled with gentleness or respect. It was also never giving an answer to the hope I have in Christ.

Now here I am, fielding uncomfortable questions, risking crying in the automotive repair shop and taking extra time for conversations at the library. Being humbled is difficult and painful, but also beautiful and holy. In my case, it has taken a horrible loss and tragedy to be honest and prepared to tell others about Jesus. I couldn’t offer a quick, sarcastic response even if I wanted. The lie would be too much and the shame consuming.

Being humbled is difficult and painful, but also beautiful and holy.

So how do I respond? It changes depending on the way the question is asked. It changes depending on what children are with me. Gratefully, I realize it changes because God is all knowing and the Holy Spirit will always have the right words for the right circumstance. But when asked how many children we have, my prepared answer is honest. If my kids don’t beat me to it, I generally respond by saying, “We have five children, but one of our little girls passed away last year.” At that moment, I immediately feel the ache in honesty, the pain in how much time has already transpired and the dismay in our reality. Usually, my response is met by discomfort by others and a quick apology. My flesh’s response would always be answering with a quick “It’s ok” and an attempt at making the other person feel better and less awkward. But that’s not true. It isn’t ok that Jane died. It also doesn’t answer to the hope I have in Christ.

So instead I say, “Thank you. We miss Jane terribly, but we are so thankful that God allowed us to be her family.”

Sometimes, this response is met with more painful questions. Other times, people excuse themselves to leave or change the subject. On really special occasions, the Lord ordains for me to generously share the hope I have in Jesus. Being generous with my story, in an honest, gentle and respectful manner is one way to honor God through suffering. And no matter what, being prepared to give an answer to the hope we have in Jesus should always be our first response.

When It Feels Like Too Much

“I’m exhausted.” It’s a phrase that has been uttered numerous times in the last three weeks. Being overwhelmed and feeling like “it’s all just too much” has unfortunately become a familiar feeling. I sat with my three biggest children this morning, tears still fresh on my cheeks, apologizing for losing my temper. I explained that I knew we had all had a long and difficult year, and I was sorry. We are all exhausted.

Grief, paired with physical exhaustion is more difficult than I could have imagined.

Lucy is three weeks old today. She is precious and makes the cutest, serious facial expressions. She also does not like to sleep much or spend any time out of someone’s arms. It’s sweet, but incredibly impractical. I have had the privilege of having five newborns in my home. I am well acquainted with the tiredness that comes with an infant, but I underestimated how much exhaustion we were carrying into this newborn season. We are all beat down and our reserve is limited. Grief, paired with physical exhaustion is more difficult than I could have imagined.

I realize that our circumstances our unique to us, but I also know that in a year of a pandemic, we have all experienced weariness, frustrations and sheer exhaustion. Maybe you have felt like “it’s all just too much” too. I find myself regularly feeling overwhelmed and that I just don’t know what to do. How do I best take care of three children whose hearts have been broken and the framework of normalcy has been utterly ripped from underneath their feet? How do I care for a newborn in a home where fatigue is constant and uncertainty is loyal? How do we grieve the loss of our daughter and still get out of bed every morning? What is God’s will in all of this?!

It’s all just too much. But God is greater and he is our ever present help in times of trouble. [1] I’m struggling to make sense of most things these days and I feel constantly in a fog, but God’s Word is clear and I have to consciously cling to it in the midst of exhaustion. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Exhaustion does not have to master me and what feels like too much for me is nothing for the One whose burden is light.

So how do I continue on in exhaustion and fatigue? With thanksgiving and rejoicing. I am to pray continually and rely on the maker of heaven and earth. This is God’s will for me in Christ Jesus. Some of my circumstances will never change. I will always be without Jane now. Some of my circumstances might change. Here’s to hoping Lucy starts to sleep better in the future. But regardless, I can be certain of how I should respond. Often times, I think we feel that the Bible doesn’t speak to our specific life circumstances. We want a detailed, step by step plan for how we are to navigate life. But the truth is that the Bible does speak to our life. No matter the situation, no matter the struggle, no matter how overwhelming life might seem, I can trust to find hope and wisdom in the word of God. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, I can do all these things to the glory of God. Exhaustion does not have to master me and what feels like too much for me is nothing for the One whose burden is light.

[1] Psalm 46:1

A Lost Sister and Friend

Robert and I lost a daughter in February, but my kids also lost a sister and best friend. Grief is complicated and messy. It grows more complex by the sheer number of people grieving within our home. Parenting children that are grieving is a delicate and fluctuating experience. All of our children are beautifully unique and their personalities differ wildly. Therefore their grief is distinct, not just because they are children but because they handle all emotions differently. Navigating each day can be a challenge.

We don’t go to the cemetery frequently and we rarely ask the kids if they want to go. Early on, Leah, especially didn’t want to go and we didn’t push her. Today, however, I had several things on my to do list. Send thank you notes, grocery shop, pick up receipt for burial plots and laundry. Even minute tasks seem challenging in the midst of grief, especially when in between laundry and grocery shopping we have to pick up physical reminders of the harsh reality we are living. When we arrived at the city’s public works building the kids naturally asked why we were there, I told them and the topic of the cemetery came up. Emma suggested buying flowers at the grocery store and leaving them at Jane’s grave. To my surprise Leah was the first to agree.

At the end of our shopping, the kids picked out some red carnations and we made our way to the cemetery. I watched the girls methodically lay out the flowers and George lined up some rocks. Emma and George headed back to the car but Leah paused for a long time. She wasn’t ready to leave yet. It was hot and I knew the frozen food would be melting in the car, but we just stood there. She didn’t cry, but she also didn’t say anything. After several minutes, I asked if she was ready to go. Leah turned and reminded me, “It’s just Jane’s old body. Her new body is with Jesus.” She then walked to the car with a resolute face.

Leah turned and reminded me, “It’s just Jane’s old body. Her new body is with Jesus.”

Most kids are resilient. My kids are a special kind of courageous and strong. They have experienced profound loss and with every play date had with friends, school assignment finished, memory shared, smile or tear shed, I see immense bravery. Their life has also been altered and the pain they bear at such a young age seems harsh. But I’m watching my young children learn and hold on to deep truths that even adults often miss. Their prayers are honest and their trust in Jesus is powerful. Robert and I desire to parent, love and teach them well. Most days they teach me just as much.

My kids are a special kind of courageous and strong.

They lost a sister and they lost a best friend. They lament and grieve in their own way, but they also hold onto the confidence of a sweet reunion with their beloved Jane. Thanks be to a gracious and merciful God, what a precious reunion that will be one day.

I’m Not Ready

A couple of days ago I opened my calendar to write down some upcoming appointments. I haven’t used or even looked at my calendar in months, there has been nothing coming up and nothing to remember. Robert asked how many weeks pregnant I was and I replied that I thought I was 32 weeks or maybe almost 32 weeks. To my astonishment, I found that I was already over 33 weeks pregnant. Tears started streaming down my face. Robert asked what was wrong and I replied, “I’m not ready.”

That is an understatement. I do not feel ready to welcome a baby in under six weeks. I do not feel ready to bring my fifth baby home to a house where she will actually be the fourth child present. Her room is not ready, because I can’t bear to part with her sister’s bed and clothes. I am not ready to wash bottles in the midst of putting away unused sippy cups. I am not ready to stay up feeding and comforting an infant, when grief already plagues my sleep.

I don’t know that there has ever been a positive pregnancy test in our home that has not been met with immense joy and a feeling of inadequacy. Whether it was the news that we were going to have two children under the age of two or expecting our fifth child when we thought we might be done having children, I have never felt adequately prepared, ready or up to the challenge of motherhood. But the Lord is faithful and He always provides. This certainly is the most unprepared I have ever felt, but though my circumstances have changed, God has not and He will still provide.

Though my circumstances have changed, God has not and He will still provide.

Psalms 37:23-24 says “If the Lord delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fail, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.” Does the Lord delight in my anxiety and fear of the future? I don’t think so, because the heart of the matter is my lack of trust and doubting of the Lord. Does the Lord delight in my humility and my dependence on Him? Yes. By accepting that I cannot do something without the help of the Lord is not self deprecating, it is placing myself and the Lord in our proper places.

The Lord is not concerned with a nursery well prepared. He does not delight in a check list complete. The Lord delights in my dependence on Him. I have stumbled through the last several months of grief and uncertainty, but I have not failed because He upholds me. I will continue to stumble and will never be the perfect mother, because I am a sinner and I am not perfect. But I trust that God, who is perfect, in His sovereignty ordained that I should be the mother to Emma, Leah, George, Jane and now Lucy. The one who has called me is faithful, and He will do it. Not me, but the Lord.

The Lord delights in my dependence on Him.

There is a fine line between humility and self deprecation. There is also a fine line between sinful pride and confidence in the Lord. My prayer in the midst of uncertainty is that I would be humble and have confidence in the God of the universe. I will never be ready, but God is ready and sure. He is not surprised and His plans are perfect. I can trust him with my inadequacy and so can you. I don’t know what the Lord has called you to, but I’m sure you aren’t ready in your own power. That’s a good thing. 1 Thessalonians 5:24 says “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”

I have learned to be thankful for the things that are outside of my control, because I know the One that is in control. I have learned to have gratitude for the things that feel too heavy, because I know the One whose load is light. I am appreciative of not being ready, because I know the One who is ready and able. I do not trust my nearsightedness to walk the path, I trust the one that determines my steps.

In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.

Proverbs 16:9

“33 weeks and 5 days.” My OB said this morning. There was understanding in his voice as he could see the doubt in my face. I don’t know when I will go into labor, but I’m certain that whether the crib is in place or not I will not feel ready. Thankfully I serve a God who is always ready and desires to lead my path.

A Different Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is one week away and I’ve been dreading it for several weeks. I also learned that today is “Bereaved Mother’s Day”. It wasn’t a day I was aware existed and I hate how I have learned of it. I have a complicated relationship with motherhood. Honestly, I think most people probably do in one way or another. Maybe, you have a strained relationship with your own mother or perhaps you have no relationship at all with your mom. Infertility could be your heartache and struggle. The desire to have children is great, and you haven’t been given the opportunity to care for your own children. Perhaps, adoption is taking longer than you hoped or the road has been much harder than anticipated. It’s possible, your children are estranged or rebellious. It may be that you had a wonderful relationship with your mother but she has passed away. Perhaps, like me, you are a mother who has lost a child. While the holiday is sweet and a wonderful tribute to moms it can also bring significant heartache.

Mother’s day is bittersweet, as are most things in this life.

Three years ago I was asked to lead a small group and facilitate discussion based of Gloria Furman’s book Missional Motherhood. I had three children at the time under the age of 5 and I felt completely inadequate to teach. But I knew that if the Lord had called me to the task, He would also equip me. Of course that was the case. If I’m honest, I only remember two things from that study. I remember that after the first meeting I came home, took a pregnancy test and found out I was expecting our fourth child. Later we would find out she was a girl and we would name her Jane. I spent the rest of the study battling fatigue and morning sickness, which is possibly the reason I don’t remember more from that time. The other thing I remember from the study was the question, “who are you mothering?”

The concept struck me immediately. Titus 2 tells older women to teach and train younger women. Matthew 28 clearly tells us to go and make disciples. Many places in Scripture we are admonished to teach, train and equip those around us. I have an earthly, biological mother. I am thankful for her. I also have been “mothered” by many Godly women throughout my life that I have never called mom. I have been discipled, taught and encouraged. So the question stands, who am I mothering?

This is where the complexity of calling and reality intermingle. I currently have three children in my home. They call me mommy and I am mothering them in the most traditional ways. I feed them, provide them a safe place to live, wash their clothes and meet their most basic physical needs. More importantly, I love them, comfort them, pray with them and for them. I aim to train them and disciple them. I desire to point them to Christ. I also have one child in my womb. God is knitting together a beautiful little girl and using my body to also care for her. I attend my regular doctor appointments, abstain from things that could bring her harm, take a prenatal vitamin and eat (mostly) healthy foods to meet her needs. I also pray for this sweet baby and desire that she will come to know the Lord at a young age. My fourth child, the one I found out about in the midst of pondering missional motherhood, is now with Jesus. The motherhood I knew with Jane is finished. I no longer need to meet her physical needs, I no longer need to point her to Jesus and pray for her. All of her needs are being met in the physical presence of the Lord Almighty.

The motherhood I knew with Jane is finished. I no longer need to meet her physical needs, I no longer need to point her to Jesus and pray for her.

“If a mother is mourning not for what she has lost but for what her dead child has lost, it is a comfort to believe that the child has not lost the end for which it was created. And it is a comfort to believe that she herself, in losing her chief or only natural happiness, has not lost a greater thing, that she may still hope to ‘glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ A comfort to the God-aimed, eternal spirit within her. But not to her motherhood. The specifically maternal happiness must be written off. Never, in any place or time, will she have her son on her knees, or bathe him, or tell him a story, or plan his future, or see her grandchild.” C.S. Lewis (A Grief Observed)

The specifically maternal happiness I knew with Jane has ended. I won’t receive any more handprints from Jane on Mother’s Day. She will never answer a Mother’s day questionnaire about things she thinks or loves about me. I won’t receive a call or card from her in the future. But I have great joy knowing that Jane is with Jesus. I have great hope that I may still glorify and enjoy God forever. Mother’s day is bittersweet, as are most things in this life.

God gives us the opportunity to mother and be mothered. Motherhood changes. Motherhood doesn’t always look the way we think it will. I am more aware than ever that’s God ways are higher and I may never understand His plans. I will also never get over the fact that the Lord doesn’t need us, but allows us to take part in His will. Who are we mothering? The children God has graciously placed in our home? Absolutely. The younger women God has put in our life? I hope so. The children in your classroom? What a blessing. The neighbors right next to you? Yes, what an opportunity. These truths were a revelation to me three years ago. This is still truth, but it is more painful and personal now. I do want to take part in the motherhood God has given me. Even if it doesn’t look the way I thought or hoped. I realize, in the midst of heartache, an empty womb or home, this seems like a poor man’s excuse and hope. However, I think we need truth even more in times of pain and sorrow.

I want to take part in the motherhood God has given me. Even if it doesn’t look the way I thought or hoped.

This year Mother’s Day will be a reminder of many things. I’m reminded that this world is broken and not my home. I have lost someone precious to me. I have lost a part of my motherhood. I’m also reminded that God is good. Every good and perfect gift is from above, including the gift of motherhood. Maybe motherhood doesn’t look like you hoped it would look either, but what a gift to know that God is near. He desires to minister to you and have you minister the truth of the gospel to others. The truth that He is good and He offers hope is enough.