Rose "reading" her birthday card.

My Journey Explained in a Single Day

May 9th

Like many other things in my life, this date is very bittersweet.  On that day, in 2011, a friend of mine gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl.  On that day, a harrowing war raged inside of my heart.

My Stella

My Stella

For two and a half years, my friend had desperately longed for a baby.  She experienced two early miscarriages and had practically given up hope that she would ever have another child when God allowed her to conceive.  She discovered she was pregnant as Stella’s birth loomed near.  Because she did not want to hurt my feelings, she did not share the news of her pregnancy with me.  I took comfort in her friendship after Stella’s death, thinking that she shared in my pain and understood my loss more than many others in my life.  Later, when I found out that she had not been entirely honest with me, I felt hurt and alone.  But, [now], I don’t blame her, because I know she was trying to protect my heart.

Stella's Personalized Blanket

Stella’s Personalized Blanket

I was even more upset when my friend announced she was carrying a baby girl.  For a long time, I struggled because God had given her what He had chosen to take away from me.  It was difficult for me to watch her belly grow while my heart broke again and again.  Through it all, I did my very best to be her friend, even attending her baby shower while my grief was still very new.  I bought her daughter a shower gift similar to the only gift I had mustered enough courage to buy for my Stella: a soft, personalized baby blanket.  I took God at his Word to rejoice with those who rejoice even though I was grieving deeply.  After all, I loved my friend, and I prayed often for the health of her baby.  I did for her what I would want someone to do for me. Yet, my friendship with her continually caused me to question God’s sovereignty and goodness.

On May 9th, 2011, the grief of losing my daughter reached a new level. As my friend posted photos of her perfect little daughter born after a short and relatively easy labor, I was paralyzed with pain. How was it that two women, both of whom had experienced struggles with infertility and had both longed for a child for over two years, had lived such different outcomes?  How was it fair that I had a difficult pregnancy, a painful birth, and buried my baby girl five days later while my friend had an easy pregnancy, a quick birth, and was holding her baby girl in her arms?  How, God?!!! How was that FAIR?!!!

Fast forward one and a half years to August 2012.  God had given us a third beautiful baby boy and had called us to adopt a little girl from China.  I was still heavily grieving the loss of our baby girl, but I had the distraction of our sweet Finn man and the anticipation of meeting my Chinese daughter in the months ahead.  We had a lot going on in our lives.  We still felt sad, but we also felt blessed.  God had used our Stella’s short little life to open our eyes to the lost and hurting in the world.  He had broken our hearts for the orphan, and even though we had not yet met our Pearl, we had already watched Him move through the adoption process.  It was new.  It was hard.  It was amazing.  All at the same time.   I thought we had our hands full.  Then God called us to adopt Rose too.   (Rose’s adoption story).

In China, birthdays are often estimated, not exact.  Whether or not Rose’s birthday was when China estimated to be, it makes no difference.   Can you guess when Rose’s birthday was?

That’s right.  May 9th, 2011.

Ai-Jing-matched-screen-shot-sm

The screenshot of Rose Aijing matched with her family (US!) Showing her birthday.

I believe it is no coincidence that Rose’s birthday was officially listed as May 9th, 2011.  I believe that God intimately weaves together the tiniest details of our lives.  I’m a person who loves the “whys” in every story.   God had given me a very big why. I understood.   On May 9th, 2011, as I writhed in pain from missing my beloved Stella and questioned God’s fairness in blessing my friend with her healthy baby girl, another precious mother writhed in the pain of childbirth around the world.  She gave birth to her daughter and mine.  Our Rose Aijing.

May 9th, 2011, a day of heartbreak for me and for another mother 7,600 miles away became a day of beauty.

Rose "reading" her birthday card.

Rose laying on the floor “reading” her birthday card.

We celebrated one magical May 9th with our Rose.  It was so much fun to spoil our little princess.  She had never before had a day with tiaras, gifts, and a [cookie] cake just for her.  At first she was a little unsure, but then by the end of the day, she was loving the attention.  Pearl understood the concept of a birthday, since we had celebrated hers just a few months before, and her excitement rubbed off on Rose.  Our little girl was so funny and adorable.  She grinned from ear to ear when she saw her princess birthday balloon that morning, and she spent time laying on the floor enjoying her card (really, what two-year-old actually loves cards?)  May 9th, 2011 was a day I’ll never forget.  It was the best May 9th ever.

Rose's grave on May 9th, 2014.

Rose’s grave on May 9th, 2014.

Fast forward to October 21th, 2013.  Just a few feet from where we had laid our little Stella’s body to rest just three years before, there we buried a second daughter, our beloved Rose.  On that day, another day once again became bittersweet.  May 9th, 2011.  The day our Rose was born.  The day that my heart was crushed with the weight of losing one daughter is now crushed with the weight of losing another daughter.  There will never be another easy May 9th.

Where’s the WHY this time?  How’s my heart supposed to handle seeing my friend with her daughter, beautiful and healthy, with her pigtails just like my Rose wore, laughing and spinning around?  Singing sweet little songs.  Hugging her baby doll.  Creating beautiful little flower drawings that look like roses.  While mine lays in the ground and dances in heaven.  Where’s the fairness in my journey when compared to hers?

Stop right there.  This is MY journey.  I had no control over the blessings and trials God gave to my friend just as she had no control over the blessings and trials God has given to me.  God has called me to walk this journey, as crazy and as hard as this path has been, it is HE who has called me to tread here.  It is not my friend’s fault that I’ve felt so much pain, nor should I blame her for holding her daughter when my daughter is no longer here for me to hold.

This journey is NOT easy.  There are days and moments that I struggle when I see my friend’s daughter, Rose’s virtual twin and birthday buddy, born thousands of miles apart on the same day.  Seeing her daughter often causes me so much pain;  at times, it wrecks me to see her.   Do I think it’s a coincidence that my friend and her daughter are in my life?  No, I don’t.  Just as I don’t think it’s a coincidence that she conceived her daughter as mine was dying and gave birth to her daughter as the mother of my now deceased little girl was giving birth.

What do I believe then?

1.  I believe that God wants me to stay broken.  

Why?  Because God is close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18).  Although it downright sucks (sorry, there’s just no better word), I’d rather live brokenhearted and close to God than feeling fine with God far away.

2.  I believe God wants me to be kind and compassionate to others, empathizing with their brokenhearted-ness.

I love the character of Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) on 24 and Chloe O’Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub), too.  Even though their lives have been broken, and they’ve had experienced hardship and suffering themselves, they continue to put themselves out there for the good of others.  In a recent episode, Jack said something I won’t ever forget. “We can’t bring back the ones we love.  All we can do is honor their lives by helping others.”

This is so true, and explains the reason why I not only want to reach out those who have experienced losses like ours, but also why I feel compelled to “care for the orphans in their distress.”

I can either let grief make me bitter or make me compassionate.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

3.  I believe God wants me to stay humble.

I never saw grief as a thorn in the flesh until my Life Group studied Brave by Angela Thomas, but I do now.  God gave Paul a thorn in the flesh so he’d stay humble, and I believe He’s given me this thorn for the same reason.

I asked the Lord three times to take it away from me. He answered me, “I am all you need. I give you My loving-favor. My power works best in weak people.” I am happy to be weak and have troubles so I can have Christ’s power in me.  I receive joy when I am weak. I receive joy when people talk against me and make it hard for me and try to hurt me and make trouble for me. I receive joy when all these things come to me because of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)

4. I believe that He wants me to live with spiritual blinders on, not comparing my journey to others, and not becoming embittered by what (actually, who) I no longer have.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:31-32)

Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled;   (Hebrews 12:14-15)

5.  I believe God wants me to persevere.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

(I’ve hesitated for a long time to tell this story, because not only is it difficult for me to tell, I don’t want to upset my friend in telling it.  It is my hope that if the friend I’m referring to reads this post, she’ll know that I wrote this post not to make her feel badly. My goal is to glorify God by telling how far HE’s brought me in the journey HE has called me to walk.)

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Your brothers and sister blowing out your three candles.

Dear Rose: A Letter to You for Your 3rd Birthday

Dear Rose,

Your brothers and sister with their sand toys on your birthday morning.

Your brothers and sister with their sand toys on your birthday morning.

Here on earth, you would have been three-years-old yesterday.  I don’t know how time works in heaven, but time without you here on earth passes both quickly and slowly.  I still can’t believe that you’re not here.  It seems like an eternity until I’ll see you again.

We celebrated your birthday to remember you.  I visited your grave twice, once with a dear friend who prayed with me, and once with your brothers and sisters.  I cried a lot yesterday, and my heart aches and aches and aches some more because you’re not here with us.

Pearl enjoying playing in your sandbox.

Pearl enjoying playing in your sandbox.

It rained a lot on your birthday.  The rain fell down with short bursts of sunshine in between.  It stopped raining long enough for me to take your brothers and sister outside to visit your sandbox.

Kind new friends who’ve been touched by your story but never got to meet you built a beautiful sandbox in your memory.  We played for a long while in your sandbox yesterday.  You would have loved it.  I can almost hear you laugh when I think about how happy you would have been sitting in the sandbox.  Digging next to your best buddy Finn without the heat of the sun beating down upon you…oh, how you would have grinned and flapped your little arms.

A pink rose that bloomed for your birthday.

A pink rose that bloomed for your birthday.

While I was outside, I noticed that more roses had bloomed.  The rose bushes bloomed this week just for you:  the pink ones that smell “heavenly” and the dainty little yellow ones – two little yellow Roses – one for you and one for Pearl.

Ely wanted to eat pizza for dinner last night because that’s what you would have wanted to eat.  He felt close to you eating one of your favorite meals.  I won’t ever forget the first time you had pizza while we were still in China.  You loved it!  You were picky at times about what you would eat, but pizza was always a hit.  How I wish you were there at Stevi B’s yesterday impressing us with how many pieces you could pack away in that tiny tummy of yours.

Your brothers at your grave on your birthday.  See the tiara on around the urn?

Your brothers at your grave on your birthday. See the tiara around the urn?

After we ate pizza, we took your brothers to the Infant and Child Garden where your body is buried.  That was Milo’s request.  He finds comfort in visiting your grave.  Ely spent a long time looking at your sister’s grave marker and at your marker, too.  He was very upset and didn’t want to be there.  Your brothers miss you so much. We brought a princess balloon and tiara to add to the flowers in your urn. I wonder if you even have any knowledge of the little gifts we bring to the cemetery.

Then came the cake.  Your big sister, Pearl, really wanted to get you a cake.  She told me she wanted to get you a cake during our Mommy-Pearl date last week.  She wanted  a Bubble Guppies cake because she knows how much you loved them.  You weren’t really a cake-eater, but you would have loved this cake.  Blowing out your candles and eating your cake without you was the hardest part of the day for all of us.  Ely cried and didn’t want to sing.  We couldn’t bear to sing Happy Birthday.  Pearl, Finn, and Milo wore their butterfly party hats in your honor.  Daddy hung a butterfly “Happy Birthday” sign, and we ate our cake off of butterfly plates.

Your brothers and sister blowing out your three candles.

Your brothers and sister blowing out your three candles.

Your Daddy was really, really sad last night.  He’s been sad a lot lately.  We both have.  We’ve been eating lots of things we shouldn’t because we are sad.  Losing you (and your sister) has been so very, very hard.  The pain never ends.

We miss your beautiful face, your smile and your scowl, your silly stunts, your determination, and of course, your hugs and kisses.  We miss everything about you, except for maybe your screaming fits. :)

We love you so much, Rose Aijing, and we can’t wait to see you again someday in paradise.

Love forever,

Mommy

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Rosy’s Lost Balloon

There are many stories in my head that rip at my heart, and this is one of them.  This story is just as painful for me to share as the final days that Rose was alive.

October 4, 2013 was our Stella Rose’s third birthday.  The first half of that day was especially difficult.  The four of us who knew Stella were overcome with emotion.  Each of us wanted to do something special to remember Stella, but none of us could verbalize our ideas.  We were all sad and expressing our feelings differently.  Mike and I snapped at each other because I wanted him to have an opinion, and he didn’t want to have one.  I wanted to be alone, but I couldn’t easily be (you know, the whole having five children thing).  When I’m really grieving, I often want to be alone. I had a “lose it” moment, and my wonderfully hubby “sent me to my room.”  Whew…

With our littles at our daughter's grave on her 3rd birthday.

With our littles at our daughter’s grave on her 3rd birthday.

Ely, who had playing with his siblings but also sensitively paying attention to how his Daddy and I were feeling, suddenly burst into tears.  I could hear him crying, and he started all-out wailing and calling my name.  I was a mess myself, so it took me a few minutes to come talk to him. When I was finally able to speak myself, I asked him what was upsetting him.  “I misssss Stelllllllaaaa.  I’m still angry that she died.”  I asked him if there was something he wanted to do that would make him feel better.  She said he wanted to take balloons to her grave and let them go.

All seven of us headed to the cemetery as the sun was starting to set.  We stopped on our way to pick up some balloons.  The only option for balloons on the way there was the dollar store.  Ely came in with me to pick them out, since it was his idea.  We got bought three pink happy birthday balloons (for three years old), and four white star balloons (they didn’t have pink ones) – one for each of the four youngest to hold. There were oooo’s and ahhhhh’s and gasps of excitement when we returned to the car with the balloons.

Rose sitting next to Stella's grave staring at the sky.

Rose sitting next to Stella’s grave staring at the sky.

When we got to the cemetery,  we tied the white star balloons around Finn’s, Pearl’s, and Rose’s wrists before we got out of the van so they wouldn’t lose them.  We all walked the few feet to Stella’s grave, the little ones enamored with their balloons and oblivious to why we were there.   As soon as all the kids were gathered together, Rose pulled her balloon off her wrist, looked at the sky, and let it go.  I started freaking out…Rose stood and watched her balloon float farther and farther away.  When it was her turn to have her picture taken with Stella’s flowers, Rose sat down next to Stella’s grave marker and stared off into the distance before I called her name to get her attention.  She kept staring into the sky.  Internally, I was beside myself.  It was just a balloon. Why was I so distraught?

Rose's balloon floating up, up, and away.

Rose’s balloon floating up, up, and away.

At the time, I had no idea the significance behind Rose letting her balloon go while sitting beside her sister’s grave.  For those of you who’ve been following our story, you know that less than two weeks later, little Rose joined her sister, Stella, in heaven.

In December, when we were reorganizing in preparation for Christmastime, Mike discovered a present that had been given to Rose; we had put it away for when she got older.  Mike called me over, and we both stared, mouths wide open with shock, choking back tears.  Here is what we saw:

Rosy's Lost Balloon

Rosy’s Lost Balloon by Alex Michaels

We couldn’t believe it.  As I read the story, my heart beat faster and faster, and I literally began to shake.

The story goes like this:

One day in summer, Rosy got a shiny star balloon.  “It’s very special,” said her mother.  “It’s a present from the moon.”  Rosy’s lovely, bright balloon floated in the air.  She held it by a ribbon and took it everywhere.  All too soon, the sunshine went and the wind began to blow.  It tugged at Rosy’s star balloon. “Hold on tight, Rosy.  Don’t let it go!”  The rough wind blew and storm clouds grew and Rosy could not hold on.  Whoosh!  went the wind, it tugged and pulled.  Suddenly, the star balloon was gone.  “Give it back!” cried Rosy, as the red ribbon trailed, but the cruel wind seemed to laugh.  It whistled and whooshed and roughly pushed the balloon along the path.  Up, up went the balloon, to the tallest tree top.  It’s red ribbon tangled and the star balloon stopped.  “Caw,” went the crow, with his feathers so sleek.  Suddenly, he took the ribbon in his beak.  Off he flew, into the stormy sky and carried the star balloon up high.  Suddenly, lightning crashed and thunder clapped.  The crow’s feathers ruffled and his blue wings flapped.  “Caw, caw!” cried the crow and let the star balloon go. Up, up went the balloon, past the clouds, past the rain.  “My star balloon is gone,” sobbed Rosy, “I’ll never see it again.”  “There, there,” said her mother, holding Rosy tight, as the soft sunlight gave way to the night.  Rosy’s mother said that the moon was alone and cried for the star balloon to come home.  “Look up,” she said.  “Look up high.  There’s your star balloon, twinkling in the sky.” “Goodnight,” said Rosy, “I’ll see you soon,” and she blew a kiss to her special, star balloon.  “Goodnight, Rosy.  Sleep tight.”

And the last page…

Rosys-balloon3

“Goodbye, See you Soon!”

We had NEVER read the story to Rose or any of our other children.  I should have known that there was something to the feeling I had when Rose let her balloon go.  I had experienced that feeling before, when I was pregnant with Stella. The ominous feeling that something horrible was to come.  The bittersweet mercy of God giving me a “heads up.”  How I wish that my little child letting go of a balloon was just that and nothing more.

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