Sunday, December 16, 2007

structure

I told a friend recently that I'm sick of structure. I don't really know what this means, per se, but I've discovered that I am a very structured person with ideas about how things should go in life and, after this latest season, I've decided I'm ready to be done with it. Mostly this just means I don't feel like going to church much but really it translates into something deeper: I kind of want to test this 'grace' thing out.

I feel my faith is like a large, rambling house - something I inherited but something with a lot of sentimental value that I have no intentions of ever giving away. And in this house are lots of things - items that make the house home. These things, in my house of faith, represent ideas or concepts that make my faith what it is. Just as my real house is filled with trinkets and treasures that make it, well, home, so my faith-house is filled with notions that define my faith in its most individual sense. So metaphorically, a table could stand for the Resurrection and a picture frame, what the Bible says about homosexuality. A glass vase is the Trinity and the bookshelf, generational sin. What do I really believe about these things? If I take them out of the house, if I put them all out in the front yard and re-examine them, really try to determine if they're important and if I should keep them, does it make my house any less of a house? No. So this is what I've done. Everything went out on the lawn, so to speak, ready to be evaluated and taken back inside to return to its rightful place as a "fundamental truth". Some of it went back before it even hit the grass. Some of it has taken longer. Some of it still remains. This is what I mean when I say I'm sick of structure. The old, structure-loving me (which I confess I have to talk myself out of going back to about every thirty minutes or so) wouldn't have been able to stand having everything out in the front yard, even for a second. That old me wouldn't have even told you any of this. But the new me doesn't see things so structured. Things aren't always black and white. Faith isn't formulaic and neither, naturally, is God. We can't just "figure Him out." We have to dig.

Grace is one incredibly confusing and totally ridiculous concept. I started to consider it the other day. If there's really nothing - absolutely nothing - I can do to earn God's favor, then why in the heck do I do good stuff? Why make "right decisions" or choose not to make "wrong" ones? That's easy. Because ultimately, I care a whole lot about what other people think of my decisions. Not just God. Even if I didn't think God existed, I'd probably still be making "good", moral decisions. There've got to be some atheists out there who'd agree that "not killing" is far more often the best plan. We don't do good to earn anything, really, other than other people's approval and praise. And if we do good so God will see us - well, we're basically as screwed up as you can get, especially if we believe in the God of the Bible. Because the Bible says we don't have to earn God's love. In fact, it says we can't. Jesus took that burden away from us. And that brings me to the next confusing point about grace. If there's nothing we can do to earn God's favor - or His blessing - then why in the heck does He give it? Why do I have a perfectly healthy child sleeping upstairs? Why do I get to drink clean water and sleep in a warm house? If I believe in the God of the Bible, it's not because I did something right. And it's definitely not because I didn't do anything wrong. David gets pretty irritated with this in the Psalms. He talks a lot about how the wicked prosper. Job does, too. I have a feeling Daniel and Esther and Joseph all spent their fair share of time wondering why all their messed up neighbors seemed to walk through life footloose and fancy free. If the wicked prosper, and sometimes the righteous don't, then it makes sense that wickedness doesn't always merit pain and righteousness doesn't always merit gain. And nothing we can do or say will make us more worthy of the latter. God doesn't lavish blessing on those who "do the right thing." If He did, grace wouldn't matter. It wouldn't have any value. If Jesus's blood were simply an asterisk to doing the right thing, then doing the right thing would have at least a little value - and I'd get to take a little credit. And that's exactly what grace won't allow me to do. I don't get to claim any responsibility in my own salvation. And I don't get to claim any responsibility in my blessing

So why do I get them? Love. That's it. He loves me. Unlike me, He has nothing to prove to anyone. Jesus of Nazareth hanging on a cross, dripping in His own blood and sweat and tears, dying a common criminal's torturous death, is evidence enough of that. Jesus born in a barn with farm animals and their dung should have set the stage - our God is not a God concerned with keeping up appearances. No. My blessed life is simply a gift of love.

Someone the other day asked me if I looked back on the day Copeland died with anger. I don't really know why this is true, but it is: for some reason, when I look back on that day, even on all the agonizing days prior to and after her death, I can only see one thing. Love. I look at Copeland's birth and life and feel marked by Love. Marked because it hurt. But marked in remembrance. In the Old Testament, God says, "See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands" (Isaiah 49:16). As He was marked for Love of us, we shall be marked for love of Him.

The day that Copeland died, the hour the funeral home came and took her body away, was Satanic. It was death-filled and dark and demonic and evil. I could almost hear the clang of swords around me; never in my life had I experienced spiritual warfare in quite the same way. When I look back now, I cannot imagine going through it again without kllling myself. I don't mean to dramatize. I'm being serious.

When I graduated from high school, I walked across a stage and received a diploma for the knowledge I had gained during those four years. If I had to do it again, based on the same standard, I could: the knowledge, once gained, was not lost. I have as much right to that diploma now as I did then. Maybe even moreso. I can tap into that knowledge at a moment's notice and probably pass most of the tests a teacher could hand me. It's no mystery as to why I graduated; it makes perfect sense. The same cannot be said of that night, the night I had to hand my baby daughter over to a total stranger knowing perfectly well I would never, never see her again. I have no idea how I did it. I cannot tap into the strength that I had then, now. I cannot because the strength given to me then was not for now. It was not might or power or even knowledge or wisdom. It was the Holy Spirit. I know this because it is a mystery - a breeze, a breath filling my lungs and causing me to gasp with life when all I wanted was to die. I cannot imagine why I made it through, even now having done so. This is how I know God was there. This is how I know He loved me. This is how I know that blessing doesn't always come in the form of happiness or even, well, what we'd call 'blessing.' My daughter died. She never came back. And I feel loved.

Conor came home tonight with a tattoo on his inner left wrist. Copeland. That's all it says. In small, black letters. Forever traced into his skin, forever a part of him. I told him that the last moment he spends connected to that tattoo will be the first moment he'll spend with Copeland. "I cried when they were putting it on," he told me. I understand. He was marking himself, remembering. "See, I have engraved you...." Paul said that we have [can] have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), if we are believers. Is it possible that part of the purpose in losing my daughter was to think more like Him? Is it possible that what Satan meant to be Satanic, what the world called death, was holy and life-giving? That Jesus just blew the cover off of 'structure'?


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Wednesday, December 5, 2007

pray for joseph

Back in the spring of 1996, I had the great thrill of participating in the musical "West Side Story" as a high school sophomore. A lot of it - being almost twelve years ago - is a blur, but some of the seniors who also performed remain etched in my memory as somewhat a part of the character they played. One was a tall, lanky kid named Allen who seemed to embody with comedic perfection the role he'd been given - a member of the American gang, the Jets (I can still see him in his tightrolled jeans and white t-shirt). Allen was one of the brightest personalities I'd ever met: quiet and kind but witty and fun to be around at the same time. I haven't kept up with him since then, really, as he was so much older than me, but I've heard bits and pieces of his story since graduating. One such piece begs to be told today, and begs for your prayers and your outpouring of love and encouragement.

Allen and his wife, Gillian, have two children. Joseph is three. Shortly after Thanksgiving, he began having some trouble walking - stumbling - and Allen, someone who is pursuing a career in the medical world, felt it was imperative to take him to be examined. This was a week ago today. Since his admittance to the children's hospital, he has been diagnosed with a brain tumor and had a major surgery to remove as much of it as possible, as well as to perform pathology on it to determine what kind of tumor it is. This morning Allen and Gillian were given the heart-wrenching news that the tumor is called an anaplastic astrocytoma. (You can Google it for more information.) It is malignant, aggressive and obviously induces a great amount of fear as far as prognosis for Joseph. Please visit their blog, prayforjoseph.blogspot.com, and leave them words of encouragement if you can.

Someone asked me recently if I looked back on the season before Copeland was born and especially those first few hours after her death and wondered how in the world I got through it. My answer was a resounding "yes!" I have no idea how God equips people to get through such horrific times. But I do know He does. And the fact that I actually experienced one such time, and lived through it - am still living through it - without any scientific explanation as to how simply testifies: God was there. God is here. May He be near to Allen and Gillian as they walk this difficult road. May He comfort them as they struggle for answers and wonder what to do next. May He guide them as they make decisions about Joseph's life. May He give Joseph strength and many, many years of joy before him.


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Sunday, December 2, 2007

home at last...

I wanted to be sensitive to let Nathan and Angie post on their own blog - poppyjoy.blogspot.com - about precious Poppy's life and the moment when Jesus took her home, and so I assume most of you have had the opportunity to see her pictures and read Nathan's awesome post regarding her time here on earth. What a beautiful girl!

When I spoke with Nathan this afternoon, shortly after Poppy had passed, my heart swelled with sorrow - and also a sort of odd joy, knowing that our girls were finally, finally together. We've known for so long that they would be. My heart also filled with joy knowing that Angie's dear grandfather is holding Poppy, the darling baby he was probably waiting on from the moment they got word of her diagnosis. My hope is that perhaps he's cradling Copeland, too.

Thank you for praying, for posting, for encouraging them. The Luces are amazing, godly people and yet I know it is refreshing and needed to hear not only from family and friends but from total strangers, people who have simply been touched by their story. Thank you for loving them because in doing so, you remind me of how you loved Conor and I in those, our darkest hours.


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Saturday, December 1, 2007

welcome poppy joy luce!

I so wish I could be there with Nathan and Angie as I type, but I did get to speak with Nathan's sister and learned that Poppy made it through delivery - a major accomplishment for any trisomy-18 baby - and is currently spending time with her parents and extended family in the recovery room. Praise be to God for her safe arrival into this world. Apparently she weighs over 5 pounds - another major accomplishment! - and is breathing on her own or with very little assistance. All of these are huge answers to the prayers I know so many of us have lifted up for the Luces.

Having walked through this same situation myself, and remembering clearly the emotions I experienced that day, I would ask you to pray specifically for:

-time with Poppy, and time that is free from anxiety or fear
-that Poppy will continue to breathe on her own and will be able to feed from a bottle
-that the medication Angie is on will equip her to function as normally as possible after such an intense surgery
-that Marianna will be able to process just enough to enjoy her new little sister and that her parents will know how to protect her through something that will inevitably have some sort of impact on her little heart


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pray for poppy

I wanted to post as quickly as possible to let you all know that my dear friends - and by now, probably another family that many of you have prayed for - are going in as I type to deliver their own trisomy-18 baby, Poppy Joy. Angie and Nathan are absolutely precious to Conor and I and as they prepare to welcome their second daughter, I have to confess I am just sitting on pins and needles wondering how they are doing, if the procedure is going well, what emotions they are coping with. I wonder. And yet I'm so aware. Knowing what they are walking through is somewhat surreal in the sense that it takes me back. They are going to be led through a wilderness of joy and hope and sadness and sorrow. There will be moments they are unsure of and moments where they've never felt more sure of anything in their lives. So pray for them. Conor and I are planning on driving there tomorrow morning. My heart longs to be with them during this time.


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Friday, November 23, 2007

believe

Sometimes I wonder if this is all a practical joke. Or simply a fairy tale. If we invented God - a god - just so life would make more sense. Funny, it really doesn't mean things make much more sense most of the time. So that theory isn't quite reliable.

But still, sometimes I wonder.

As Conor and I drove home from our Thanksgiving dinner, I found myself at a crossroads. Sellers was merrily chatting in the backseat, and it just hit me: I'm either going to believe this stuff or I'm not. God, either You exist and I can't figure You out and I'm really, really mad - or this is totally a hoax. Can you seriously tell someone they don't exist? What's the point of saying it at all?

I know I'm not alone. I'm one of a million people out there - and that's just this second - who are suffering. Angry. Hurting. Shattered. Heartbroken. Confused.

There are millions - millions - of people in India who spend each day defined by a caste system that their government long ago declared unjust and antiquated. These people - men, women, children - are called Dalits. Untouchables. Literally. Their children are unable to dip water from the local wells because their sweet, innocent hands are considered unclean. And yet, as I type, more and more of these precious people are hearing about Jesus and deciding to follow Him. Why do they believe? Why do they sing His praises, even as they suffer?

It's hard to wrestle with God. Somehow it feels wrong. I find I get quite hung up on "wrong" and "right." And really, that's what makes me angry. As long as it's all about the rules, life's just going to be one long irritation. There has to be more.

Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." I want to follow that Jesus. The One who says to me, "Just as you are... come to Me. I know how to handle it. Bring Me everything." Maybe it's not so much about 'rules'. Maybe it's about the best plan - the Way to get the most out of life.

In John 8, Jesus is teaching in the Temple and a group of religious men bring before Him a woman who has been caught having an affair. As the Message says, "They stood her in plain sight of everyone." Imagine this girl. Her embarassment, her anguish, her shame. The leaders who drag her to stand before the crowd suggest to Jesus that Moses' law - the rules - call for her to be stoned. Stoning might have been something this woman had seen before. Bloody. Merciless. Brutal. I can see her eyes filled with fear, blinking back the tears, cast downward. As Jesus listens, He does something peculiar. He kneels down and writes in the sand. For a while. The Bible says that the leaders "kept badgering Him." Maybe He looked up at her downcast eyes before He stood and said, "The sinless one among you, go first. Throw the stone." And with that, He goes back to the dirt. Perhaps it took some time, some grumbling, some irritable huffs of indignation, but eventually, they leave her. Every one of them. The oldest ones go first. And then it's just the girl. And Jesus. Sweet Jesus. How must she have felt? How in love was she then? "Woman, does no one condemn you?" He hadn't looked up. He wasn't watching. She was no spectacle to Him. "No one, Master." "Neither do I. Go on your way. From now on, don't sin." Imagine her heart thumping, her eyes brightening, her tears welling up - but this time, for victory, for life. "Master." She is His. He is hers. She knew the 'rules'. But now, now she knows the Savior - she knows that she is accepted and loved. Now she calls Him "Master." Now, she chooses life. And we, like her, can choose it, too - because no matter how we stumble, we will continue to find life in His eyes.

This is Jesus. This is why I love Him. Because I know I am loved. And because of that love, that love that is deeper and higher and wider than any other love I will ever find, I want to be different. I want to believe. I want to rest, despite my unrest. I want to surrender, despite my need for control. I want to honor Him, despite my desire to please myself. I want to be and do everything I can't be or do on my own. This is the Jesus I want to follow. This is the Jesus I want to show people.

And this is the Jesus that the millions who suffer on this planet choose, time and time again. The Jesus who gives us strength to walk through seasons of life that call for our total destruction. The Jesus who equips us to love those who reject and abuse us. The Jesus who sees potential and ability in our weaknesses. The Jesus who invites the questions, the anger, the frustration, the tears, the sorrow, the heartache. "Come to Me..."

And so I come. I am a seeker of hope. I thirst for joy and happiness and laughter and peace and something - something that feels like lightness and promise. And if what I have believed of this Man does not help me to piece together the broken parts of my story - well, then, there is more to believe.


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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

cotton

As I type, I sit in a kitchen I've known for years, with people who've known me since the day I was born. There is a wonderful comfort in it, a sense of belonging and value and feeling like you fit, even though often I realize my experiences cast me in a separate mold that certainly has its own form and shape. It's easy to compare yourself and feel like no one understands; easy, because it's true. But the challenge is in knowing it and still, still leaning out for that warmth and familiarity in what you do have in common with those you love. Sometimes that commonality is as simple and deep as bloodlines. I am thankful I can look around this room and call these people, not only in love but in reality, family.

So the trip to Texas has gone well. I suspected it might, suspected I'd be glad I came and thankful to be surrounded by these faces. The first few days were filled with busyness; the world was new and fresh, not being the one I stomp around in most days, and distracting. There was laughter and lots of deep talks and even a ride on horseback for me, which basically equated to feeling like a part of me was living that hadn't in a long, long time. I started riding when I was five; I was never that great, but I did find a sense of freedom and joy in it that little else could match. Having been away from it for several years, it was refreshing and vitalizing to be "back in the saddle." Indeed, just what I needed.

I am now in the tiny West Texas town my mom grew up in, a town that feels as timeless and constant to me as almost any place on Earth. I have come here every single summer - and sometimes, Christmases - of my life and very little has changed. There's something deeply calming about that. This would be a place that Copeland would have come to know, too, and I find my heart aching in new ways knowing I'll never get to share it with her. Still, what makes it beautiful is simply a small part of where she is already.

I don't remember ever having come here in the fall, and as I walked alone down the highway towards my grandfather's grave in the local cemetery, I was pleasantly suprised to see tufts of white scattered every few feet: cotton. The fields have only just been stripped and what remains of the little snow-colored plants drifts out onto the road with the wind, catching on brambles and rocks. I had cotton bolls in my bouquet when Conor and I were married and of course I've known that they are inherently a part of my history and, thus, a part of me, but I'd never really seen the stuff or touched it before. Walking along the highway I held some in my hands and marveled at how soft it is, even straight out of the ground. The wind was particularly fierce that afternoon and as I approached the cemetery I thought of Copeland as I held that cotton in my palm - how its sweet, soft warmth would be cast off the moment I let it go, just as she was. Only with her, I didn't let go. My hands were wrenched open.

I stood in front of my grandfather's grave and felt a sort of comfort in knowing he is with her, that although she has been carried off she is not alone. I let the cotton go, just to see what happened - to see how far the wind would carry it. It flew from my hand and caught, about ten feet away, on the ground - and stuck. The dramatic image was skewed a bit... I had almost hoped it would sail away like some red balloon until I couldn't see it any longer.

I write all of this in the midst of yet another season in the grief. It's pressing in, the weight of it, and I wondered last night if perhaps that's because I'm ready for it to. Maybe I can bear it more than I could've a few weeks ago. I can only hope that I, too, will be carried.

My heart aches for those who've gone before me on this path - those who know the ache and agony of losing someone they never really got to know. And my heart aches for those who are walking behind, who have yet to tread here, where I am. Pray for them. Pray that they will be reminded that what has come from God is good, that what has returned to Him is blessed, and that the time that passes until we are all together once again - well, that is as fleeting as a breath, a vapor, a gust of wind.


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Saturday, November 3, 2007

jonathan edwards

I want to ask you to pray today for Jared and Kristin Edwards. They are delivering their third child, a little boy, Jonathan Jared Edwards, as I type. Jonathan also has Trisomy-18. I am assuming Kristin is still in labor - I believe she went in this morning - or perhaps, Jonathan is here. In recent communications through their own blog, we have learned that Jonathan has appeared to be under some stress in utero and Jared and Kristin were apprehensive that he might not make it through birth. We are praying that that did not happen and that they were able to enjoy some time with their son as Conor and I did with Copeland.

Please check in on them via their blog and send your blessings... hearing from all of you during the incredible duress of Copeland's life was an amazing encouragement to me.

jonathanjarededwards.blogspot.com


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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

not much to say

I guess I should apologize. It's what you do when you've been really, really negligent in a relationship and forget to call a friend back or bail on them for dinner. Somehow, I feel like all of "you" out there are friends now, people who know the ins and outs of life for me, at least to some degree, and people who are loving me and lifting me up. So thank you. And I'm sorry.

There seem to be moments - days, weeks - in the midst of grief that can best be described as "emotional pauses." Things just stop and suddenly you feel absolutely zero. They're pauses because, of course, they don't last forever, but while they do, living feels somewhat like standing in the center of a whirling merry-go-round: the world around you moves, rides the tide of joy and laughter and sorrow and sadness and you - you're watching it fly past without a single movement. You are still and yet you are carried by the constant motion around you.

I wish I could elaborate a little more, but as I said: you feel absolutely zero. Someone asked me about sending a birth announcement this morning, whether it would be hard for me to get it in the mail, and I found myself honestly telling her that I just felt like Copeland hadn't been here at all, that it was all a dream. I struggle to even type those words - while one part of me rests in the emotionlessness, the other fights against it, longing to feel, even if just for a moment, what I know I can - what I do - in my harder moments. Sometimes I think this is what keeps Copeland here, what makes her existence a reality. It's foolishness, and I constantly comfort myself with the notion that, were she alive and old enough to do so, she would tell me that my needing to feel nothing right now - my needing to go out and do the silly, trivial things of life and simply to function on some level of normalcy - is okay. That even feeling like her time here was a dream is okay. I believe she'd say these things because I would say them to my own mom.

Tonight was Halloween and it's odd that we've made it this far. Five weeks ago we were handing our daughter's body to strangers and staring out at the landscape ahead with fear in our hearts. Five weeks ago we had no idea how we'd get here. And yet... here we are.

My heart is hopeful. Hopeful for the future, for what God has in store. As we walked from house to house tonight, Sellers giggling in her little princess costume and swinging her bag full of candy, it struck me that maybe, just maybe, we might be spending our last Halloween as a threesome. There's always the hope. Always the thought that perhaps things will be different in time. Someone once said to Conor and I that those who choose to end their own lives don't usually do so because, as we commonly suspect, they "lose all hope." Usually it's because they can't stop hoping. It's strange, thinking about hope that way, like a thorn in the side. The Bible says that "hope deferred makes the heart sick, but [that] a longing fulfilled is a tree of life" (Proverbs 13:12). A hope deferred. Put off. Delayed. I remember finding that verse last year, after my second miscarriage, and holding the Bible up as I prayed, somewhat miffed, "God, Your Word itself says that when things that I long for are unfulfilled, my heart will be sick - broken. It's here, right here, in Scripture." I don't know why I was shocked, but I suppose part of it was that I'd never considered the fact that my sadness over a longing that remained unfulfilled might be validated in the same book that says God works everything out for good if I love Him and commands me to trust in Him, no matter what. It's like learning something new and wonderful about someone you love after years of loving them. Strange, perhaps a little disconcerting - how could I have missed this? - and incredibly refreshing. Suddenly there are even more reasons to love them. And maybe to question and to hurt. If God knows that in prolonging my hope to have more children, my heart will literally ache, and that the hoping will continue, and consequently the aching, then why does He let me hope at all? Why not remove the hope altogether?

When Copeland died, I remember smirking. This is the moment, this is the moment my baby daughter breathed her last, and still, You are nowhere to be seen. Surely You'd show up now! I don't know what I expected, but somehow it felt like a let-down, or a betrayal, or a joke. And yet - that moment was holy. How can God be so there and yet so absent? How can we feel Him moving and yet feel so alone?

Thus is the conflict of faith. I find that much of my life is defined by conflict at this point. The battles that wage between the parts of my heart that believe and disbelieve, cry and laugh, walk forward and stand still. It's a remarkably exhausting place to be. This is why I chose to say that these are the words of a girl struggling to "know the God she loves." How you can love someone without really knowing them, fully, is unbeknownst to me. How you can trust someone without having had every hope and desire fulfilled is another mystery. Is it possible - or even okay? - to love someone and not like them that much? Is it all right to decide you aren't sure you want to spend a lot of time with them for a while? But yet you'd like to know they're still around, still available, for when you do? Is it even fair?

All questions for a later moment, a quieter hour, a time when things in the past appear clearer than they do now.


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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

spiritual detox

Conor and I were talking tonight about church. It's been almost five weeks since Copeland's birth - as of tomorrow - and four since her death. I can't believe she's been gone almost four times as long as she lived.

I've had zero desire to walk back into our church since her memorial service was held there that September day. I haven't totally been able to understand why, although I've chalked it up to the fact that the place now has memories for me that I'm simply not ready to revisit. It's different than the place we went before her birth. Now it feels sad and somehow less whole.

But, after our conversation tonight, I think that's not really what it is at all. At least not totally.

Our pastor, as I've said before, challenged me recently on my legalism - my need to earn grace, to work to please God, to do the "right" things. Since that conversation, when he pointed out the fact that I was extremely entrenched in a works-based theology, I've found that a lot of the things I used to do in life make absolute no sense any more. That what used to feel like the "right" choice is no longer so clear. That a lot of the normal, moral things I'd done before as a Christian almost seem ludricous in light of the actual Gospel.

If, in fact, Jesus is it - if there's no way to the Father except by Him - and if, in fact, the Cross, and what He accomplished on it, was sufficient, then what the heck is all my working supposed to mean? Church, for me, is fun. It's social. I see a lot of great people - godly people - who make me smile. I get to wear cute clothes. I enjoy standing in the midst of a crowd of believers I know and care about singing songs that make me happy. But mostly, church is compulsive. It's what you do if you're a Christian. It's normal. It's required. Required. What else makes that list of prerequisites for people who claim to be followers of Christ? Bible study? Scripture memorization? Prayer? How do I reconcile this incredible need in me to do the normal, "right" things Christians do and still believe in the idea that only Jesus' blood makes me, well, a Christian?

John Donne wrote a poem in 1635 called "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning." It's beautiful, and perhaps a whole lot more romantic than religious, but it seems strangely relevant tonight. Donne ascribes the characteristics of a compass to the people mentioned in the lines below:

If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two ;
Thy soul, the fix'd foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if th' other do.

And though it in the centre sit,
Yet, when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.

It seems to me that these lines could just as easily have been written about the way we, as humans, can view our relationship to Christ. He dwells within us, if we receive Him as our Savior, and we are connected to Him, as the two parts of a compass might be - we belong to Him. He is, indeed, a "fix'd foot" that "hearkens after" us when we "roam."

Jesus is our "fix'd foot." He is the only True thing upon which we can lean. He is that stable point upon which all our journeying can rely for safe homecoming. And yet we get it backwards. We try to allow our own notions, our own ideas - even what we would consider our own, good theologies - to be the fixed foot. It doesn't work, anymore than swapping the ends of a compass would. Only one is meant to stand firmly in the center. It's like letting our "rights" and "wrongs" define Jesus, instead of letting Jesus define our "rights" and "wrongs."

Going to church is a good thing. A right thing. Perhaps. But for a girl who's terribly legalistic, maybe it's not that easy. Maybe doing the "right" thing becomes the "wrong" thing when it isn't based entirely on the Person of Christ. Maybe all the 'good' things we Christians do are just as likely to be strongholds in our lives as the bad.

I'm not saying that we aren't sinners. I'm not saying there isn't plenty of black and white in the world - good and evil, truly wrong and truly right. But for me, as I continue to see the grip legalism - doing the "right" things to make God happy - has had on me, it couldn't be more obvious: Jesus is the only lens through which I need to be making my decisions about any of that stuff. Jesus. He is the fixed foot. He is the cornerstone, the solid rock, the way, the truth, the life.

James wrote that "faith without works is dead" (2:26). Hallelujah! But just as Paul's salutation often began, "grace and peace" for a specific reason - peace cannot be attained with grace coming first - faith must begin the equation here.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

thoughts on today

I have walked past my computer about a thousand times in the last week and wondered if I should write anything. Words usually come pretty easily to me, but I find myself stalling out in a lot of ways lately.

I discovered I'm apparently in desperate need of anti-anxiety drugs. I've never been one to take pills, of any kind, though as I share my dependence on them of late, I'm amazed at how many people out there in the universe are also somewhat addicted to something. My doctor prescribed them for me before we were even out of the hospital and while I resisted in the beginning, I happily pop one pink pill every night before bed and coast the mediocrity of feeling pretty much zilch for the next 24 hours. I hadn't realized that perhaps the numbness I've noted was due to the medicine until I - stupidly - thought I'd ditch it for a couple of days. What resulted was an afternoon spent throwing pottery off my back porch just to watch it break. The sound of the shattering and the great splay of shards was certainly cathartic, but now I've got pieces of mug to go sweep up and there aren't any more dishes just lying around that I'd feel good about chucking. So drugs, it is, for me. Whether mediocrity and broken china are at all equally problematic, I don't know. I often suspect it'd be better for me to break every dish in the house if only to be real, to feel fully what my heart and mind and even my lungs should feel, but for now, I'm halfheartedly accepting the somewhat feigned sense of control and normalcy my medicated life is giving me.

The grieving feels like a battle waged inside: one part of me desperate to do something, hating the elements of loss that look like helplessness, dreading the moments when I want to hold Copeland or kiss her cheek and finding no comfort for my anguish other than to stroke the computer screen where her picture serves as my screensaver. This is the same part of me that's ritualistic: wear this bracelet, listen to that song, fold this piece of paper just-so, only to remain connected to her. But there's another kind of grief, the other part, the part that battles the frantic movement. This is the laziness. I have no motivation for anything. I loaf about the house like someone who's - ironically - in a drug-induced state and wonder what I can possibly be entertained by. It's the me that will sit in front of the television set and flip mindlessly through uninspiring, unintelligent programming and read what by all accounts are "trashy" celebrity gossip magazines just to eliminate the possibility of stumbling across my emotions.

My mom is taking me to Texas in a few weeks and I confess, I dread it. I dread going anywhere that, inevitably, Copeland will not be. It sounds strange - as though I'm half expecting to turn a corner someday and see her face. But to go new places and realize, again, that she's not there is only to be reminded, again, that she's not anywhere. She's gone and I can't get to her, at least not yet. I could be bundling her up in cozy blankets for walks over the freshly-fallen leaves, but no, my baby's being cradled in the arms of God. Should I be happy? Maybe. If my faith - what I believe - is absolutely true (and I must believe this if I believe it at all), then Heaven is as real and solid and irrefutable as a math equation. But life isn't numerical or formulaic in the least. Life is neither black or white, but gray, and the swirling mess of it all means I can no more find absolute comfort in the absolute truth of Heaven than I can find in the absolute truth of the Pythagorean theorem. These absolute truths may themselves be, after all, absolute, but I'm a constantly writhing, conflicted individual with hardly anything solid or irrefutable about me. What about any emotion, on this side of Heaven, is absolute for me? It's ironic that I will never know complete comfort until I am completely comforted - until there is no more need for comforting.

Rob Bell wrote a book called "Velvet Elvis" and from the first few pages, I can tell he's going to be very hung up on the idea that we need to shake off the dust of our thinking about God and Jesus and even salvation and the resurrection and, well, everything that means anything to any of us who call ourselves Christians (and that, too, is another word that needs re-examination). Thank goodness. For the shaking off, I mean. When I was fifteen I knew Jesus. But that Jesus looked different than the Jesus I know at 28. Has He changed? Certainly not. But my capacity to see Him has. I knew Him then. Now I just know Him more. And praise God for that fact! For the Jesus I knew before my trials would not have been a comfort to me. If my ideas about Jesus never change then I'm certainly not worshipping God Almighty, but rather a god - a god I can conform and contort to fit into a mold that looks and feels the way I think religion and faith and church and Bible study should look and feel. No, Jesus does not change - He was and is and is to come - but our need for HIm does, and thus we are compelled, we are forced, to see Him differently. Not for what He's become. But for what He's been all along. If the Jesus I knew at fifteen would not have been a comfort to me in my trials, it was only because He hadn't given me any. The depths to which He will take us will only be matched by the depths of His character He longs to reveal.

And so I struggle. I long to see Him, to know Him, to understand this Man who does, in fact, hold my child in His arms. But I also ache for the painless, for the life of ease where there was no need for the knowing. I don't want to be the drug girl. Or the girl who chucks mugs off of porches. And yet I suspect that this is the version of myself that is most real. This is the version which sorrow and suffering has generated. And this is the version of me that Jesus loves. He does not want me to be what I once was or even what I have the potential of becoming. This is the me He wants. And it is all I have to offer.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Saturday, October 13, 2007

the soul and the sinew

I told Conor the other morning that I feel like I'm standing at the edge of the ocean with my feet in the water and, while I can feel the gentle tug of the tide at my ankles, I'm still too shallow to be completely swept away. That's what the first few weeks of grieving have been like for me: standing at the edge of all the immense emotions you know are beckoning you, pulling you, and yet feeling the grit of the sand beneath your toes and determining to stand still, firmly, resolutely, until you're ready for a good, hard swim.

Perhaps part of me doesn't feel like swimming just yet. And perhaps the Father's keeping me here, grounded, until the waves won't get the best of me. I'm not sure. I went into Copeland's nursery this afternoon and held her things for a few minutes - the silver cups friends had sent, her little hospital booties, the pacifier we'd toted around with us those few, short hours - and tried to cry. Sellers was in the next room, playing, and Conor stood only a few feet away downstairs. The sun shone through Copeland's bedroom window. It was 1:00 in the afternoon. It was safe. I could take a dip into the water, if I wanted to, and let myself get pulled out a bit. There was no reason I shouldn't. My heart longed to dive beneath the waves. And yet my feet wouldn't move. And so I stood before her crib and cradled her things and felt absolutely nothing but the my own compulsion to feel.

This, apparently, is common, the emotionlessness. The numbness. I've heard people talk about grief having stages - one of which is shock - but I find it hard to place myself into them, at least not tidily. How can I be shocked? I knew this was coming. It's like watching a loved one with a fatal disease, I suspect. You know the final outcome is on its way. We pray for miracles, but there's a reason we use the phrase, "don't get your hopes up." At our best, we're all realists desperately longing to believe in what our eyes can't see and our minds can't grasp. Wanting to believe and yet not wanting to appear like the village idiot. So do I think I'm in shock? No. I don't know what I am. I suppose people who run into me think I'm almost nonchalant, amiable - downright chatty, even. I try to show myself for what I feel on the inside, mostly, but, like I said, I don't feel much of anything. Part of me wants the feelings back. And part of me knows that today, they'd drown me.

Shortly after Sellers was born, Conor and I went to see Mel Gibson's much-critiqued film, "The Passion." I have to confess I dreaded it. Something in me felt afraid of what it would do to me. How would I possibly handle the graphic scenes everyone was going on and on about? Looking back, I realize the real fear was in not feeling at all. In being jaded and unaffected. Sure, it's a movie. Sure, it's makeup and lighting and a lot of camera men "working an angle." But it might be the closest you and I ever get to watching what happened to Jesus all those thousands of years ago. What happened for us.

Tonight, I came upon the scene where Jesus is being crucified. The cinematography is, ironically, best described as excruciating - gritty and gruesome and incredibly up-close. I had heard people say that watching the Mary character was difficult for mothers. I tried to imagine what she must have felt, watching her only son up there. But when the lens turned its focus to Christ, I saw something I hadn't expected - something I couldn't have recognized three years ago. Copeland. As Jesus hung there, his eyes lifted heavenward, His mouth parted slightly like a man struggling for breath, I saw my daughter in her last moments, as well. How did they know the face of death? How could they capture so accurately something so few witness?

I have found great solace in the thought that many, many mothers have gone before me bereaved. The ground I walk is hallowed. What I saw that night, when Copeland let out her last, sweet breath against my cheek, was something I would never trade. And yet, something I suspect most would choose to never see. I have been changed by it. I will never look at dying the same. Not death. Dying. The lapse of life in the human form, the parting of soul from sinew. Jesus was fully God. But also, fully man. His death would have looked like my precious girl's. Did He think of her as He gasped for breath? In cradling my darling eight day-old baby, in watching her in her own fight, I did not realize I was watching the face of Christ. How precious those final moments are now to me. Neither gruesome or graphic, though somewhat sorrowful and sad - but moreso: beautiful and tender. Truly, "precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints..." (Psalm 116:14-16). His saints... His children.

I don't know how long I will stand in Copeland's room before He will carry me out into the waves. But I do know He will do the carrying. And when I go under, when the fullness of my emotion and the heaviness of my heartache wraps itself around me like the water, I will see His face beside hers. I will see the rise and fall of His chest with hers. Because of His struggle, hers is now over. Because of His suffering, she is free.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

a vision for eternity

"For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength." (1 Corinthians 1:25)

A pastor who prayed over Copeland at one point reminded me - well, to be truthful: told me - that her disease, her sickness, her plight, whatever you care to call it, wasn't God's design. It wasn't His plan. We talk a lot about "God's will" and of course I do believe He has a will, although I'm growing more and more convinced that our sorrows and sufferings have absolutely nothing to do with it. What we see in the midst of great agony and strife is usually a glimpse into both Heaven and Hell - and in the glimpsing, there's a gift. In my broken, four-pound baby, who looked a little different, lived a great deal differently, and ultimately left me here to grieve her loss, I found a sort of joy that I'd never known, a real joy, and my time with her was not only laced but literally steeped in happiness and blessing. And yet, the hour of her departure and certainly the last moments I held her were wracked with a sorrow and heartache that I could not have imagined. There was a bit of Heaven, and a bit of Hell. How I long to fully know the one and fully spurn the other! Therein lies the real gift. Perhaps God's will is more wrapped up in removing the blinders from our eyes than in giving or taking anything away.

Someone asked me recently if I was angry with Him. Interesting question. My mom told me once that as a teenager, she used to sing that old song, "To Know Him Is To Love Him" at church. I think it was by a group called The Teddy Bears. Of course their intention was never to sing those lyrics about God. But, for a bunch of kids who regularly heard it on the radio, it was a fun twist. I can't hear it now and not think about that story. The irony is: the words are true. Even more ironically, they'd probably be even truer if they read, "To know, know, know Him/ Is to be annoyed, annoyed, by Him." Am I mad at Him? You bet I am. I'm mad and frustrated and annoyed and irritated and perplexed, and yes, I love Him, deeply, but, as in all other relationships, if to know Him is to love HIm then it follows that knowing Him might often make you want to give Him a swift kick in the pants, as well. C.S. Lewis writes about the bizarre emotions he experienced regarding God after his wife, Joy, died: "All that stuff [I wrote before] was not so much the expression of thought as of hatred. I was getting it from the only pleasure a man in anguish can get; the pleasure of hitting back. It was really just... mere abuse; telling God what I thought of Him." He later goes on to say that what he felt - that God wasn't fair, that "when He seemed most gracious He was really preparing the next torture" - wasn't true. Of course God is fair. And good. But to express our anger or our outrage or our incense with Him isn't about expressing truth. It's about offending. We long to feel the subtle comfort of 'payback.'

So am I mad? Sometimes. If God didn't ordain Copeland's sickness, if it wasn't His design, why in the world did she have it? Because I live here. It's like asking why I have a Southern accent. It comes free, courtesy of my locale. She wasn't sick because I needed to learn a lesson. She wasn't sick because I didn't do enough things right - or too many things wrong. She was sick because we live in a broken, fallen world and until Jesus comes back, things are just going to keep going wrong. Not all the time - that's when the glimpses of Heaven come in. But quite frequently. Life is truly one long dysfunction. Only by God's grace - getting what we don't deserve - do we ever see any good at all. I bargain with God a lot. I tell Him that this was it, this was my quota of "bad stuff." And I mean it. But the reality is that as long as I'm here, the bad stuff's going to keep on coming. All I can do is pray the packaging looks a little different and that Jesus will hold me up until He takes me home or returns. It sounds like a pretty raw deal. But that's through human eyes. If we could see differently, we'd think differently.

Before Copeland was born, I prayed that God would give me a "vision for eternity." I think I probably uttered those words more in a moment of personal satisfaction - "wow, that sounds good!" - than true desire, but nevertheless, they seemed to have been Spirit-filled. I want a clearer understanding of Heaven, to be sure. I want to know more fully where Copeland is. But my prayer at that point, while I thought it regarded her experiences, was really about my own. If the only vision I have is for right now - she's gone, i'm here, and the world's literally going to Hell in a handbasket - then I'm going to be one bitter girl. The vision I need is one that tells me that what makes sense to my senses isn't necessarily true. Broken bodies often equal whole spirits. Strength can sometimes house itself in weakness. A vision for eternity turns the truths of this world on end. It's the only way an unattractive, unpopular renegade hanging on a cross can possibly mean more than brutality and devastation.

And so I keep praying that prayer. Fix my eyes on You, Lord. Like another old song, "Come Thou Fount," says: "Prone to wander/ Lord, I feel it/ Prone to leave the God I love/ Here's my heart/ Oh take and seal it/ Seal it for Thy courts above."

Saturday, October 6, 2007

not by might

I am sitting in my living room, my husband has taken my daughter to run some errands, and the only noise is the dull drone of football commentary coming from the television. The image is one of quiet - serenity, even - and I have to confess: I feel it.

We are okay. It's strange to write those words, strange that they are, in fact, true. I don't think I ever sincerely believed they would be. It makes sense. I believed more in my own belief than in God Himself, so of course I doubted. I believed in belief and faith and hope and love and all the other things. These are my deities. These are the golden calves - the things I stupidly worship. Who wouldn't? Tragedy, suffering, sorrow, heartache - all the evidence the world needs to prove that God doesn't exist. Where is this God of ours now? And yet, we must hang onto something - it's how we're made. We can't do it alone.

I saw a woman yesterday on Oprah selling a book called, "Eat, Pray, Love." Perhaps that's the answer, or at least one we can all practically approach: eat a little, pray a little (we're not sure to whom), and of course - of course - love. Love, love, love. But is love enough? Certainly food doesn't fill me up, at least not for long. And if I'm supposed to be praying - well, give me some kind of guideline. If we're all going to go ahead and throw up our hands and admit there's something - someone? - out there who might hear us praying (even, as the author said, it's a "universal power"), then perhaps we shouldn't eschew the idea that there's a god? Maybe even just One?

I am convinced there is no god, there is no deity - there is no good thing or good idea or good concept or GOOD at all - apart from Jesus Christ. Conor and I are reading a book called "Heaven" by a writer named Randy Alcorn and while I love it - I love it - it's strange: he's actually talking like heaven is a real place. He's capitalizing it. Heaven. It's no different than New York or Milan to him. It's a place. But where? I don't know. Neither does he. Conor and I look at each other on occasion and it's like a mutual resignation to partial insanity - "Okay, so... do you believe this? Whew... me, too." And thus, we keep reading. Perhaps it's for comfort. Perhaps it's because I've never had much of an interest in heaven - Heaven - before. And now I think about it almost constantly. I believe it's real, physical, tangible, that there are angels and people - though they're not the same - and that God dwells with them there. God dwells with them. I don't know a lot. I don't suspect most of us do. But I can tell you: I believe it. I believe in the whole thing. And I don't think I'm entirely responsible for that belief. It's a choice - of course - on some level, but the choice is more in the not-rejecting of it than in the accepting. If I believe any of this, if I have a faith in Jesus, in the person of Christ, if I can truly rest on what He's saying to me, even today, even while I miss my baby daughter more than I can ever, ever express, it's because He gave it to me. My faith, my hope, my love - these are all copies. The real ones must be placed within me. If I believe, it's because He gave me the belief in the first place. If I rest, it's because He quieted me.

There's a story in Mark of a father whose child is possessed. When he asks Jesus to heal his son, he uses the word "if" - "If you can do anything, take pity on us and heal him!" Jesus, taken aback, says bluntly: "If I can? Everything is possible for those who believe." And the man, in a moment that will forever define the conflict in the human heart, responds frantically, "I do believe! Help me overcome my unbelief!" We are a mixture of our own dreadful attempts to believe and our desperate, desperate need to have that belief fastened within us. Part of us must do the confessing - and part, the receiving.

Love is not enough. Faith and hope and joy and determination and perserverance and commitment and peace and patience and goodness - they're not enough. They're just pretty words for pretty books that perhaps we'll buy to make ourselves feel better - for a time. But ultimately, the richness and fullness of these things cannot be tapped into unless and until something - Someone - allows it. As humans, we're entirely devoid of and entirely barred access to them all - if not for the cross of Christ.

"Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit..." Pitch the book. Pitch them all. Don't go running toward something that, at the end of the day, will leave you feeling empty and alone. There is no person, there is no answer, there is no trick or tactic that will ever, ever be to you what He will. Do not be deceived.

Conor, Sellers and I are making it... we are walking. We miss our girl. I go into her closet twenty-five times a day and smell the clothes she wore, the clothes that are soaked in her sweet scent. I wonder what she's doing, if she's sleeping - do they sleep in Heaven? - or eating, or if she's even still an infant. I hope she is. I pray she is. My heart aches with the grief of what could have been. But were it not for the cross - for that moment in history where my eternity was secured - I would despair. I rejoice that He offers it. Yes, somehow, we are making it. But it's not by our might. Or by any power. Or by faith or hope or love. It's by His Spirit. May it fall afresh upon us.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

sitting in the sorrow

"Then Job's friends sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was." (Job 2:13)

It's hard to believe it's almost been a week since Copeland left us. We've moved back home... we're trying to settle into life as best as we can without her. It sounds strange, I'm sure, to some degree, the idea that there's much to adjust to in her absence, considering her time with us was so short. But I assure you: something happens when a breath is taken, a soul is present, even for a moment, and we are changed. Nothing will feel the same again. Her void will always be. Even in the grocery store, choosing foods for Sellers's lunchbox, I wondered: what would Copeland have liked to eat? What would she have been persistently "fussy" about? I long to know the silly details of my daughter's being that, had she lived, I'm sure I would have thought nothing about.

I sat at the top of the stairs this weekend, after Copeland's memorial, and felt a pressure on my chest I confess all the months prior to this hadn't handed me. The grief I feel now is different than the grief from back then; in fact, their separateness is so immense I find it hard to understand myself from a few months ago. I cannot connect them, despite the fact that they are, of course, inextricably linked. One spawned the other. Everything in my sense of space and time for now has the mark of Copeland on it: was she alive when such-and-such happened? Or had she not been yet born? When I heard that song last week on the radio, she was in my car... Yet how is that even possible? I know she was here and yet I find it difficult to believe. Her memory is almost ethereal, like a vapor or a mist. Not to sound cliche or supernatural. I, for one, don't believe we become floating spirits in heaven. The Bible seems to support the idea that we'll get new bodies. So I envision Copeland in the same precious little body she was in, tiny arms and pink cheeks, but healed and whole. No, it's just the thought of her that's ethereal, like a dream or even deja vu.

I find it's hard to preserve the sensation of her presence. All of her things are cluttered about the house. I can't put them away. It's not really because I'm sad, although, of course, I am. It's just that I fear in "cleaning up," organizing everything and tucking it all into neat little spaces that won't permit me to see them as consistently, I'll forget her. Everything in life beckons me to move forward, to step out into the sunlight and embrace the reality of her death as an event that not only occurred but that I knew was going to occur. And yet I can't.

Back to the stairs. When I sat there that afternoon, my husband was outside playing soccer in the front yard. At first I was mad: what does this mean, that he can play a stupid sport when our child is gone? I realized then, when the Lord spoke to my heart, that we'll grieve Copeland's loss in much the same way, but often at different junctures along the path. Sometimes grief looks like moving. Sometimes it looks like sitting still. Life requires both of us. Sanity requires both of us. For now, I, like Job, am sitting in my sorrow.

I've thought a lot about the Old Testament, how it describes the Israelites in times of suffering. They ripped their robes and rubbed ashes on their faces. It's a strange, graphic way to grieve, a way we don't totally embrace anymore. A friend told Conor and I about his trip to Africa once. He mentioned the death of an older woman, and how, amongst her people, there was great wailing. I thought of the Biblical phrase, "gnashing of teeth." I've read it a thousand times, but I suppose this would be the first season in my life that it feels relevant. The images are uncomfortable - ashes and ripped clothing and screaming aloud. And yet, from where I sit. there's a solace in them. The physical manifestation of a broken heart.

And so I sit. And it's extraordinarily difficult. I find a compulsive need to do something, to fix the pain - to rise above it, to hash it out, to move forward, move on, get some closure. The Lord knew that when He said, "Be still and know that I am God," we'd struggle with both commands - the being still and the knowing. When your baby daughter dies after eight days and there's nothing you can do to even touch her hand for a moment longer, the knowing He's God isn't necessarily the tough part. Being still is. Sitting in the sorrow means embracing all the emotions, all the incredibly painful stabs of disappointment and anger and frustration and agony that jab at the heart almost every single second of the day. Sitting in the sorrow means refusing to self-medicate. It means finally, finally, embracing the fact that He has created nothing that will give us as much joy and peace and fulfillment as Himself.

I've been to Target. I'll go again. I'll go to the mall and to the post office and I'll take Sellers to school and externally, my life will look nothing like the stillness I'm choosing in my soul. I don't know why I share all of this other than to tell you that there's freedom in it. Freedom in telling people you aren't doing great or that you can't make it for a night out on the town. Perhaps there's healing in the authenticity of the ashes.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

home

Here is the video from the memorial service yesterday. Conor's good friend Jason Ingram wrote the song for Copeland on the night she went to be with Jesus. We are grateful for every second we spent with our sweet girl. This is an amazing opportunity to share with you some of the most precious moments we had with her while she was here. Below that is the letter Conor and I read to Copeland during her service yesterday. Thank you, to everyone, whether you were there in spirit or physically. We felt your presence and we were so uplifted as we walked through one of the toughest days of our lives.

Be blessed...



Dear Copeland,
On the day you were born, we had prayed for you for two years. You were the answer we had been waiting for – with one exception. You were more. You were better. God truly poured out one of His greatest blessings on our family when you came along.

We knew that you were going to be with us only a short time, but we didn’t realize it would be so short. Who can prepare their hearts to lose what they’ve ached for, what they’ve found a piece of their soul to be knitted together with? As we write these words, we know you are with our Father. We know it in our heads even though our human hearts struggle to comprehend. We believe because Jesus came and lived and died an unfair death that you are with Him now, waiting for us, who will be with you one day. Never before have our sights been set on heaven as they are now. Never before have the things of this world been dulled as they are now. We long to see you… we long to rock you, to kiss you, to watch you grow. But we will plant our feet firmly on the knowledge that those longings will not go forever unmet because we rest in the promise of Christ.

Copeland, before your birth, we had no idea how much we would love you. We are so grateful for the time we had to be your mommy and daddy here on earth. We pray the Lord will strengthen our minds to remember the precious moments He granted us with you: your delivery and Daddy’s “thumbs up” when you began to cry, sharing you with the 60-odd visitors who flooded the waiting room upon your arrival, staying up through the night with you at the hospital while Daddy and I talked about how much we had been changed just by your coming, taking you home in your carseat for the first time, laying you in the crib we thought you would never even see, rocking you, singing to you, reading the Psalms over you, changing your tiny diapers and your tiny clothes, taking you to Sellers’s school so your new big sister could show you off, even keeping vigil over you through the last nights as your breathing grew heavy. I know we both count it as a privilege and an honor to have held you in our arms until the Lord chose to take you home to Him. We believe with hope that you felt carried the whole way.

We are not sure how we will go on. We will miss you so much our hearts will be near to bursting. We will long for you and wonder where you are. We will think of you every day, every hour, and ache to recreate the moments we had with you this side of heaven. But because we know you are there… we will walk. We will carry your sister, and all the other siblings the Lord chooses for you to have. We will honor the way you have changed us and the thousands of people worldwide who came to know your story by choosing each day a life that looks differently, a life that says, “Thank You, Jesus, for reminding us that heaven is real… You are real… and it’s time we learned to live like we believe it.”

We will never forget.

We love you.
Mama and Daddy

Friday, September 28, 2007

tomorrow

Well, here I go again. I can't seem to keep away from you all.

It's hard to believe our girl has been gone for 48 hours. I think about her almost every single second, something moms who've lost babies and children have shared with me... something I confess scared me... but something I find, now, to be strangely comforting. I stood in the mall today with my precious Sellers - we had promised her an "outing" and Pottery Barn Kids was her choice - and wondered what Copeland was doing right now. It's hard trying to grasp heaven, even for someone who grew up going to church and who should know enough to substantiate it. I just feel a little uneducated. Aren't we all? I suspect that losing a loved one does one thing for certain in a soul: you must decide, right now, for each moment, what you believe. No more of this silly blithering on about God and Heaven or even Jesus if it's not going to mean anything when you need it most. I have to choose. Is it real? Is it going to be real in my heart when I can't see through my tears? And does accepting heaven mean accepting everything else the Bible says? That there's also a hell... that without Jesus, none of us can get to the Father? Yes. I cannot take one without the other. I thought of the verse that says, "Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven." I looked at all the cute little doo-dads in Pottery Barn Kids this afternoon and part of me ached for the fact that I can't buy those things for Copeland. And then part of me realized how she would laugh, too. Laugh because the treasure - the real treasure - is Jesus. And she's as filled up with Him as any of us can ever be.

Tomorrow is the memorial. As Conor and I dug in our closets to find the right things to wear, it seemed strange to be pulling tops and skirts out in preparation for this day. Like I've said, we knew it was coming. But I find it odd that we are fast-approaching that moment, the moment these months of walking and crying and laughing and praying have metriculated into. The real moment of victory was the moment Copeland left us, but I know she would understand - and so would the Father - that for all of us here on earth, tomorrow symbolizes our letting her go. And I pray each day that I would love Copeland and Jesus enough to do that.

The video the church put together is astounding; I will post it here as soon as I get the chance. I wanted to share with you something about one of the songs we've chosen for the service. We should have some footage of that, as well. The opener is a song called "Every Road" by Amy Grant. The verses are definitely more "husband/wife" oriented... words that discuss leaning into each other when it would be easier to pull away. For some reason, this song has been on my heart since the evening Copeland died. I sat and listened to it for a while after she had left us and realized the chorus spoke to me in a way I hadn't realized I needed: "Every road that's traveled teaches something new/ And every road that's narrow pushes us to choose/ And I'd be lying if I said I had not tried to leave a time or two/ Every road that leads me, leads me back to you." I love these words. Conor and I were on a road trip once driving in Colorado. As we listened to this song, I realized that I wanted every road I took in life - every heartache, every joy, every moment we'd share that would either send us dancing or to our knees - to lead me back to him. I realize that, ultimately, that's what marriage is - and that's what our relationship with the Father should be. Just a winding, rocky path that requires only one real thing from us: that we keep coming back. I want Copeland and Sellers and all the children we ever have to know that they can rely on that fact: we'll keep coming back. Both to each other and to the Father. We're committed to it.

I pray if you can be there tomorrow, you will be blessed. I pray the songs and the words and the pictures and even the person sitting next to you will make a mark. We are so anxious to share what we have been filled up with.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

in her honor...

So many of you have asked how you can honor our sweet daughter and we are tremendously blessed by that. We have a couple of options that we feel truly represent our family. Please read the e-mail below to fully understand the first:

"It is one of God’s greatest blessings for us to be able to celebrate His sweet Copeland’s life! In our new library, slated for completion in the spring of 2008, there is a large window—the visual, physical, and spiritual 'center' of the library. In this window, there is to be placed a window seat; a place that seems to all of us who love to read like a big hug! We would love to honor Copeland by designating this window seat as 'Copeland’s Corner,' a place where every single day and every single page turned is a celebration of her life. A fund has been set up in her honor."

Boothe attended Oak Hill School here in Nashville from kindergarten until sixth grade. It had a tremendous effect on her faith and allowed her to blossom spiritually in many ways that are having a major role in how we will get through this season now. Oak Hill is a part of a church here in town that we were fortunate enough to be married in back in 2001. So this is a place that means a lot to our legacy as a family. Please send donations for this fund to:

The Oak Hill School
Re: Copeland’s Corner
The Oak Hill School Library
4815 Franklin Road
Nashville, TN 37220

Contact Claire Wilkins at 615-298-9543 for further information.

We understand that many of you may not know about Oak Hill and may feel more comfortable with something a bit more global. Therefore, we have also decided to set up a fund to assist International Justice Mission, a non-profit organization that seeks to work out injustices and set free captives around the world, including young girls in sex slavery. Knowing our Copeland is free even as we speak is a great reminder that we are all ultimately called to a life in heaven where the 'chains' on this earth have no bearing. We believe that it is our duty to seek the Father's will for all of His children, "on earth, as it is in heaven." Please send donations in honor of Copeland Farley to the following:

International Justice Mission
PO Box 58147
Washington, DC 20037

You may also give online; if you are interested in this option, please visit their website at www.ijm.org and select "GIVE" from the menu at the top of the screen.

Blessings this day... we are making it through because of you.

Memorial

We wanted to let everyone know that plans have been made for a memorial service celebrating our sweet girl's short life. Details are below... anyone is welcome.

Saturday, September 29th
1:00 PM (CST)
Fellowship Bible Church
1210 Franklin Road
Brentwood,TN 37027

Please visit Fellowship's website for more information on their location: www.fbctn.org.

In lieu of flowers, Boothe and I have chosen two ways for those of you who are interested to remember Copeland. More details on these will foilow shortly.

We love you all and so appreciate your words. We are in awe of the way the Lord has used our story and our precious daughter, and we look forward to continuing to see His hand move.

Conor

"hey"

It is 8:15 in the morning and by God's grace, I have only now just gotten up. I felt compelled to write something, though I can't say exactly why. People asked me before Copeland was born what I would do with this blog after she was gone, and I didn't know then. I still don't totally know now. She was the heart of the reason why I ever sat down to write anything at all. But ultimately, the Lord has used what He gave me to glorify Himself in mighty ways, so who am I to decide 'I'm done' when this is really His in the first place? He has given me an urge to write; it's almost like without pouring out my heart I remain pent up inside with the ache all the more voracious.

i confess I'm still in a bit of shock, knowing that she's gone. The funeral home came and took her later in the night, so we had some sweet time even after the Lord had called her home. I have to keep reminding myself that from the moment she passed, she was no longer there - the body I so loved to cradle, the cheeks I loved to kiss, even her tiny nose that, no matter what I did, I couldn't keep warm enough - they were no longer her. To say she is in heaven is so cliche to me; it feels somewhat like being told, "Oh, but here's the good news: though your child isn't here anymore, she's in Never Never Land. Don't worry." Though my faith is real, and I do believe, it was all I could do not to chase the car last night as it pulled out of the driveway taking my angel away. Later, in the house, I felt as though I would crawl out of my skin wanting to get my baby. I had been told of this panic, but I hadn't expected it, not really. After all, we've known this day would come for 3 months now. But nothing... nothing prepares you to willingly hand your child to a complete stranger knowing you'll never see them again.

i don't mean to sound morbid or even to depress anyone, although I know I'll find it hard at times to smile or to simply 'go on' as normal, despite the absolute necessity of that at some point. I remember thinking last night that I can't believe I actually fall into the category of people who have endured one of the hardest things life can hand someone. It doesn't seem real. And yet that word - endure - stands out and reminds me that somehow, as I sit in the darkness of my bedroom and hope I have the strength to face Copeland's bassinet in the kitchen, I realize that God is giving me what I can't give myself, what even no amount of Bible verses fail to give were it not first for His Spirit imparting to me an understanding and a thirst for Him. I confess I long to understand - to believe - in what I can't right now. I long to believe heaven is real, that my girl is being rocked by caring, loving arms, that she is absolutely healed from the effects of her cruel disease and that never again will she be hungry or frustrated at her inability to breathe. That she will look on the gates occasionally, waiting for her mommy and daddy to appear. My conversations with God right now are more like those you have with a junior high boyfriend as you pass them in the hall at school: necessary in order to remain in a relationship, but short, probably somewhat insignificant to any on-lookers. "Hey." That's about all I can muster at this point. What do you say to the God of the universe who chose not to heal or save your baby? Who, though they are giving you strength to endure, moment by moment, actually allowed the situation that require endurance in the first place? I call on you to pray for me. I will not turn my back on Him. But words fail me.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

homecoming

Just wanted to let you all know... we lost our precious girl tonight at 5:35. We knew the end was coming... she had a very difficult day and we were anticipating it, but nothing can possibly prepare your heart for something so hard. We are clinging to the knowledge that she is no longer suffering but is in her Savior's arms. Our time with her in heaven will be so much greater and so much more special than even the most incredible days we've spent with her here on earth. We are so thankful for every memory the Father gave us. I will never regret a single second spent as her mommy.

Sellers and her Daddy spent some time outside on the back porch talking, so she knows. Thank you for your prayers and for your sweet encouragement.

We love you all...

update

I went to work for a bit today to try and catch up on some things and while sitting in a meeting, Boothe's aunt called to tell me I needed to come home because things looked bad. We took Copeland with us this morning to the doctor's office where Boothe had some follow-up done (for the c-section). Copeland seemed to do well through all of that, her color stayed relatively pink. But over the course of the day, we are definitely noticing her weakening. We have known it all along, but the physical reality that she is going to be leaving us soon is hitting home with each passing hour.

These are some of the things I never knew we'd have to deal with. Going back to "normal" life, in some ways, and trying to remain as routine as possible, while my daughter is literally on the brink of death. And not knowing how long that process will take.

Please continue to pray for our family. Pray that I will love Boothe and my girls well. And please pray that the Lord wil postpone the hour of Copeland's death until I can get home, if, in fact, I happen to be away. I want to balance working with being here with the girls. I feel compelled to provide as the spiritual leader in our family, and sometimes it is tough to even begin to know how to do it during this season.

We're still touch and go... we will continue to keep you updated.

Conor

8:30 a.m.

I was woken this morning by my aunt, leaning into my room to tell me that Copeland was looking blue. I had no idea what time it was - my mother, mother-in-law, aunt and grandmother had all taken shifts watching her through the night - and as I headed upstairs, all I could think was, "This is the day. We've had her for over a week now. This must be the day." Indeed, as I went to Copeland and picked her up, her color, while not as drastically blue as before, had faded. Most frighteningly, her breathing had stopped. Completely. On occasion she would let out gasps for air, sweet little cries, but on the whole, things looked dire. She hadn't eaten in about 12 hours. Conor's mom has been gracious to use a stethoscope lately and do what I don't think he or I could (whether due to lack of skill or heart): listen to her heartrate and help us gauge where things are in this whole journey. Copeland's little heartbeat seems to be relatively strong - I say 'relatively' because we are certainly watching things slow down. As we sat in the same living room I wept in only yesteday morning, I found myself screaming at God, agonizing that this could not be the time, this wasn't the moment Conor and I have prayed for.

God seems to have heard our cries for now... she is still here. But her breathing is slower, shallower; her color is definitely weaker, and her heartbeat is fading. Had I the ability to predict whether or not this episode were a 'milestone' on the direct path to her death, I would tell you so. But I don't. We go back into a place where the steps in front of us are as obscure as they have ever been. We simply ask you to pray that we will be somehow, someway, prepared to let her go. Watching her struggle may be God's strange way of giving us the ability to hand her more willingly back to Him: we can hardly bear to see her fight for life anymore. I have whispered over her in the last few minutes, just as Conor has, "Sweet girl, just go. We love you... we're so proud of you. You've fought so hard. But you don't have to fight for us anymore. We want you to be free."

I believe the Lord gave me a vision this morning of His angels, standing guard over our family as we wept over her, ready to take her to the Father when He commands. I believe when they are sent to take her, the moment she enters His arms, she will be made perfect and complete: that were we given the spiritual eyes to see, we would know that while we hold a fragile, broken body, Jesus is taking unto Himself a child who is always breathing normally, whose cheeks and lips remain flushed with joy for life, whose heart is strong and vigorous, who has been given freedom from the incredible chains this fallen world has set upon her frail form.

We love you all and will continue to update you throughout the day...

12:30 a.m.

Just wanted to update quickly: we are preparing for bed tonight - my mom and I are sitting up talking, while Conor's mom rests so that she can take the next "shift" and keep an eye on our girl - and Copeland is having frequent "blue spells" again. The last resulted in several seconds where she stopped breathing altogether. Please pray for her tonight... that she will make it through. It is almost unbearable trying to "wake her up" when she is so gray and colorless, her eyes are glazed over... as a mommy, I don't know how to keep my panic from surfacing. Please pray the Lord will breathe life into her lungs and that we will be able to remain calm if, in fact, we have to deal with this again in the next few hours. This has been a pattern today, so my fears are definitely heavier as far as Copeland making it through the night. It is hard not to be anxious.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

happy birthday, copeland!




Tonight we celebrated with some family as Copeland turned exactly one week old! It was a really special time... my cousin baked a delicious cake, my mom bought a precious little birthday hat for Copeland to "wear" (we think it's actually meant to accentuate a gift bag!) and Sellers even wore her "Big Sister" crown from school.

I can hardly believe we've made it this far... and yet with each passing day, it's harder to imagine that we are getting closer to the end... whenever the Lord has ordained that. We are preparing for a restful night and hoping Copeland will continue to remain pink and breathe well.

Blessings...

Boothe

thank you

Copeland is sleeping soundly in her bassinet and has been for almost an hour now... she's finally getting some of the alone time I think her little four-pound body desperately needed. Perhaps all the passing around really meant a bit of exhaustion for her! As for the pink cheeks and lips... your prayers are being felt here with deep gratitude. I stand in awe at a God who will use something as mindless and irritating as the internet can often be for His glory - to amplify His name above all the earth and remind us that if we will but call to Him, we can expect results. We are not always sure what they will look like, but we can be assured they'll come, some way or another. For now I am rejoicing in my daughter's sudden blush!

baby blues...




Some photos from our day thus far...

Sellers feeding her baby sister her bottle this morning... and Copeland in her carseat with her enormous pacifier. Almost everything in life seems to be enormous in comparison to our tiny peanut!

Still doing well... Not to seem presumptuous, I just wanted to give you all an update. And to ask you to pray for these "blue spells" I keep mentioning. This would definitely fall into the "specifics" category, I'm sure, but I feel a little more at peace with praying for specifics than I did, say, about 36 hours ago. Guess that's what defines much of our spiritual life: constant ups and downs. I'm so thankful that the Father isn't as inconsistent in His ways with us as we are with Him. Copeland has her "good" days and her "not-so-good" days and this has been one of the latter, at least from the perspective I've kept in watching her color change. We are always hopeful for pink cheeks and lips - signs that her bloodflow is strong - and often we'll have that for hours at a time. But honestly, today has been a tough go of it, and I would ask you to lift up our girl and ask specifically - there's that word again - that the Lord would begin to slow the frequency of these blue spells and help her to breathe. It's been a tough day... not as much vigor as we'd like to see her with. Please pray right now for her health and for her life... that God would restore her moment by moment.

one week ago...

I am sitting in Conor's office, listening to his co-workers wander in and out so that they can get a peek at our girl, and it astounds me that we have actually reached Copeland's one-week birthday! In about an hour, she will have been alive for exactly seven days. Astonishing.

I wanted to let you know we are doing well... we took Sellers to school this morning, showed Copeland off to her teachers and friends (they even made her a "Big Sister" crown to wear throughout the day!) and then headed off to run some errands and spend some quality time 'just the three of us' - Conor, Copeland and I. I am soaking up each and every moment I have as her mom... to get to share her with people who I know have been praying has been absolutely incredible. Everyone marvels at how tiny she is, at how perfect she looks (despite the fact that Trisomy-18 definitely has made its 'mark' on her, she is in many ways just a miniaturized version of a normal, healthy baby). There have been a couple of moments when the "blue spells" returned and my heart fell, thinking perhaps that would be the time the Lord would call her home. I pray each day for more time with her, but I also recognize the very real probability that each day could be her last. Each moment, even.

Conor and I prayed specifically for joy last night. I guess somehow in the middle of all of this, I'd forgotten that if I prayed for the ability to smile, to be able to look past - even ignore, to some degree - the imminent sadness before us, just for today, God would be faithful to answer. I know you are continually lifting us up, as well, and I want you to know how thrilling I find my position in this life to be right now. To put Sellers to bed, to wake her in the morning, to sit up late and talk with my husband about both the heaviest and silliest of subjects, to rock Copeland in my arms and just let Jesus give her each breath - all of these things fill me up so immensely that I find it hard to express. I never want to look back on this day - or the days ahead - and feel that I squandered the gift the Father is giving me.

Happy one-week birthday, Copeland... it is by the grace of the Father and the loyalty of the saints that you are here with us today.

Monday, September 24, 2007

good night

Deat sweet family and friends...

Well, we made it through another day and our sweet girl is about to begin her third night away from the hospital. Words fail me... at times I am totally in agony watching her, wondering.... and at times I am filled with deep joy, encouraged that no matter what her physical features might indicate, God seems to be working with every single cell in her body and doing what He always set out to accomplish with her.

I am in awe, repeatedly, at how many of you are reading these words. I simply can't understand it. God has always given me a desire to "reach" people for Him, but in this situation, under such difficult circumstances, I can honestly say I am not like Paul... I don't feel thankful all the time to be used by Him and I don't always appreciate the incredible testimony I know He's writing in our lives right now. But hearing of how Copeland's life and our story have affected you is like a balm for my soul. It is the only thing that in any capacity can justify how much pain I feel for her and the pain I believe we may still walk through. Thank you for sharing what Jesus is doing in your lives. Please pray He would continue to fill us up - to give us joy. I find that I often focus on how hard things are, how sad I am for what will never be, instead of reveling in the incredible experience I'm being blessed with as both Sellers's and Copeland's mommy. Not to mention Conor's wife. It is almost too much to process. Please pray that we will be able to enjoy this path. That the darkness will allow us to see the light we might have missed had things on our journey always stayed sunny and upbeat.

I am much more at peace tonight as we head to bed than I've been since we left the hospital. We have loads of family here who have graciously volunteered to watch Copeland and rock her while Conor and I sleep. I am so blessed.

See you in the morning...`

out of the mouth of babes



Praise the Lord for my sweet sister. I guess that's truly what a sister should do - bear your burdens and help you to get through. I am so thankful you all got the update you were looking for and that you might be able to feel some peace, along with us, that for now, we have our precious girl. I apologize for not being as committed today to writing as I've been; I think the exhaustion from last night has set in and despite the rest I got this afternoon, I'm feeling less and less energized.

I did want to tell you that the Lord has used Sellers in a mighty way today. When Conor brought Copeland upstairs this morning, she was anxious tp hold her baby sister. She did, in fact, come in our room when we were just waking up and asked if she could see Copeland. Although she's shown some interest in her, Sellers has also been a little reluctant to embrace the whole "new baby" idea... I think this is largely due to the fact that for so long, we prepared her that Copeland wouldn't be coming home. That we wouldn't change her diapers or feed her. We wanted her to be as ready to let Copeland go to heaven as we felt we would be. That strikes me as a little bit of a joke now. But we did what we could at the time! Last night, Sellers went to Conor and asked him if they could talk. She wanted to go and sit in a couple of armchairs downstairs - this was a specific request - and when they got there, she looked at her daddy and said, "Daddy, why does Copeland have to go to heaven?" He explained that she was sick and that Jesus would heal her completely, that she would get to run and play and do all of the things little girls should be able to do when they are healthy. We have been talking a lot about salvation with Sellers and what Jesus did for us on the cross, and Conor reminded her that when He died, He saved and healed all of us and that if we will believe this, we can go to heaven, too, because He loves us that much. She seems to supernaturally "get" this as best as a 3 year-old can.

I am deriving such strength from the way she's handled thnigs with her precious sister. I clung to the countertops in the bathroom today, I guess in the midst of a slight anxiety attack, and cried out to God, "How do I let Copeland go while at the same time try to mother her? How can I love her this deeply and still allow her, every single moment, to have the permission to leave me when You call?" Sellers seems to understand that her sister won't be with us for long but that while we do have her, we are called to love her and to make her happy.

We did get a visit from hospice care this morning and to his credit, Conor handled the situation much better than I could have. They are the ones we'll call when Copeland does pass, and they are the ones I will ultimately have to hand her precious little body over to. I hate them in a way. Sellers sat in the living room with Copeland in her arms, daintily stroking her cheek with the corner of her silk blanket. She looked up at me and said, "She loves it when I rub her cheeks." I sat down beside her and watched as she loved her sister for me, as she poured out her little heart and soothed Copeland when I felt so in despair that I didn't know how to. Then, she reached up and lovingly stroked my arm for a few seconds. "It's gonna be awight, Mama," were the words she spoke to me. How a three year-old can possibly know what her adult mother needs to hear I'll never know. But praise Jesus that she's been given something I cannot fathom, something I would no more give her the credit for a few months ago than learning to drive a car, and something I realize the Father knew I'd need from her so desperately that without it, I am weaker and less of the mother He intended for me to be.

from the sister

Since I'm related to this family and can call at any moment to check on them, but still am checking the site hourly for updates, I thought those of you who might not have the chance to call would like a little update. (And since Boothe and Conor gave me their sign-in info, I'm going for it!)

She's still with us!

I spoke with Conor about 20 minutes ago and his words were "she's doing good". Her color isn't back to where it was this time yesterday, but she isn't gasping for air or struggling - that they can tell. She's sleeping silently and seems to be doing better than last night. The hospice nurses came by today to check in on her and give a little comfort to Boothe and Conor, and all things seemed to be all right. The uncertainty of what the next hours will bring makes this news bittersweet, but lets us rejoice in knowing that she is still with us - not struggling and not hurting.

And can I also take this moment to tell you, first hand, how amazing Boothe and Conor really are as parents. They honestly strive to give their daughters the very best they know how and have thought of no one this entire week but their two girls. If we could all be as sacrificial and Spirit-led in the way we love our children, we would be amazingly blessed.

As you continue to lift up their precious babies, don't forget to mention them. Boothe and Conor are following where He's leading them and He is mighty to save. May He give them strength to walk through this journey.

love from Dallas
(no more surprise posts, Sis! I promise!)