Thursday, August 23, 2007

the end of the world and a gentle whisper

I know it's a bit abnormal for me to write something two days in a row. I don't know why I'm compelled to do it now, other than the fact that, in sharing it, you might pray more specifically for Conor and I.

As we sat up late talking last night, I listened to him describe what he feels the most unsure of right now. I was suprised - although now, looking back, I shouldn't have been - at his worry for me, for Sellers, and for my ability to get through this, as a wife, a mother, even just the girl he's known since she was 19. My heart ached. How can I carry that burden? I long so to be strong, to feel that sensation of rising and to know I will, in fact, get through this, that we will get through this and all will be well again. Soon. But as we approach September 18, I realize I am completely not up to the task. I've said this before. But as the days pass, I realize it - feel it physically, even - more than ever. We laughed at how we both, albeit unknowingly, have a strange, almost apocalyptic perception of Copeland's birth: it's like we both somewhat expect not to live through it. Literally. I saw a preview for a television show premiering on September 25 the other day and, without even realizing it, thought to myself, "Well, we'll miss that." It's like we are preparing to slowly begin a disintegration into - what? nothingness? - as soon as our sweet girl is gone. We know this isn't true, of course, but the feeling is there. And it seems strange to even consider that life - even stupid things like t.v. programs - will just keep on coming afterward. That our own hearts will keep beating. Looking at Sellers is perhaps the only evidence that God intends to make this so.

Listening to my husband talk about his worries for me, I turned to him and asked, simply, "Are you scared?" I admit I did so because I have never been so afraid in my entire life. I don't know what I wanted him to say, but when he turned and said, "No, I don't think I'm scared," I felt a mixture of immense relief and immediate concern. What does "not being scared" mean? Denial? Ignorance? Emotional repression? No. It just means we're made from different stuff - man and woman, husband and wife, Conor and Boothe. The burden I feel for him, to be the girl who used to laugh easily and run into his front door at Auburn, my greatest worry about a term paper, is there because I love him, because I want him to survive. And the burden he feels for me, to lead me through this incredible ragged landscape without scarring too terribly, is because he loves me. He wants me to survive. So just when we begin to see our differences, we realize our commonality is our love for each other - our deep desire to see the other live abundantly, to smile and giggle and know it will all, in fact, be okay. I know your prayers that we would be knit more fully together are being answered. Satan will not have this marriage.

I have believed that most of the challenges or "trials" I've walked through before (although, as I told someone via e-mail this morning, they all seem like breaths of air now) have been joint efforts between myself and the Lord. I bring what I can to the table and then He makes up for the rest. It's like that old adage, "God helps those who help themselves." I have liked that phrase, the sense of accomplishment I get from it, from relying, in some capacity on what I can actually do. But suddenly, it's total hollowness stares me straight in the face as I realize I have literally nothing - nothing - to bring to the table this time. I am completely, utterly unable to do this. A lot of Christians might say, "Yes, you can." No. I can't. Don't try to talk me into it. Conor and I are both incapable. And I don't mean that in a dainty, falsely humble kind of way. I can't do this. And yet, even as I hear myself speak those words aloud to him, as I hear the tears in our voices and the incredible sense of inadequacy choke out any strength I thought I had, I realize now is the time I will remember for the rest of my life, the time when the Lord showed Himself to me in a way I never, ever expected, never even asked for. If there were even a table to bring something to, I'd be lying underneath it right now. This will be God's doing. Pray that we, like Moses, will see Him act in a real, literal, even soul-shaking, way.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

keeping awake

My heart is so filled right now that I don't know if my fingers will type fast enough! I don't really have an agenda for this entry, although I know sometimes that lends itself to authenticity that otherwise might be missing from my words. I have to confess, as my little girl plays in the next room and "Robin Hood" blares from the television, I am hardly in a place that I would've expected to generate anything remotely coherent in my writing. Still, the words come of their own accord and I find that rarely will they return if I don't stop to set them free...

I know many of you check this daily, wondering what we're up to... what we feel... how we are coping. I want you to know that after August 3 (a date I remember vividly, as it was right before my birthday and also the worst I've had thus far), the Lord has quite literally been carrying me. The words sound contrived, I know. And perhaps, were I standing in some other season in life, I might doubt their possibility. All I can tell you is that I am doing well. Sad, yes. Disappointed. Still fragile. And scared of where we are headed. But somehow, the last few weeks have been not only tolerable but in a way, quite like "normal" living. I don't know if you would categorize this as emotional numbness. Maybe. I have told Conor that I am often sure God means to give me a "break" for a little while before the true struggle begins - the calm before the storm. Perhaps. I do know that He is leading the way into battle, so despite the quaking in my spirit and the weight of my own weariness, I will follow Him, if for no other reason than because my own fear drives me toward Him, unsure of the darkness I will face if I even attempt to turn away.

Thank you for the cards and the e-mails and the phone calls. I've met some of you for the first time since this journey began, and as I tell our story, your eyes well with tears. I am in awe at your tenderness, at how God somehow gives us the ability to feel for others when we haven't walked down similar roads. It is one of the mysteries of the human heart that I don't think all the science in the world will ever decipher; there is no reason for true compassion other than the Creator. These encounters are what keep my spirits bolstered. To have Copeland remembered is precious to me. This must be how our Father feels! I am convinced - because even I feel this way - that He is unconcerned with our words, unconcerned even if they are clumsy or insensitive. I believe He simply wants us to remember His Son. Even this morning, as I was brushing my teeth, I uttered a silent prayer that I have no idea how He intends to answer - "Keep my heart tender enough not to forget You." When Jesus prayed before His death, "Father take this cup from me," His disciples - His best friends - were a short distance away, sleeping. Though it was their sorrows that had driven them to exhaustion, even then, Jesus asked them to remain awake so that they would not fall into temptation. Perhaps there is a temptation in sorrow, a small enticement toward sin in our own grief. Perhaps it is the temptation to dwell so much on the heartache in our own situations that we forget the Lord.

Please keep praying. Pray we, too, will be equipped to remain awake. That we will not give sway to the deep emotions that will surely cause our world to rock in the next short weeks and months. Pray we will remember that truth does not dwell in the way we feel. Pray we will be kept from the temptation to spoil Sellers in the enormous desire to medicate our own grieving hearts. Pray that Conor will be prepared, even without realizing it, to lead us through the fire. Pray we will be united in our marriage and as parents, that Satan will have no foothold in our relationship at any moment. Pray that the time we have with Copeland will be blessed, precious, and that the Lord will take her home quickly, that our hearts will not be trampled with the agony of wondering, for too long, when her moment will come.

We love you all...

Monday, August 13, 2007

i'm not good with titles, either

I thought I would try this again. It is good for me to be vulnerable in front of the people who are praying for my family so fervently.

I have not cried for my child in about a month and half, and I cannot figure out why. I don't know what to think about myself. Do I not care enough? Do I not fully grasp what is happening? I wrestle with these thoughts because I have yet to understand how grief works in my own life. The other day I think I cried a little: I was thinking about all of the small things that God is about to walk my family through. I don't really know how to take care of some of the details that we are facing now. Do we need to fill out paperwork at the hospital for life support or to instruct them not to resuscitate? How do you set up a memorial service, what do I do with my child when she leaves this earthly home? I hope I do not sound morbid, but at the same time, I do not want Boothe to have to deal with any of this stuff, so I have to step up as the man, right? In moments like these, I really feel like a child. I don't want to call the hospital... it is almost like I'm waiting for my dad or father-in-law to take care of that for me.

I indeed recognize how God is changing my heart and perspective. This amazing little girl who I long to hold is changing my life - she is compelling me to make decisions as a father should for his family. The message at church this Sunday was about spiritual leadership. It was really powerful. The pastor said that there were three main things to pray for in our spiritual leaders: purity, passion, and one other 'p' that is escaping me at the moment (of course, because of my brilliant Diet -Coke-induced memory). But I would ask that you pray for me to lead my family in these purity, that i would come to my Jesus daily in order that I may honor him with my actions. And that i would love my family with passion. As we come upon these days, I want to passionately encourage and love Boothe and Sellers. I wish everyone who has ever read this blog could meet Sellers - you would understand how much she brightens our days. I am so in love with her.

I never thought that the little things were going to be the hardest, but thinking of them - that is when I am most upset. I understand things when they are tangible, like most men, I think. I am not carrying the baby in my stomach, so sometimes I lose sight of how real and how hard it is on my wife. It's in the little things that life really happens. And I am a little tired of the little things and of life - I truly long to be home with my Father. But at the same time, I am so thankful for the time I have here and the joy I have every morning with my girls. Life is bearable through faith and through God's amazing mercy and grace in our lives. It feels weird saying that we have joy in this time, but we do - a lot of it.

So anyway, my second attempt at blogging is a blessing to me. You are a blessing to me. Tears may not be pouring out of my eyes everyday, but that is okay with me. Copeland makes me proud. I will continue to smile about her sweet life as much as I can.


Thursday, August 9, 2007

Sarah McLachlan - World On Fire

I first heard this song in the early fall of 2005. I fell in love with the lyrics, but the video captivated me in a way only visual images can. It's powerful.

This morning I had my iPod going and this song happened to pop on, randomly, and I was suddenly transported back to all the times I'd listened to it, and reminded of how different I feel now.

I told Conor the other day that I never thought of myself as someone with a "ministry." I've probably dodged the word in any capacity for a long time. Not sure why. But as I think about this song, about the words, "the world is on fire/ it's more than I can handle/ dive into the water/ try to pull my share," I realize that ultimately, that's what ministry is. Pulling up the water for someone else's fire.

I've seen those commercials on television about children dying in other countries because of abject poverty. And I've changed the channel because they were uncomfortable to watch. Somehow, if it's a world away, in a land I can't touch or smell or see with my own eyes, I can justify the need I feel to ignore others' suffering. What is it in us that simply can't step into the shoes of those who are weaker than us? Whose heartaches will somehow tarnish the golden walls we've erected around ourselves?

Sometimes, now, I feel like the commercial. I see it in people's eyes when they don't know what to say, or when they say everything but what seems most obvious, most needed. And my heart breaks, knowing I am looking at myself.

Copeland is surreal to me. I feel her moving around and I know, to some extent, that she is living, that she will be, if only for a few hours or days or weeks. I have no idea what to expect her life to look like on this side of birth. But she has already changed me in so many ways. I don't know poverty or sickness or hunger as the people in this short video do. I can't pretend to and I won't do them the incredible injustice of trying. But I do know suffering. It has come to me in a different package, perhaps with a bit more gloss to it, but praise God, even that's wearing thin.

I don't know what ministry the Lord has for me, or for any of you. I do believe that the root of that idea is simply to love people well, no matter where they are or how they look, what they might believe or how they can help you. This is what Jesus did. And it's what He calls us to do. His suffering was real, intense, and excruciating - a word that literally comes from "crucify." He was a man acquainted with grief, as we are told in Isaiah. If He were not, how would I be able to find rest in Him in my own heartache? God knew that sending a Son who was all God but also all man was the only way He could show us - He relates. He understands. Brokenness and angst, sorrow and despair, were not unknowns to Him.

Perhaps the truest and most beautiful gift the Father is giving Conor and I through all of this is the gift of suffering - the gift of comradeship with a hurting and broken world. Pray that we might be sensitive to His gentle leading as we begin to embrace all that His vision for our ministry might be.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

no fancy title here

I told Conor this evening that grief feels like something living inside of you, or at least for me, it does, and that I have to get it out, I have to release it, even every hour or so, or else it starts to eat away at my joy and my peace and everything else that feels sane. So I walk around my house talking out loud a lot. I'm not praying, per se, just sort of chatting with myself - although I guess God, too, knowing He can hear it all, anyway - about what I'm feeling. I find it to be therapeutic to expunge my emotions verbally. This won't suprise those of you who knew me back in the days when I was prone to pick up a bar of Dove soap and stand in front of a mirror, doing a commercial for them. I've tried to do this several times in the years since and it doesn't come naturally anymore, most likely because I'm not really secure enough in myself to act like a total idiot knowingly, even with no one watching. Anyway, maybe idiocy feels more like comedy with a crowd. That makes sense, I guess. But that strain of my personality definitely resurfaces in this whole "talking to myself" business. I find that I'm actually pretty good at psychoanalyzing my emotions if I talk about them and I actually enjoy that feeling of introspection, seeing a part of who I am that perhaps I never had the time or energy or desire to really examine.

All that to say sometimes talking to myself can still get a little stale. And thus, I turn to the blog. So if you feel like I have become particularly verbose of late, just know it's not because I think most of you are just longing to know my every thought. It's simply that somehow, that creature, grief, has to be set free. And writing what I'm feeling down is just about as good as talking what I'm feeling out.

I am scared. Scared beyond any sense of scared I've ever felt. Friday, the day before my 28th birthday, was the worst day I've had so far. We got the word from my OB - Copeland is going to be delivered September 18th. We're "on the books," as they might say. I had 48 hours to process what it might feel like to actually have to pencil that in on my planner, that for most people c-sections are scheduled with a sense of excitement and joy, and that for me, it's like mindlessly agreeing that yes, we're ready to let our daughter die. It's strange. Will it all get worse - or better? I find that the anxiety I live with now can sometimes seem so unbearable that I actually have to remind myself to breathe. Which is strange. And a bit cliche, I realize. But I suppose like all the intense emotions we feel in life, grief has its stereotypes that turn out to be marked realities when once you're going through them. Having to remember to breathe has been one for me. Or maybe not remembering to breathe. Just finding an odd sense of comfort in breathing, like everything else in the world is crashing down but you can still suck oxygen back and that feels normal. The grief I felt Friday, the sadness, scared me. I had never felt that sad before. And it was physical. Exhausting and destructive and somewhat overpowering. It went away as quickly as it came, but the strength of it was such that I certainly don't look forward to it creeping up again. I feel like I should put up Post-It notes around the house with "Don't worry, it'll be gone soon" scribbled all over them. Just so I know that I'll get back to a good place again, at some point.

I have found that the crying is a lot like vomiting. It's one of those symptoms of pain and sadness that you know is bound to come, much like throwing up is one of the inevitable symptoms of being nauseated. And you also know that somehow, weirdly, once you've done it, you'll feel better. But it's miserable. I wake up each morning wondering if I'm going to feel emotionally "nauseous" - whether that impending sensation of crying will hang in my stomach and remain there until I've acquiesced and allowed myself to weep uncontrollably. The crying itself is sickening and overwhelming and at the same time completely cleansing. You're drained and there's nothing else to give so, for the time being, that 'nausea' you felt subsides. The grief creature is appeased.

Reading C.S. Lewis has brought about a new-found sense of inadequacy in much of the faith I've held for years, much of the evangelical Christianity that I've been cultured to accept as "real" or "solid" or "truthful." I don't feel that I can compartmentalize God anymore, or that I can handle this situation with neat little phrases that so often we toss about in times of struggle. I am not angry, necessarily, about this, just sort of disconcerted. Lewis wasn't American. Why does my Christianity have a red state/blue state feel to it? At the same time, the disconcerted feeling is also incredibly exhilirating, like jumping into a freezing lake or something - there's a rush of awakening that happens in your soul, a sense of relief, like there's more to the whole story than you originally thought. God isn't what you might have pinned Him to be in the beginning of your journey, no; He's more and better and not at all the somewhat ineffective deity I often make Him out to be. I don't think He's angry, necessarily, with our tendency to box Him in like that. I suspect it's just a bit annoying.

There's no real point to all of this other than the fact that I don't have to wander about the house tomorrow exchanging diatribes with myself about any of it. So that's good. Thank you for being willing to read. Someone told me recently that my blogs were kind of long and I just had to grin -- welcome to the world of all the people who've ever been asked, unwillingly, to edit my papers or articles or whatnot: I'm long-winded. I don't know how to say anything quickly or with just a few sentences. So enjoy what you can and pitch the rest. Just know I'm working on keeping myself afloat.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

a reversal

It is almost incomprehensible to me that I wrote those words a little over 24 hours ago. That news - the news of a possible due date, a day which we can prepare for our little girl's arrival - was like a small pebble removed from the center of a great, unsturdy heap. Slowly, but surely, it has all come tumbling down.

I find that the grief of knowing we will have her, only to let her go, is new and incredibly sharp. Conor bought me "A Grief Observed" by C.S. Lewis a few weeks ago, a book I confess I've always somehow dreaded even picking up off the shelf in any given bookstore simply because its title was so incredibly awful. There is no part of me that ever, ever wanted to go through anything that could be remotely dubbed grief. There is no part of me that wants to be going through it now. I know about God's glory, God's purpose, and I believe in them. But I confess that I often find so little hope in those notions. They are certain, as certain to me as the nose on my face, but their certainty does not always elicit anything like comfort.

Douglas Gresham, C.S. Lewis's stepson, wrote about his mother's relationship with "Jack", whom she married whilst in the throes of a fatal illness - one that took her life a few short years later. One thing he says that struck me particularly was that, in her time in Oxford, near her friends, near Lewis himself, when they lived in a quaint little house frequented by friends and constantly bubbling over with warmth, it all "seemed to be the beginning of so much that could have been wonderful." How I relate to those words. I suspect that grief, in its dullest form, is basically the very upheaval of anything we believe could have been wonderful, the removal of something that we believe would be beautiful, or needed, or loved, or hoped for. There is nothing astounding in his words; he simply meant to say what was true, even several decades later. Believing in God's timing, or His providence, or His purpose, does not change the fact that there are going to be great chunks missing in the vision we have for our lives, even a vision that cannot be swept away as ungodly or irrational or selfish. And when they are gone, the agony, we can be sure, will be deep.

To say that I am not up to the task of letting my daughter die is laughable. Who is? I believed that Copeland was the answer to two years of prayer, to the tender supplications of my three year-old at the dinner table ("God, please can we have a baby sister?"). I now feel a grief for her - who she will never be, at least before my eyes - that is exquisite. To know what might have been, even in knowing that every moment ordained for her was planned long ago, is the crushing part of it all.

I have no way of ending this on a lighthearted note. I have no way of making this seem like something it's not. Please know that my words on this blog are real, and what I feel is real - even when it's joyful or hopeful or peaceful. But the moments of despair and heartache are so frequent it would be wrong - deceptive - of me to keep them from surfacing here. And perhaps I find comfort in knowing that there is a human bond in the struggle to find something good in the midst of something so incredibly bad. Pray for our faith. I know that, as Gresham writes, "the stronger the faith the more savagely will Satan storm its fortress."

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

third doctor's visit

It is with great joy that I sit down to write to you. We went in for our third consultation with our OB this morning; I say 'consultation' because unfortunately, that more accurately describes it - at this stage in a normal pregnancy, there would be normalcies that take place in an appointment that sadly we aren't getting to enjoy. But my heart is full for several reasons: one, Copeland's heart is still very strong - 147 beats/minute this time! - and that is always a thrill, hearing it flutter away on the Doppler despite her condition. And two: our OB has been compelled, perhaps by the fact that I am now past 30 weeks, to speak with the perinatologist who diagnosed Copeland about when we can deliver. Perhaps it's just knowing that we'll have a day on the calendar we can circle and begin to walk towards, and perhaps it's because I am truly excited to see her, to hold her, if only for a short, short time, but that news was the best I've gotten in a long while.

We thank you so much for your prayers. I know I say that every time, but even this morning I prayed for all of you, that God would continue to stir your hearts to think of our sweet girl, to pray for her life - even that now, the Great Physician would choose to heal her - and also to pray for us, as we approach the day of her birth. I know it can be wearying, praying for others in hard situations... I find myself struggling to do so even as I know many other believers and non-believers alike who are facing so much more than I. But I commend you and thank you... if I could, I would sit with each of you and look you in the eyes so you could know what a blessing you have been and continue to be to Conor and I. Sellers is adjusting well to the idea that her baby sister is going to be in heaven, and for this we owe you, the saints, an enormous debt of gratitude. I do believe that God has bent His ear toward each of you and has heard the cries of your hearts.

With love and anticipation...