'But God said to me, “My GRACE is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9'

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Week one of counting my blessings

As I blogged about in my last post, I have been writing in my journal 3 things each day that I am thankful for. There are prompts on the One Thousand Gifts blog and website for ideas on what to write each day. Ideas this week have included: ways in which you have glimpsed the startling grace of God; ways you have witnessed happiness; things that strike you as fresh mercy; a light, a reflection, and a shadow; and something above you, something below you, something beside you.

One thing that has really stood out to me this week, that I am really thankful for, is God's beautiful creation in nature. Somehow it has fitted into quite a few of the daily categories :) Nature reminds me of God's amazing power, love, and grace. Which is comforting to be reminded of right now, in the midst of our pain. If His creation on earth is this spectacular, I can't even imagine how magnificent heaven must be! I'm sure Hannah is enjoying God's presence and beauty up there, and I look forward to the day when I can be there with her to do the same.

I have taken the opportunity to photograph some of the picturesque scenes I have witnessed in the past few days...

I particularly love this last picture. I captured the photo of this rainbow in our front yard this evening, as I watered the garden. Rainbows are a beautiful reminder of God's love and hope after a storm (as the first rainbow was in the Bible story of Noah). I love how God reveals Himself to us through his breathtaking creation! From gorgeous babies like Hannah, to intricate flowers, to beautiful sunsets, to powerful oceans, I can see the glory of God in each and every thing that He has created.

Oh and I just have to add this one last photo of something I was thankful for this week - my husband, and our cat Shiloh. Here they both are, watching the TV news at the end of a long day.

I am thankful to the Lord for so many of the blessings in my life. Yes I have a lot of things I wish were different, yes I'm hurting, and yes of course I wish Hannah Grace was still here with us, but God has and is gifting us with lots of good things too.

"Every good and perfect gift comes from above" James 1:17

Monday, 9 January 2012

One Thousand Gifts - Joy dare for 2012

I have never been one for making New Years resolutions. I like the idea behind them, but especially this year, I would have no idea where to even start.

However our pastor has named this year ‘The Year of Hope’, and I love this as a theme for my year. I want to have hope and joy in the Lord in 2012, even as I struggle through this journey of grief. I want to recognise Him more in each day.
I have been seeing a lot of comments online in the last week about a ‘Joy dare’ that people are doing for 2012, but until today I haven’t actually sat down and checked it out. This morning I finally looked up the website and read more about it.

It is based on a book called “One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are” by Ann Voskamp. I must admit, I haven’t actually read the book yet. Although I have heard very good reviews.  Ann has had a lot of heartache and pain in her life, but she believes that in God there are still gifts amongst the hardest times of our lives. The dare of the ‘One thousand gift list’ shows a way  to create a habit of joy, even in times of pain.

Her website says: “In One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, Ann strives to find the meaning of life and fully embrace the surprising truth from the final scenes of Jesus’ earthly life.  In the hours before Jesus’ execution, he took bread and gave thanks.  This fresh, heart-wrenching book unveils the long forgotten wonder that through the imitation of Christ’s thankfulness, we too can experience a life of joy.”

The dare is simple - to write down 3 things each day that you are thankful for. 3 gifts that you can praise God for. 3 things a day, for every day of this year. In doing so, you are cultivating a habit of joy.

Ann says this about it on her Facebook page: “Count 1000 gifts in 2012. You can jot the gifts down in a journal, on a blog, on a calendar, and share on FB, Twitter or not at all. You can collect them all on the free #1000gifts app and you can take photographs of each one -- or not at all. You can count the three gifts from the Joy Dare Calendar found on the blog -- or you can simply find your own gifts.

The means matters little -- just that gratitude becomes a habit and thanks to God becomes the default through counting 1000 of His gifts. Any way you choose to number or collect or chronicle -- however it's easiest for you. Make the discipline of giving thanks for gifts become a freedom to thank God all the time in all things!"

(You can see more of what she has to say about the Joy Dare on her blog, by clicking here, or more about her book on her website onethousandgifts.com).
This year is going to be another hard one for me. The pain from losing my daughter isn’t getting any easier. My baby is gone, and I never get to hold her again in this life. That isn’t going to change. But this dare is a way helping me see the blessings that I do have. It is a way that I can encourage the habit of having God’s joy, even amongst my deep pain. I don’t have to wait until my sadness is gone, which is just as well because that may never happen. I don’t have to wait until I feel ‘happy’ again.

I can have God’s joy right here where I am, no matter what my situation or heartache. I can have an eternal perspective, and recognise the blessings that God has gifted me with in and through Hannah’s life. I can be thankful for the love, joy, and grace that He is giving me.

I have decided to write my 3 gifts each day in a beautiful journal that a friend gave me for my birthday (thanks Jacinda!). It is called the ‘Amazing Grace Promise Journal’, and it has inspiring Bible verses and quotes throughout it. I have been waiting for something special to use this journal for, and this seems like the perfect thing. I have been learning about God’s grace these past few months, and I want to make the conscious decision to be even more thankful for that in each day. Grace is also Hannah's second name, so I love it ;)

I will also take photos of some of my ‘gifts’, and I will post about some of them here on my blog.

When I opened my journal just now, this is the quote that I saw:  “Much of what is sacred is hidden in the ordinary, everyday moments of our lives. To see something of the sacred in those moments takes slowing down so we can live our lives more reflectively”. (Ken Gire)

How appropriate! This is what the One Thousand Gifts Joy dare will help me to do. It will help me to see the gifts that God gives me each day, that I otherwise would just take for granted or miss altogether.

I know that having joy will not take away my pain. Being thankful will not lessen my sadness in missing Hannah. But it will help me to focus my eyes on my relationship with the Lord, and have hope.

If this idea has touched your heart, would you consider doing it too?

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

4 months on

It was this day a year ago, January 4th 2011, that we found out we would be welcoming our first child into the world later that year. Ironically, a year on, January 4th 2012 marks not just one year from finding out we were pregnant, but also 4 months since our precious baby died. So much can change in a year. How I would love to go back in time to this day a year ago - and once again have the joy and happiness we felt, without it being mixed with the sadness and pain that now threatens to overshadow our joy.

It is interesting the things that have changed in the 4 months since we said goodbye to Hannah Grace. Most people don't mention her as much now, and it's not often we get to tell people about our daughter. Some have gone back to treating us like a 'married couple without kids'. Instead people ask if, or when, we are going to have another baby. Do they realise that no other baby will ever replace Hannah? And that having another baby won't take away our pain? Some people expect us to have at least started to 'get over' our loss by now. But these people don't understand the depth of the pain we are going through, or the fact that we will never 'get over' our daughter. We do have to move on with our lives, and I think we are doing that as best we can, but we don't actually want to 'get over this'. Hannah is part of our family and our lives, and she always will be.

I have decided to post on here a poem that another 'baby loss mum' wrote. I can relate to most of what she has described. We do have such a new 'normal' that we are adapting to. Her words might give you a bit of a glimpse into what this looks like... 
Normal is having tears waiting behind every smile when you realize someone important is missing from all the important events in your family's life.
Normal is feeling like you can't sit another minute without getting up and screaming because you just don't like to sit through anything.
Normal is not sleeping very well because a thousand what if's & why didn't I's go through your head constantly.
Normal is reliving that day continuously through your eyes and mind, holding your head to make it go away.
Normal is having the music on the minute I walk into the house to have noise, because the silence is deafening.
Normal is every happy event in my life always being backed up with sadness lurking close behind, because of the hole in my heart.
Normal is telling the story of your child's death as if it were an everyday, commonplace activity, and then seeing the horror in someone's eyes at how awful it sounds. And yet realizing it has become
a part of my "normal".
Normal is having some people afraid to mention my baby.
Normal is making sure that others remember her.
Normal is weeks, months, and years after the initial shock, the grieving gets worse sometimes, not better.
Normal is not listening to people compare anything in their life to this loss, unless they too have lost a child. NOTHING. Even if your child is in the remotest part of the earth away from you - it doesn't
compare. Losing a parent is horrible, but having to bury your own child is unnatural.
Normal is realizing I do cry everyday.
Normal is disliking jokes about death or funerals, when you know they were once someone's loved one.
Normal is being impatient with everything and everyone, but someone  stricken with grief over the loss of your child.
Normal is sitting at the computer crying, sharing how you feel with chat buddies who have also lost a child.
Normal is feeling a common bond with friends on the computer all over the world, but yet never having met any of them face to face.
Normal is a new friendship with another grieving mother, talking and crying together over our children and our new lives.
Normal is not listening to people make excuses for God. "God may have done this because..." I know that my baby is in heaven, but hearing people trying to think up excuses as to why babies were taken from this earth is not appreciated and makes absolutely no sense to this grieving mother.
Normal is being too tired to care if you paid the bills, cleaned the house, did laundry or if there is any food.
Normal is wondering this time whether you are going to say you have a child, because you will never see this person again and it is not worth explaining that my baby is in heaven. And yet when you say you have no children to avoid that problem, or just don't answer, you feel horrible as if you have betrayed your baby.
Normal is avoiding playgrounds because of small, happy children that break your heart when you see them.
Normal is asking God why he took your child's life instead of yours and asking if there even is a God.
Normal is knowing I will never get over this loss, in a day or a million years.
And last of all, Normal is hiding all the things that have become "normal" for you to feel, so that everyone around you will think that you are "normal".

Sunday, 1 January 2012

A New Year - Entering with Hope

2011 is officially over.  I know many people are relieved about that, as it has been a tough year for lots of people we know. But personally, I’m not ready for 2011 to end. Yes it was the hardest year of my life, there’s no doubting that, but it was also the most joyous year of my life. Somehow those two emotions have mixed, and I think often both relate to the same circumstances. I can’t really separate out my ‘joyful’ memories from my ‘painful’ memories – because they are intertwined. 

In 2011 I went through the most painful and traumatic time of my life as I had to farewell my new daughter, but I can’t bring myself to say it was the worst year of my life. How could it be, when I welcomed my daughter into the world? God entrusted us with a precious created child of His. I became a Mum in 2011. Jeremy became a Dad in 2011. In 2011 I got to carry my precious daughter for 9 months, and spend a treasured week with her in my arms. We got to meet Hannah, love her, hold her, kiss her, pray with her, talk and sing to her, and delight in her. In 2011 our parents became Grandparents, our Grandparents became Great-Grandparents, and our siblings became Aunts and Uncles. Jeremy and I went from being a family of 2, to a family of 3. How could this year not be beautiful, when we have experienced the miracle of a new life?

Don’t get me wrong, I have cried more tears this past year than I could ever describe to you. But I didn’t want the year to end, because 2011 was Hannah’s year. It was the year we found out we were expecting her, and it was the year we welcomed her into our world. And because she was also welcomed into heaven, 2011 will be the only year we will ever spend with her.  In moving on into 2012, I feel like we are leaving Hannah behind. I know nothing has changed just because the date is different, but it feels like we are moving away from her. And that is so hard. I hate that I have to go on with life without Hannah. I wish more than anything that we were entering 2012 with her here. Or that we could at least go back in time, and hold her once more.

2011 had so many ups and downs, it is hard to process it all and put it into words. This day one year ago, January 1st 2011, was the first day I felt nauseous and wondered if it was morning sickness. A few days later, my suspicions were confirmed, and Jeremy and I were so excited to find out we were going to become parents! We did 3 separate trips up to the North Island over January and February; including a 3 week road trip, time with family, each of our work conferences, a music festival, and 2 weddings. Hannah was there with us for all of it, and boy did she make her presence known – I felt nauseous 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and threw up regularly. And this lasted for months!

February 22nd we had a devastating earthquake in our city, after already having had 2 huge ones in the past few months. But this time was different – 182 people were killed, and many were injured, and parts of our city were destroyed. I think we were all in shock at the extent of loss of life, let alone all the physical damage. And we are still having lots of aftershocks now, including a big one just 2 days before Christmas.

In March we went up North yet again, for a family wedding this time, and by this stage we had made our pregnancy news public. This trip also gave us a break from aftershocks for a week! Baby was beginning to show, and we received our first baby gift (a gorgeous outfit set from America).

In April I finally started throwing up a little less often, and having patches where I didn’t feel as sick – such a relief. Especially when I was bridesmaid for a friend! However soon before Easter, at a routine scan, we discovered that all was not well. Our baby had some major health issues, and we would have to wait until it was born to know what this would mean. There was a high chance that the baby would not make it to full term. Our world was torn apart, and we felt like our lives and dreams had been shattered. We resolved to trust God and take one day at a time from then on. In a further discouragement, the next week we were away camping and I came down with a horrible vomiting bug, and threw up more than I ever have in my life. It really knocked me back, with being pregnant too, and I spent a week on the sofa recovering. Then to top it all off, that week Jeremy’s Granddad died; so he had to book tickets and fly up to the funeral. We were beginning to feel like Job from the bible (an over exaggeration I know, but it was how we felt at the time).

May was Mothers day, and it was fun to be able to celebrate this as a Mum for the first time. Although it was hard too, not knowing if our baby would make it and be in my arms the next Mothers day. In June we had another 2 big earthquakes, and it felt like we were reliving the shock and clean-up all over again. Baby and I went with Jeremy on some of his work trips that resulted from the further shakes. From the end of June we also started having hospital appointments every week, to check how baby was doing – we had a very scary 8 weeks, but God was so faithful in answering our prayers during this time and Hannah continued to surprise the doctors by how well she was doing.

We had a huge snowfall in July, then again in August on the day of my birthday. Jeremy, baby, and I enjoyed some quiet days at home as we were snowed in; and Jeremy made a pregnant snow-women on our lawn. Friends threw a baby shower for me in August, and as I opened all the lovely gifts I prayed God would grant me the opportunity to use them for this baby. Then August 29th arrived – the day we were scheduled to have a c-section and finally meet our first child. She had miraculously made it to full term, and we were filled with anticipation and hope. We were overjoyed to hear we had a daughter! We spent an incredible week with Hannah Grace that was beautiful, but also heart wrenching. Our families got to spend time with her, and we all got to bond with her and get to know her lively personality. However on Fathers Day, September 4th, I held Hannah as she died. It was a long and traumatic day – a Mother’s worst nightmare. After only having her in my arms for a week, I had to give her back to the Lord. That day I lost not only my daughter, but also all my hopes and dreams for our life with her. And a huge part of me.

Since that day, we have been walking this long journey known as ‘grief’. We are attempting to negotiate life through the pain; attempting to ‘hold it together’ enough to manage work, home tasks, and social occasions. Trying to balance going on with life, with processing our grief. We have been trying to navigate our way through being new parents without a child in our arms. Attempting to keep stepping forward, even though many days I feel like I just can’t cope any more. And endeavouring to continue to include Hannah in our lives and family, and carry on the significant legacy that she has left. Our lives are so much richer thanks to her. She has inspired people all over the world to be lively, courageous, and encouraging, just like she was.

And as 2011 has ended, and 2012 begun, we continue to trust the God who has carried us through everything this year. Through all the joy and pain, we can rely on a faithful God who loves us more than we can ever comprehend. We don’t understand why He has allowed painful things to happen, but we don’t doubt Him. We are convinced He is still in control. And that He will bring beauty out of our suffering and brokenness. We are in awe of His love for us, and the extent to which He went to demonstrate that, on the cross. He has lavished so many blessings on us this year, and we have learned not to take these for granted. Without our relationship with Him I can honestly say I don’t know how I would be managing to go on with life. We are so thankful for the hope this gives us – both here on earth, and for an eternity spent with Him (and Hannah). On this first day of 2012 we want to dedicate our year to Him and trust him with whatever rainbows or storms come our way. We will strive to keep following Him and finding His joy no matter what circumstances may arise.

So as we go on into 2012, we bring Hannah Grace with us – she is still in our family, just sadly not our arms. Our love for her will continue to grow this year, and every year. And her life will continue to inspire us to love and serve the God who gave her, and us, life. The God who now holds her in His arms.

 Lamentations 3:19-26
19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
   the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
   and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
   and therefore I have hope:
 22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
   for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
   therefore I will wait for him.”
 25 The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
   to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
   for the salvation of the LORD. 
We read the above verses in church today; and this is how I want to go into 2012. 
With my eyes firmly fixed on the hope that God gives.