For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. - Psalm 139:13-14


How You Can Be Praying: Part 2

When we first found out about Carter's condition, many people asked how they could be praying for our family. Such has been the case since Carter's passing six weeks ago. However, our requests have changed a bit as we have entered a new phase of this journey.

So, for you prayer people, here's how you can join us in talking to God:
  • Courage to grieve: We are discovering that everyone deals with grief differently, which is okay. However, always having the faith and strength to confront our grief and allow ourselves to feel it fully isn't always easy. Sometimes it's "easier" to just get distracted by something — exercising, dinner, March Madness, and the list goes on. We need the courage and strength to recognize our grief when it comes and to feel it fully.
  • Staying united as a family: In so many ways, God has allowed Ben and me to come together as a couple as we deal with Carter's death. But this doesn't come easily. Daily, we have to make sure we are praying together, talking about what we are thinking/experiencing, and allowing each other to grieve how and when we need to. And let me make this clear: Doing so isn't always easy. Understanding that Ben's grief looks different from mine has been particularly difficult for me to grasp. (I can be pretty thick-headed at times...thank goodness Ben is the very essence of patience.)
  • Grace with others: This request carries over from before Carter passed away and is probably even more needed now. Here's the best way I can think of to pray for this: "Lord, help us to see the hearts of others when they offer support and when they stay silent. Help us to remember this is a difficult situation and no one really knows how to respond. And when the response is awful, may we have abundant grace and love for that person." (By the way, this request is not a back-handed way of trying to get anyone in particular to respond differently. I hope it doesn't come across that way. But, if you're wondering what to say or do in situations like these, let me just offer one small piece of advice: Ask the person. Some people need distance; others need to talk. And the worst thing you can do, probably, is to assume one way or the other. So, just ask: "What is helpful? What do you need?")
  • Incorporating Carter into our daily life: Carter made a huge impact on our hearts and lives. Now, we need to figure out how to keep him and his legacy as a part of our lives while still moving forward. As time moves on, our grief has become somewhat lighter and less constant, which can be both a blessing and a burden. We feel some normalcy, but at the same time feel like Carter is slipping further away from us. Sometimes the intense grief moments make me, in particular, feel closer to Carter. Therefore, the lack of intense emotion makes him feel a little farther away. So, please just pray as we figure all these things out. We aren't trying to rush ourselves, and we don't even have a picture of what that "new normal" will look like. We will (and want to) carry Carter forward with us, but want to do it in a healthy, God-honoring way. 
  • Not being fearful parents: It's so easy to be overprotective with Cohen right now. I think I even feel it a little bit with Ben sometimes, too....that fear of losing him, too. Ben and I both need to put our trust in God with this. However, after losing Carter, the reality of how easily life can be lost is with us daily. So, it's hard not to try to control it. 
Overall, know that our hearts are feeling lighter. We still cry. We still hurt. Certain moments sting worse than others. And I expect this loss will continue to confront us for the rest of our lives. However, we do feel like we are moving forward and are hopeful for the future.

Last week, Cohen and I were able to spend several days at my parents' house while Ben was in Denver, and I think that trip was really healing for me as I was able to spend time with my parents and sisters individually. They were all a huge help with Cohen (which he loved all the attention, like a good firstborn would...), and each one of them were so willing to let me talk about Carter and how I have been doing. Plus, I think they needed to do a little talking of their own. I'm so grateful for them. 

I want to close this post with a verse I recently read (I've been working my way, slowly, through the Psalms). May we all cling to its promise: 
" heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure, 
because you will not abandon me to the grave,
nor will you let your Holy One see decay.
You have made known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand."
Psalms 16:9-11 (NIV)


Carter's Dedication

Last Sunday was one of those days I anticipated, but didn't quite know how to prepare myself emotionally for it.

Our church regularly has baby dedications, in which the parents bring their little babes (dressed to the hilt, I might add) up in front of the congregation as a public way of giving their child over to God and asking the church to keep the parents accountable and supported. Well, Ben and I were asked if we wanted to be a part of it.

We weren't sure at first, because (as I think I had mentioned in Carter's birth story) our pastor had actually led us in dedicating our son to God in the hour after he was born. Right there in the delivery room, with our family members, close friends, and probably a few nurses gathered around us, Pastor Steve read Scripture and led us in a prayer of dedication, helping us hand over our Carter Benjamin to God.
"Handing him over" - this phrase just hits me over and over again because Carter was quite literally transferred from his earthly daddy's arms into his Heavenly Father's embrace, as our son passed away just minutes after the dedication.

While this image seems quite heavy, I have to admit that I felt God's presence more in that delivery room than I have in any church, cathedral, or religious site. I don't say this lightly, but I honestly believe God made that hospital room, with all its beeping machines and monitoring equipment, holy ground for those of us who were blessed to be there.
A time that should have wrecked us as parents wrapped us in joy. In those moments, we felt a peace and a strength to surrender our rights to be parents to Carter Benjamin. This calm surrender was from Someone outside ourselves. I will gladly be the first to admit I would have been a train wreck if left to experience these moments all on my own.

Carter's dedication was so sacred to us.

So when our church asked if we wanted to take part in the baby dedication, we were filled with uncertainty.  What could possibly "trump" the dedication experience we had in the hospital? In our minds, we had already given Carter's life and our rights over to God, so why would we need to do that again? Would we just be drawing unnecessary attention to ourselves? Did we have the strength to stand up with the parents who had babies in their arms and not fall to pieces? We didn't want to bring a cloud of sadness over what was supposed to be a happy occasion for these other parents.

These questions and concerns filled our minds, but our pastors had a clear vision of how they wanted to incorporate us and Carter's story into the baby dedication, without trying to "rededicate" him in any way. As it turned out, the pastors wanted to first of all share about his dedication and also make it an opportunity for the church to do its part in child dedication: to keep us accountable and support us as parents.

So on Sunday morning, March 6, in front of our church family at College Wesleyan Church, Pastor Steve shared briefly about our child who had been dedicated to God but that the dedication was unable to take place at the church building due to Carter's short life. He and Pastor Jil (our children's pastor) handed us a red, unopened rose not only to commemorate the dedication but also to symbolize that Carter's life (much like that rose) would open up not in this world, but in a heavenly one. Then, we along with the other parents who were up front dedicating their babies to God shared a time of prayer, led by Pastor Steve.

Looking back upon this experience, I'm glad we did it. I was very anxious about it all Sunday morning, not knowing how I might feel when it was actually taking place. But, just like He has all along, God showed up and gave us the strength to do it and the eyes to see past our own painful world into an unseen one to which we dedicated our son. Carter now sees this other heavenly world with completely unhindered vision. In fact, that is the only world Carter has ever seen since he never opened his eyes during his time with us. That's strangely comforting to me.

While the church dedication service had difficult moments for us emotionally, we were honored to stand beside the other parents with their babies. Their joy did not increase our pain, because we would never wish our circumstances on anyone else. Moments like that one just remind us of our loss. But by hearing Pastor Steve share about Carter's dedication in the hospital, we were also reminded of our joy, of that sacred, holy time we spent with our son in the presence of God before He took Carter up in His arms.

We were glad to share with our local church family (and the greater worldwide Church) how we dedicated Carter to God, so that as we move forward in this life, we can continue to be held accountable to live in God's presence, just like we were in that delivery room. Even now, I invite you to be a part of Carter's life by helping us to be parents to him the only way we know how: by being his voice in this world. Please pray also as we continue to parent our son Cohen (now 18 months old), and ask God to give us the strength and wisdom to daily surrender our rights as parents and to give both our sons to God.


Hand in Hand

How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
  and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

But I trust in your unfailing love;
  my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the LORD’s praise,
for he has been good to me.
- Psalm 13: 2, 5-6 (NIV)

I'm trying to do my best not to write only on the rough days. We really have had a lot of sunshine (literally and figuratively) in the last four weeks. Each day brings a bit of goodness and difficulty with it. I'm doing my best to embrace both, for they are both part of this journey.

And really...I think they are both honoring to Carter.

Yesterday, I think Ben described our hurting as "raw," and I really couldn't have chosen a better word for where our emotions are most days. But this feeling of being raw, with open sores for all to see, is just a testimony to how Carter's short life was such a big one and how much we love that little boy. (Yes, I use the present tense "love" here. I still love the socks off of him, even if I can't hold him and tell him that face to face.) So while I may burst into tears without warning, it's because of the intense love between a momma and her boy. You just can't heal without some pain along the way.

And when we have less-painful days, when our home is filled with the laughter of visiting friends or when Cohen's toddler antics and attempts to talk keep us quite busy, these days are also a testament to Carter's life. These lighter days show how joy will always overtake the suffering, even though they often come hand in hand. We are able to laugh and have fun because we know Carter's short life was filled with a lifetime of love.

God's presence was never as evident to us than the hour and three minutes we had with Carter in that delivery room. The peace and overwhelming joy we had during our time with our son bleeds over into our daily lives, and we just have to cling to the God who gives such comfort. I think I am really just beginning to understand what it means to have joy in the suffering, to rest assure that while my heart anguishes over my loss, my soul is still at rest.

I'm so glad that joy (not happiness, mind you) transcends the good and the bad days. That something as quiet as night but as strong as iron keeps track of my broken heart, silently taking each piece and creating something beautiful out of each shard.

It may take quite a while, and I'm not always the most complicit with God's attempts to redeem this difficult situation. However, I find I have to cling to God's goodness and faithfulness. Nothing else gives me something to hold on to, to face both the good and the bad as they often walk hand in hand. Belief in God, even in circumstances like this, is not an option for me. It's essential to my daily survival.

And for a moment, let me just say to others who may find themselves aching in their own loss: I'm so sorry. From the depths of me, I feel your pain. In the quiet of the night, when you feel alone or like you can barely breathe, I'm right there with you. But, please, don't stop believing in God's goodness or His ability to turn our brokenness into beauty. If you are struggling to believe, tell Him. May we not allow the pain of our loss to turn our souls bitter.

With gusto and with tears, I cry out: God is good. All the time.