This is my story

Music is my love language. The lyrics of certain songs speak to me and when I sing (although not well-in fact worse since one of my vocal cords became paralyzed), I’m not just singing meaningless words. Songs are so much more than just good music to listen to. My Story has become one of my favorites recently. Especially the line “oh to tell you my story is to tell of Him,” not that my story is some amazing story of everything going great or having what I always dreamed of. In fact my story is far from what I would have ever asked for or even wanted. But when I look back over the past several years I can see God’s hand at work even in the times when I couldn’t get up off the floor. This post is going to be a little longer than most, but this is the start of my story and what God has done and continues to do for me.

If I told you my story
You would hear Hope that wouldn’t let go
And if I told you my story
You would hear Love that never gave up
And if I told you my story
You would hear Life, but it wasn’t mine

If I should speak then let it be
Of the grace that is greater than all my sin
Of when justice was served and where mercy wins
Of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in
Oh to tell you my story is to tell of Him” My Story by Big Daddy Weave

On March 10, 2015 I gave birth to the most perfect baby girl, Addalyn Grace, weighing in at 4lbs 5oz and 18 inches long, unfortunately, the doctors didn’t see how perfectly God formed her. They pointed out every “flaw,” but all I saw was my beautiful girl. They sent us home on hospice when she was 3 days old with a diagnosis of Trisomy 18 and a prognosis of a month at the most. Our first night at home was terrifying, to say the least. I didn’t know how it was going to happen; if she would die slowly or if we would wake up to her lifeless body. The nurse that came out our first night helped save our girl. She told us to join Facebook groups and find other families to talk to who had children with Trisomy 18. The way the doctors were talking I didn’t even know there were other people out there with children living. Once I found other families and connected on Facebook I saw how much hope there was. I immediately began my quest to do everything I could to fight watching my baby girl die. I was surprised how many doctors would not even see her or consider surgery for her because they felt it wasn’t worth it since she would die anyway. Once we got an amazing team of doctors together and had her heart repaired at 6 months she began thriving and really growing. We enjoyed 26 months with our sweet girl and during that time I grew so much closer to God than I had ever been and I learned what unconditional love really is. I constantly prayed for my girl and leaned on the truth in scripture that told me God’s plans are not meant to harm me and that He is with me all the time. During her life we spent many nights in the hospital with respiratory illnesses that often landed her in the PICU for several days or longer. She had multiple surgeries, one to repair her heart, one for a g button and a cleft lip repair, another cleft lip repair, her tonsils removed, and the last was to repair her cleft palate. She did so well with all her surgeries, except the last one. Her doctors thought she would rock it as well, just like she always did. The day before her surgery I was praying for her and the upcoming surgery. I prayed “God, I know you love Addy more than I ever could and that you are good. I trust whatever plans you have for her and give her over to you. If for any reason I shouldn’t take her in for her surgery, please make it clear. Please help put my mind at ease and give me the wisdom to know what’s best for her. Amen”

Two days after her cleft palate repair our world started to turn upside down. I watched as the doctors swarmed her PICU room and started doing everything they could for her. I fell to the floor as I watched them do CPR on her and deep inside knew it was the beginning of the end of her time here with us. They asked if we wanted to try and do ECMO (a bypass for her heart and lungs), and of course we said yes, but she required CPR two more times before they could do it and started having internal bleeding. The bypass was no longer going to be able to do enough for her to stay with us, so through lots of tears we said they could stop.

They brought a rocking chair next to her bed side for me to hold her until she was gone from this world. I held her limp body apologizing over and over for trying too hard to “fix” her when she was perfect. I no longer had words for God other than “please,” hoping He would miraculously bring her back and that I would wake up from the nightmare I was living in. It had been three days since she had her surgery. The one she was supposed to rock and come home from. Little did I know her coming home wasn’t to our house. It was to her eternal home in heaven.

I struggled, as anyone does when their child dies. I wanted to be with her and didn’t care if I kept living or not. Anytime I started praying out of habit I would stop myself and tell God I would not pray to him. When I did pray it was angry prayers to start with. I would tell God He owed me and better not let anything bad happen again. I don’t recommend doing that. It’s funny how much anger can change your thinking. I had to go back to the word and remind myself of all the promises of God that I always knew to be true and just tell them to myself over and over. My prayers slowly improved.

A little back story…before Addy died we were planning to foster to adopt. We had done all the trainings and just needed the last step of a home study done. We were supposed to call when we got home from the hospital to set it up. Obviously, that was put on hold. We had a baby room all ready (we were going to take someone younger than Addy when fostering) and it was so hard walking by not only Addy’s empty room but the empty baby room as well. It can time that we needed to talk about what our next step was going to be. We contacted to fostering agency and let them know what happened and that we’d call when we were ready again. But I had a nagging feeling that I still wanted a baby. We decided to try fertility treatments (my husband is a carrier for Trisomy 18 and we didn’t want to risk another heart break of burying a child again), after multiple attempts we discovered it wasn’t going to be possible to conceive. We decided to wait a year and start the process of adoption without fostering. I was terrified at the thought of fostering a child and having to give them back and being left with an empty house again. We had amazing support from friends and family (and some strangers) in raising the funds needed. We did all the trainings and had our home study done. I was already dreading the question that everyone asked “how long will the wait be?” We had no idea how long it would be and I was a little scared we wouldn’t be picked. We made a photo book of our story and I didn’t know if having a child that died would feel like too much for someone dealing with their own issues to pick us.

It was 3 months after our home study was finalized that we received an email that a baby boy had been born and they asked if we wanted our photo book shown. Of course we said yes, but this was the second time we had received an email like this about a baby already born and we had no idea how many people were in front of us on the list to have theirs shown also. Our agency told us up front they always show books of those waiting the longest first. A day had passed since we said yes and I figured she had picked someone else, but the following day we received a call that the birth parents would like to meet us that day (that in itself is a long story too). We packed and got there as quick as we could. It felt like an eternity before we were even able to see him. We visited with the birth parents after they signed their rights away and told them the name we chose for him, which happened to be his birth dad’s dad’s name. I don’t think it was any coincidence, I also don’t think the name was even in our hands. We agreed on a name within a few hours which we couldn’t decide for Addy for a couple months. It was another reminder that God had a hand in it and we were meant to be his parents all along. We asked them what made them choose us and the birth mom said it was because Addy had died. She had seen our photo book and was trying to decide when her nurse told her that she had lost a child and adopted after and adopting helped her move forward in her grief. It was then she knew it had to be us.

After visiting for a couple hours we finally got to go up and meet our son. It was the strangest thing ever. To walk into a hospital not being pregnant and have a child. As soon as I saw him I was in love. It was as if I always knew him and he belonged with us. The love I felt for him as soon as I saw him felt no different than when I saw Addy for the first time. I wasn’t expecting to feel that way immediately. I honestly didn’t know what I expected. We got to bring him home the next day after all test results came back that he was heathy. His birth mom smoke and drank while pregnant but it currently isn’t having any effects on his health. We are prepared to do whatever he needs if anything comes up in the future.

Once we were home and settled in we started thinking through all the things that were more than coincidences and showed how he was meant to be in our family. He was conceived shortly after we were told a pregnancy wasn’t going to happen for us, and also right around what would have been Addalyn’s 3rd birthday. I was dreading another Christmas without Addy but decided I needed to decorate anyway (We skipped Christmas the first one without her) so that when we did have a child it wouldn’t be as hard to do again. He came home 9 days before Christmas and I didn’t have to do last minute decorations for his first Christmas. The name thing is the biggest one that’s hard to get past. It’s not like it’s a common name for us to have picked his birth grandfather’s name for his name. I can’t even count how many times I’ve been told he looks just like me or his dad. It’s funny since he has no genetics in common with us but I think he looks just like his dad too. And he loves to talk just like his daddy does.

We went a year and a half after Addalyn died before our son joined our family and during that time I didn’t think I’d ever feel joy again until heaven. I know our joy shouldn’t come from our circumstances, but it’s so hard not to be effected by what’s going on in your life. I asked God over and over to let me see something good that wouldn’t have happened if Addy was still here. I desperately wanted to see the beauty from the ashes. The song that constantly ran through my head during those days was “there may be pain in the night but joy comes in the morning.” I still won’t say she died for a reason, but I believe God is working on redeeming and bringing glory to His name through her death. I haven’t felt like I’ve done a great job giving God the glory for all he has done for me, but I owe him everything. During the times I was curled up on the floor crying he has been right there with me, when the tears flow and won’t stop he is catching them and records each one, he intercedes for me with groaning too deep for words when I cannot pray. He also has given me a crown of beauty for ashes and has allowed me to see goodness in the land of the living. I praise the Lord for giving me more time than was expected with Addalyn. I praise him for being with me and for his reckless love that never gave up on me. I praise him for my baby boy who has brought joy back into my life. And I praise him for my husband who is always there with me through all the ups and downs of life. God does not change, He is good whether I feel it or not. My story is a story about God’s redeeming love and so much more. I can’t wait to see what else he has in store for us.

Broken Vase

I started a new book, “Mended,” in which the author recommended throwing a piece of pottery on the ground and then glue it back together. It seemed a little counterproductive but she said it made her feel better, so I gave it a try. After your child dies you’ll try almost anything that might help you feel better. My experience, unfortunately, was not the same as hers. It never is. She had a child die as well but no two losses are ever the same. You might share some of the same emotions and you do have a common bond with others who lost a child as well, but you can’t compare or know what the other is feeling or what will help or hurt.

I thought out my plan for breaking and putting back together my little vase. I put it in a ziplock to contain the pieces (which didn’t work) and went outside, ready to feel better after this little project. As I was outside standing there with this case in my hands I suddenly developed a strong attachment to it. I didn’t want to break it. It’s not like it was some important decorative piece, it’s been moved to various places to fill a space when needed, and I don’t even remember where exactly it came from, but when it came time to throw it on the ground all I wanted to do was hold on to it. I questioned why I would break a perfectly good little vase, but after a couple minutes I convinced myself to throw it down.

I watched as the pieces of the vase flew everywhere with tears pouring down my face (ziplock doesn’t make as sturdy of a bag as I anticipated). The majority of them stayed in the same general area but others flew over 5 ft away. It felt as if I was the one thrown on the ground and broken again. As I got down on the ground and began collecting all the pieces it felt as if I was trying to pick up all the pieces of my life. I felt a little frantic since it didn’t appear all the pieces were there. After several minutes I decided to just go back in with what I had and to come back out later if I needed to find more.

I plugged in the hot glue gun and just stared at the pieces, not knowing where to start. I decided to start with the pieces that still resembled pieces of a vase. The bigger pieces. As I was gluing pieces together, I was supposed to pray, but I didn’t know what to say. Instead I listened to a song, the same song over and over again and I let it become my prayer. I’ve listened to it many times before but this time I really paid attention to the lyrics (below) and cried as I put the pieces back together as best I could.

You’re shattered
Like you’ve never been before
The life you knew
In a thousand pieces on the floor
And words fall short in times like these
When this world drives you to your knees
You think you’re never gonna get back
To the you that used to be
Beginning
Just let that word wash over you
It’s alright now
Love’s healing hands have pulled you through
So get back up, take step one
Leave the darkness, feel the sun
‘Cause your story’s far from over
And your journey’s just begun
Let every heartbreak
And every scar
Be a picture that reminds you
Who has carried you this far
‘Cause love sees farther than you ever could
In this moment heaven’s working
Everything for your good
Chorus:
Tell your heart to beat again
Close your eyes and breathe it in
Let the shadows fall away
Step into the light of grace
Yesterday’s a closing door
You don’t live there anymore
Say goodbye to where you’ve been
And tell your heart to beat again
(Tell Your Heart to Beat Again by Danny Gokey)
As I got to the place on the vase that received the impact of being thrown on the ground I realized there was a piece missing. I went back outside looking for it but still haven’t found it. I find myself scanning the area every time I go outside still. I couldn’t leave a big hole in it though, so I used the pieces I had to patch it. They were the pieces that belonged on the inside of the vase, but that wasn’t going to happen anyway.
As I prayed and cried my way through putting it back together I realized I am the broken vase and there were going to be missing pieces that just couldn’t be put back, as much I was wanted them to. The night I was shattered to pieces (May 21, 2017) I had to leave the hospital with a piece of me missing, lying lifeless on the hospital bed. The vase is no longer as strong as it used to be. I definitely wouldn’t try to put anything in it. I have never been one to cry but since Addalyn left me here tears fall frequently and sometimes it’s hard to stop once I start. It’s like the area of the vase where the pieces that should have been on the inside are now on the outside. It’s a delicate area, even with the tons of glue that was used. The glue that has been putting me back together slowly is my relationship with God. As He continues to put me back together I’m not going to be the same as I was before. Every crack is a part of my journey and every glue-seam is God holding me together and reshaping me. Those seams are also what can allow light to shine through them.
My vase still resembles a vase but it’s lopsided and can’t be used for the same purposes as it could before. It’s purpose now, as it sits on my nightstand, is a painful reminder that God isn’t finished with me yet. The night I was shattered hurt Him too, and even with a big piece of me missing I can still serve a purpose and let Christ shine through me. I still think about that missing piece and will probably continue looking for it each time I go outside, but it won’t consume me. Even though this was a great reminder of who I am, it didn’t make me feel better. I am broken and will continue to be. If you glance at me you might not see it. I’ve gotten better at pasting on a smile when I don’t feel like it. I’m not the same person I once was who could easily shrug off what someone says that hurts. Words mean so much more than they ever have. Time is precious. I don’t just go because I’m invited anymore. I laugh through the heartache because when life sucks sometimes you just have to laugh about it. I sometimes have to put on a serious face to get through something that ultimately makes me want to break down and cry-even though I cry a lot I hold back even more. I don’t even recognize myself anymore. I wish I had a life that let me fade into the background and never get noticed. I don’t want to be living a life where others know what my deepest pain is. But, since I’m here, I’ll let God use me to hopefully encourage others going through similar heartache, or even just to let them know what you’re feeling is ok. There is no “normal” when your child dies.

Stuck in Grief

I’m starting to understand why people say year 2 is the hardest after a loved one dies. Lately I’ve been feeling stuck in my grief and no real desire to get unstuck. The first year was so hard but I also felt numb for a lot of it. I’m not numb this year. I find myself more often than not stopping myself from crying because I’m so tired of crying all the time. I’ve also found that stopping myself from crying leads to a build up that has to come out eventually.

Sunday was the day it started coming out again in full force. It was the 21st (Addy died on May 21) and it was also a Sunday (she died on a Sunday morning). Sundays are already hard but this past Sunday was a baptism celebration service…one more reminder of something Addalyn will never do. Not that it should even matter, she’s in heaven and being baptized isn’t what gets you there. But to this momma heart, it doesn’t make it easier. Since then tears have flowed easily and often.

At some point I will learn to accept grief is not something I will ever get past. I have to accept this is forever a part of my journey in life. If I don’t allow myself to cry when I need to, it makes it worse when it pushes its way out at the most inopportune moments. In a way I am stuck in grief because it’s not something I can escape, but the “stuck” I’m going through this time feels different. It feels like nobody cares or remembers that my heart is still shattered, while at the same time it feels like everyone knows and is looking at me as the “mom with a dead child.” It feels like a lump in my throat that doesn’t go away even after crying. It feels like the right words won’t come out (or any words) when I try to pray. It feels like jealousy of those who are happy. It feels like nothing will ultimately make this life suck less.

I know the things I should be doing that have helped me in the past but I don’t feel like doing them. I know when I’m running regularly and staying in the Word I feel the hope I have in Christ. Instead I find myself trying to change my surroundings with painting everything in sight. I love the changes, but it doesn’t make me feel any less stuck.

Thankfully, feelings are fleeting and I know I won’t always be stuck where I am right now. I will always grieve for Addalyn, but I won’t always feel stuck with no desire to get unstuck.

The hope I have in Christ isn’t about how I’m feeling. It’s about knowing he is my savior and he’s near me even when I don’t have the words to cry out to him. I know he loves me and I know it breaks his heart to see me hurting. I know grief isn’t something to get past or over, it’s something to journey through. I also know that while it might feel like an eternity of missing my baby girl, it won’t last for eternity. I will see her again and when I do there will be no more mourning or pain or feeling stuck. There will only be joy. Knowing what is to come is what gets me through the feelings of being stuck. It’s also what gives me my purpose in life. It’s not about me.

No First Day of School

I can’t stop thinking about what tomorrow would have been like. It would have been Addy’s first day of preschool with her bff, Emma. So many pictures would have been taken. She would be wearing the perfect outfit and bow, ready to meet her new teacher and friends. I was looking forward to this day before she died; her teacher already knew all about her and was looking forward to her being in her class (her bff told her all about Addy). But now, tomorrow is just another day that I miss my baby girl so incredibly much.

Once you make it through the first year after your child’s death you begin to think you’ve at least made it through all the firsts…but there’s always more. And why do we think that if we just make it through the firsts it will be alright? I suppose at some point we will just get used to her not being here, but I can’t imagine that ever happening. Every holiday or event just reminds me of what it could have been like if she was still here. I wish we could be getting her ready for her first day of school tomorrow, and stay up late talking and laughing about it, in true Addy fashion. Instead I will probably struggle to sleep and go to my second week back to school, teaching. I’ll put on a smile and try my best to be joyful while I grieve not getting a first day of school with my big girl.

Grief Changes Everything

Some things that change because of grief are obvious, things like always missing your child, holidays not feeling complete, and feeling a sadness that’s always there even through the laughter.

Things you don’t expect to change are things like feeling completely alone when surrounded by people, people disappearing from your life, being avoided by those who know but don’t know what to say, and feeling like no one else understands what you’re going through. Unless you’ve been there, it’s hard to understand how someone can feel so alone when surrounded by friends and family. While I have lots of people who offer encouragement and prayers on social media, I don’t have many who actually show up and want to be around me anymore. Invitations to events or to just hang out have pretty much gone away. Nobody really wants the people with a dead child at their party…talk about a downer. People avoid me like the plague fairly often. Very few people know what it’s like to burry a child and those who do know still don’t know what I’m going through because every situation is different. I’m starting to understand why people say the second year is the hardest. Any support that once existed goes away. You have to figure out how to keep going; it’s expected. People will let you down over and over again. It sounds great to be able to rely on others in a time of need, but just like me they’re human and they will make mistakes. We hurt those around us and say stupid things. The only one I can count on no matter what is my Creator. Satan loves it when we have all these feelings of being let down by others. He wants us to feel alone and isolated. He wants us to feel defeated and just give up on life. If there ever was a reason to give up on life, the death of your child is definitely a good one. But I don’t want to just give up. I don’t want the actions (or inactions) of others to effect who I am meant to be.

I don’t believe God took Addalyn for a reason, but I know He can use her death for a greater purpose. I have found those who have experienced the death of a child or close loved one (I don’t mean grand parents-we expect them to die before us, it’s not unnatural) are the best support and tend to stick around. I hope that one day people can say that about me. I know I’m not there yet, but I’m trying to get there. It takes more time than you could imagine to get to a point where you feel like you can actually do something to help others after the death of your child. It’s also really easy to use that pain as an excuse for not doing anything for others. One day I hope to look back and see how God was able to grow me into a better person, rather than a bitter angry person.

“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” -2 Corinthians 1:4

I’ll love you forever

“I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.”

It’s hard to understand just how true that statement is until you’ve outlived your child. Sure, I would have always considered Addy my baby even if she had lived to be 20, but when your child dies at 2 all you have are memories of your baby. You don’t have childhood memories, you don’t have teenage memories, you don’t have all the memories that you’re supposed to when you outlive your child. She’s forever my baby.

Some nights I stay up all night trying to remember things. I’ll get stuck on a detail like “what bow did she wear when we were at the zoo?” or “how much did she weigh at her last checkup?” When your baby is gone all you have are the memories and you cling to every detail in them. That’s also what often brings on the panic attacks, when I can’t remember something about her. I want so badly to hold on to every moment we had together but as the days pass by the vividness of the memories fade. My husband and I were talking about Addy last night and how her smell is the first thing that has gone from our memory. I can’t tell you what she smelled like anymore. It was most likely vomit (she vomited pretty much every day) and her body wash/shampoo, but I don’t know that I could pick it out if I smelled it again.

It’s hard to accept that memories fade. I found the little bag with the locket of hair they cut off right after she died at the hospital. I was so happy I came across it and thought “I get to smell my baby again!” But when I opened it there was no smell, not even the slightest scent of anything. That ended my productivity for the day. I can’t even tell you how many times she fell asleep on my chest or right beside me in bed and I would just breathe in her smell; but now it’s gone. It makes me wonder what will go next. Will I forget how she would make it so difficult to hold her on your hip by leaning backwards, will I forget her snorting that she mastered by making her cleft uvula flap together, will it be her laugh, the way her kisses felt, or her soft yet bumpy skin? I know more things will fade. “Grief brain” is a real thing. It takes more effort than ever before to get my words in the correct order when I speak and sometimes after I’ve said something I have to think through whether I said it correctly or not. My baby took a piece of my heart with her when she left, but I think as one last joke she took a piece of my brain too. She always loved teasing us so I wouldn’t expect any less (not really…I don’t actually believe she has any supernatural powers).

When certain details of a memory fades away I try to think about what she’s doing right now instead. So many things come to mind. She’s walking and running! She’s dancing and singing! She’s swinging on the tallest swing set ever! She’s praising God and doesn’t feel any pain or have to struggle to do what comes easy for most. The most recent one that popped in my mind…maybe she’s up there naked. I always picture her clothed but who’s to say she’s wearing clothes? She would actually prefer to be naked, and that’s how God brought people into the world, so maybe they are in their completely natural state in heaven. I don’t know for sure what she’s doing in heaven and my imagination most likely doesn’t even come close to touching the magnificence she’s experiencing. I do know she got to touch the nail pierced hands that gave me a reason to hope. While my pain and grief will last until I see her again I won’t allow it to consume me. I’ve learned to live with it; I now know how to breathe with a piece of me missing. I have found joy in my sorrow, which I never thought would be possible.

There may be pain in the night but joy comes in the morning.

A Year Later

May 21 will always be one of my least favorite days to think about. That’s the day my baby girl danced into heaven. I wouldn’t want to take her away from what she’s experiencing in heaven, but it hurts so much to miss her so badly every day. It’s now been over a year since I held her in my arms, since I got to feel that crazy curly hair and her silly giggles, and since she looked me in the eyes with a love she didn’t have to verbalize.

I continue to learn from my baby girl and I continue to cling to God to make it through. Over the past year I’ve learned how physical the pain from grief is. The week Addy died I literally couldn’t walk and had to have help because my legs and knees were so weak they couldn’t support me; it felt like I had run a full marathon and that recovery from it wasn’t coming (I could walk better in the days after a marathon than I could after Addy left me). My vocal cords have also taken a hit. I continue to have paralysis in my right vocal cord, but thankfully can still speak (just more scratchy sounding than normal-but I think it is my new normal). I live with a pretty constant lump in my throat, that feeling you get when you try to not cry. I’ve also found that frequent crying can lead to tear duct inflammation; I have inflamed and sore tear ducts about once a month, and it takes about a week for it to go away again. I’ve also found the human body can actually live on very limited sleep. Night time is still the hardest time, I struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep. Many days I’m functioning on 3-4 hours of sleep, it’s like having an infant but no baby to hold. The last thing that I ever thought grief would effect is my ability to have more children. Maybe it was happening anyway, but I’ll never know for sure. What I do know is I’m getting to enjoy some of the early symptoms of premature menopause, with my least favorite being night sweats (as if sleep wasn’t hard enough to come by as it is). I don’t share all these things for attention or pity. I Share them so that others will know how much it effects you on not just an emotional level, but it’s also a very physical level as well. Not that everyone will experience the same things I have, but regardless of what they experience, it isn’t just an emotional pain. The pain is also physical when your child dies. I’ve learned to navigate the emotional over the past year (to some degree it’s easier than managing the physical). I’ve had to harden myself so that I don’t cry at the drop of a hat, and I’ve also learned that I have to say “no” to a lot of things. It doesn’t take much for me to feel extremely overwhelmed by simple tasks, and start having panic attacks. The panic attacks are probably the hardest to navigate still. My heart starts racing and I just know in my gut that there’s something extremely important that I’m forgetting to do. It feels like it’s a life-altering thing that must be done and I must remember what it is. Once I finally convince myself there isn’t something life-altering that I’m forgetting, I can get control again. It’s pretty hard to convince myself sometimes, other times I can recognize what is happening and get through it quicker. With all the things that have changed in me over the past year, and all the daily struggles, I know it sounds like a pretty miserable life, but it’s not. Through all the pain and heartache that follows me everyday, and always will, there is also immense joy and laughter. My joy doesn’t come from anything this world can offer. My joy comes from the Lord and knowing that He understands my suffering, He has never left my side, even when I refused to talk to Him right after Addy died. He continued to pursue me and put people in my life that could help me navigate this new normal. He has restored my laughter and has given my life purpose outside of caring for Addy.

I was dreading the one year mark coming. I had two of my nephews spend the night the night before and I cleaned the house as the younger one followed me around leaving trails of food on my clean floors. Lol. We finished out the night with multiple games of Mouse Trap…which isn’t super fun when you have a 6 year old that’s an incredibly sore loser (but it’s not a game you can rig to make him win!!!!). We also talked about what Addy might be doing in heaven right now…we decided she’s not wearing a headband-her hair is wild and free, she might be flying around, she’s definitely running, she might be able to see us (or she might be so busy up there playing and praising God that she doesn’t, after all time is different in heaven) and she’s the same size she was when she left us. I think that was my favorite conversation with my youngest nephew ever. The next day I painted the shutters on our house (super random, but I needed our house to have a splash of color), we made chocolate chip muffins for breakfast, and my sister came over with the other nephew and niece. The plan was to give them the photo books I made for them (they have photos of just them and Addy), and then go do 18 acts of kindness for Trisomy 18. After we gave them the photo books things didn’t go as smoothly. It’s harder for kids to navigate their emotions and to know what to do with them. The youngest had made some paintings of Addy while I painted the shutters and was trying to finish them and tore a page. You would have thought it was the end of the world. He was so heartbroken over it and fixing the page didn’t make it better. Once he calmed down again we went out with the goal of 3 acts instead (for Addy’s age). We put a card with her picture (that was also the youngest’s idea) with $5 on a menu at Sonic and ordered some drinks, of course. After that we were driving to find our next spot and found in a neighborhood a “prayer post” in someone’s yard, so we put a Starbucks gift card with Addy’s card on it. Our last stop was the park where the kids played for a while and when we left we put another Starbucks gift card with Addy’s card on a park bench. What I loved about the final one was that it was a park that had been made for everyone, including those in a wheelchair. We finished out our day with dinner with the family and then a trip down the road to the cemetery. We put fresh flowers on Addalyn’s grave and had a balloon release for her. What was most surprising to me is that I only cried twice the whole day. I was expecting to be more emotional, but my focus was more on helping the kids get through the day. If I had spent it at home alone, which is what I wanted to do, I would have stayed in bed eating and watching Friends, and I’m sure there would have been a lot more tears. However, I was instructed that I must have a plan that didn’t involve lying around by myself. When I put the focus on helping others it makes it easier to navigate my way through my own grief. So, here I am on the other side of a year. We are now in the process of adopting and I can find joy and laughter in the small things again. I didn’t think I would ever be able to be joyful again. I was so angry with God, but through reminding myself of His promises and what I know about His character, I’ve grown closer to Him than ever before, and while I will never think any reason for Addy dying is a good one, I do know He is a good father. He is with me, He understands my pain, and He does have a plan for my life. While I’m here on earth I will continue to seek after His will for me until He calls me Home.