Messenger of Hope

IMG_6440.jpg

This sweet little boy turns one today.

This sweet boy, born into sorrow, has brought us immense joy.  And the story of how he burst into the world is quite remarkable.

It begins with a meek and humble prayer uttered from the lips of a big sister who wanted her mom to have a baby and an unsuspecting mother on pilgrimage to the Holy Land…a sacred place where long ago another unsuspecting mother was greeted by a celestial being and told her life was about to change forever.

In May of 2015 I entered the Basilica of the Annunciation.  Immediately, I was struck by the architecture.   The church is divided into two levels.   We initially entered the upper level.  The circular shape and the vastness lead one to contemplate the universe in all of its enormity and the magnitude of the God who created it…a God who, like the circle, is without beginning or end.  Tucked away far below, like a child nested in the womb of his mother, lies the grotto carved out of rock, where the angel Gabriel is believed to have appeared to the Virgin.

Our group began by celebrating Mass together on the upper level.  As we knelt before that altar in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament my eyes began to fill with tears.  I thought of Mary, this young and innocent girl, whose humble and simple life was about to drastically change.  How terrified she must have been!  How absolutely out of control she must have felt!  All of the plans she had for her life were about to be cast aside for a Plan far beyond anything she could have ever imagined.  As these thoughts raced through my head a still, quiet voice entered in.

“Do not be afraid.”

Weren’t these the words the angel spoke to Mary?  As I reflected on my own life, I realized that I had also been living in fear and uncertainty…trying to control so many things that I needed to give to God.   Did I trust him with my future and my family?  Was I really surrendering my life fully to Him?

As I pondered the answers to these questions, I felt a growing certainty that God was already beginning to orchestrate a plan in my life beyond what I had anticipated.  Even without medical confirmation or symptoms, I knew that there was a life beginning to form in my womb.  The very location where Mary learned that she would be a Mother marked for me the place where I pondered in my own heart the possibility of new life within myself.

After Mass, I descended to the grotto with quiet reverence,  keenly aware that I was about to enter a holy and sacred space.  This was the place where an infinite God took on flesh and entered into our broken world with all of it’s suffering and heartache.   I immediately fell prostrate before the small room carved out of rock where our beautiful Mother uttered her “fiat” and I meditated on the mystery of that moment.  Could I, like Mary, accept with grace and obedience God’s plan and trust Him to work all things for my good?  Did she understand the hardship and sorrow she would endure when she uttered, “Let it be done to me as you say?”  Did she know that she would one day watch her Son die a cruel death and hold his lifeless body in her arms?  Surely she understood that whatever God was asking of her was by no means easy and straightforward.  And yet, with gratitude, she accepted this cross.  In what ways would God call me to abandon my own plans for life and embrace the crosses that came my way?

As one day after another passed on this pilgrimage I became more and more aware of the tiny companion growing inside of me.  After our plane landed back in America, I hopped in my husband’s truck and declared that we needed to stop at the store to find out whether or not our family of six would soon be seven.

True to my instincts, the test was positive and I quickly began to feel the sickness and exhaustion coming on.  However, by God’s grace, this pregnancy was turning out to be much easier than any I had previously encountered.  The children were thrilled to learn that a new little one would be arriving soon.  I distinctly remember Evie’s face lighting up and her reaction.  “I’ve been praying for mom to have a baby.”

My mom and the girls went with me to our 20 week ultrasound.  We had determined that we wanted to know the gender of this little one.  When the tech announced that it was a boy we were all in shock.  After three little girls, we simply expected another one.  I will be forever grateful that Evie was able to be with us that day and have the opportunity to meet her little brother on earth, even if only through the images on a screen.

After discovering we were having a boy, we began to discuss what would name him.  Given my unique revelation in the Holy Land, Chad suggested we call him Gabriel.  Although not everyone was in agreement, I loved the idea and Evie was adamant that it should be his name.

At around 17 weeks, I began receiving weekly progesterone shots to help ensure that the baby would not be born prematurely.  Evie had entered the world four weeks early and Cecilia was six weeks shy of her due date.  The nurse came to my home and the girls enjoyed listening to the strong heartbeat and the sounds of the baby kicking the monitor.  Everything seemed to be going so well…all according to plan.  This little one would be welcomed into a big happy family and we were all eagerly anticipating his arrival.

But things don’t always go according to our plan, do they?

Evie didn’t live to see her baby brother.  Our big happy family became broken, and wounded.  We were devastated beyond comprehension and our lives were now shattered into a million pieces.

I wondered how I could possibly care for this new life growing inside of me when I could barely get out of bed in the morning.  I wasn’t sure I wanted that responsibility.  All I wanted was Evie back.  I could see nothing else.  How could I possibly be a good mother to this baby when I just wanted to curl up in a ball and sink into the earth?

But just when I thought life couldn’t get harder, it certainly did.  I awoke on November 22 with severe pain in my back.  I have never passed a kidney stone before but I knew immediately that I had one and it was trying to make it’s way out.  Chad rushed me to the hospital where I writhed in intense pain for six hours until the staff finally found a  medication that took the edge off a little.  The stone did not want to budge.  I was in various states of pain, nausea, and delirium for days.  By Tuesday I could barely breathe and discovered that I had pneumonia in both lungs.  On Wednesday, I started to go into labor.  Magnesium Sulphate was given to stop the contractions but to no avail.  My blood platelets were mysteriously low.  The baby was breech.  I would need to be transferred to a larger hospital and undergo an emergency c-section under general anesthesia.

As the doctors prepared me for the c-section they were sober about my state of health.  Nobody was sure exactly why I seemed to be deteriorating and there were plenty of risks involved with the surgery.  I remember the concern in my husband’s face as he kissed me goodbye, having just buried his daughter three weeks earlier.  As they stretched out my arms and put the mask on my face, I was resigned to any outcome.  I had hit the bottom of the pit and wasn’t even sure I wanted to wake up to the nightmare I was facing.

Again, I heard the still small voice whisper, “Do not be afraid.”

I wasn’t afraid.  I was at peace.

Our beautiful little boy arrived shortly after, strong and breathing on his own.

IMG_4775.jpg

I didn’t meet him until the next day.  When I first held him, I knew that I was embracing nothing short of a miracle.  He was absolutely beautiful and perfect and I instantly loved him with a fierce intensity.  Last Thanksgiving, when it seemed it would be impossible to find something for which to be thankful, I found my heart full of gratitude for the gift of new life.

We named him Gabriel Evyn.  Nothing could be more appropriate, both because of my experience in the Holy Land but also because his life had brought a message of hope to our family in the midst of devastating loss.  Of course, Evyn was chosen in honor of our Evelyn who was eagerly anticipating his arrival.  I could have held him all day.

IMG_0562.jpg

But that was not to be.

We were staying in different neighboring hospitals and I needed to get back to my room.  That evening, the back pain began to rear it’s ugly head again and it became evident that the kidney stone had still not made it’s exit.  I spent much of the night in excruciating pain.  The next morning, I was whisked away for a scan which revealed that the stone was caught and would not pass on it’s own.  I was taken to surgery yet again to have the stone broken up and a kidney stent implanted.

The whole ordeal seemed to be over.  After surgery, I sent out the following text to family and friends who I knew had been fervently praying and offering sacrifices for us:

Never have I identified with Jesus and Mary more than in this last month.  I carried a baby in my womb that Mary told me was going to be OK at the Church of the Annunciation in Israel.  I have lost a precious daughter as Mary lost her precious Son.  I have undergone extreme pain in my soul and my body.  I have been laid out on the operating table with my arms outstretched as if being crucified while preparing to deliver my son Gabriel.  I even drank the vinegar before the c-section which tasted a lot like what you would think something sour and awful would be.  My mouth was parched from the medication.  And now the stone has been rolled away!  Praise God for his mercies which are new every morning!  Praise Him for the home he is preparing for us in Heaven.  I even praise Him for suffering because it has drawn me nearer to Him and closer to my daughter and Jesus and Mary.  I love all of you so much.  You are the body of Christ!

It seemed I had reached the summit of this painful mountain.  But, there was no time for rest.  Another painful mountain loomed before me…the mountain of my grief.

As I sat in the NICU day after day, holding and attempting to feed Gabriel, the pain in my soul was greater than I could have ever imagined.  I bathed his tiny head with my tears.  I wept in the arms of nurses.  I missed my little girl and the sadness wrapped itself around me like a thick cloak.

Again, I wondered how I could mother this precious baby when I was barely functioning at all.  Surely he would be the saddest child that ever lived!

But as the days and weeks passed Gabriel was able to come home and I started to notice a small flicker of light and hope.   It became clear to me that this tiny babe, born into sorrow, had brought unimaginable joy and hope to this grieving family.

He was baptized with water that I brought back from the Jordan River.  It was one of the most beautiful events I have ever witnessed.  As our priest held him over the altar and sang Alleluia, I could feel Evie’s presence with us and could picture her beaming smile in my mind.  Surely she must have been rejoicing in Heaven!

Gabriel’s first smile was proof that there could be laughter even in pain.  And as he grew we realized that God, knowing the sorrow we were to face, had sent an enormous gift.  His siblings adore him and he has given them someone to cuddle and hold when they are feeling sad.  He gave us a reason to wake up in the morning and face the day.

This beautiful boy, with eyes that sparkle like Evie’s and a smile that could melt your heart, had been my constant companion on this painful journey.  I felt him moving inside of me as I held his sister’s hand and kissed her goodbye.  His little heart continued to beat as I wept and wailed.  He emerged from darkness and pain strong, perfect, and full of life.

God is good.  Even in suffering, God is good.  Happy Birthday to Gabriel, our little Messenger of Hope. You have brought so much light and life to our family.   We love you more than words!