Saturday, January 9, 2010

Remembering the Past and Rejoicing in the Present

January 9th is usually a difficult day for me. On this day six years ago I was at such a place of brokenness that I honestly thought I'd never be the same. But for the first time since that day, the 9th came and went without tears. Perhaps it's because we've had such a precious week followed by a special Saturday. (I spent the day getting my girls ready for a sweet daddy/daughter dance and spent the evening with my boys playing games and reading books by the fire.) Perhaps it's because I'm living proof that God can heal all wounds. Perhaps it's because God's goodness and mercy abound in my life.

In honor of two special blessings in my life--one who had a birthday today and another who celebrated his birthday last week, I decided to dust off another Christmas letter from the past. (I laughed when I reread it because even back then I was using Disney World analogies. I promise to lay off the Mickey Mouse references for a while.)

I shared bits and pieces of this story when I first started my blog. (You can find it at "From Paper Rain Clouds to Glorious Rainbows.") But this letter will fill in a lot of details of our lives that I haven't had the chance to share.

You may need some tissue to get through it, but I promise it has a happy ending that only God could have written.

So Grateful for Every Gift from God,

Dear Family and Friends,

The most frequently asked question of our December 2004 was “Where’s the Williams’ Christmas letter?” (With “Are you STILL pregnant?” being a close second.) Well, we needed the last minutes of 2004 to play out before we sent our annual update.

As you’ve probably experienced in your own lives, some years are so predictable you could almost write the Christmas letter the previous January. And other years feel like a rollercoaster ride with its highs and lows, twists and turns--leaving you in suspense as the journey unfolds.

If life were a trip to Disney World, then we’ve spent the past year riding Space Mountain. You know, the ride where you travel in an aluminum can in utter darkness as every few seconds you plunge to you death with nothing but a “safety bar” keeping you from impending doom.

To many of you this may sound like a lot of fun, but I’m an It’s a Small World kind of gal. I like riding in a boat that only moves an inch per minute while small robotic children adorned in colorful costumes sing softly. Safe with short lines and air conditioning. No surprises and nothing scary (except the song that never leaves your subconscious).

But early last year we realized we were no longer in Fantasy Land. We were busy getting read for the birth of our baby boy due Valentine’s Day when one morning I realized I wasn’t feeling the baby kick. Although I was concerned, I figured there was some logical explanation for the decrease in activity. After all, no one (except on the TV show “ER”) loses a baby so close to their due date.

Brad held my hand in the hospital room as they did an ultrasound. After a long silence the doctor told us what was too painful to fully comprehend, “I’m sorry, but there’s no heartbeat.”

We held each other and wept. Then the magnitude of what was ahead came crashing upon us. That I would have to deliver a baby that would never cry. That we would leave the hospital without our precious son. That we would have to tell my mother who had cancer and was trying to live just long enough to welcome her first grandson. That we would have to tell two little girls that their baby brother had gone to heaven.

And so, I found myself on a ride I hadn’t volunteered for. I bargained with God: “I don’t meet the height requirements for I’m short on faith, strength, and courage. I want the boat that goes nowhere--or maybe I could handle something along the lines of the teacups. But this is more than I’m humanly able to bear!”

On the ride of life there are two kinds of passengers. There are the ones who rely on their own strength to make it through. They sit as stiff as mannequins and hold onto the safety bar until their fingernails dig deeply into the palms of their hands. They ride silently or scream in terror as they suffer through the bone-jarring jerks and plunges. They grow bitter because this is not what was expected or deserved. They feel angry and helpless because this ride has no steering or brake--no way to control what comes next.

And then there are the passengers who rest in the knowledge that there’s a man in charge of the rollercoaster who will ensure the safety of each rider--that each minute of this journey was carefully planned and perfectly orchestrated. You’d recognize these passengers as the ones who lift their hands above their heads and squeal with laughter. They seem to know that if they surrender to the plan of the One who created this ride that this will be a time to appreciate not endure, not a trial but an adventure, no matter how dark the tunnels, high the hills, or low the valleys.

As Brad and I sat in our hospital room on January 8, we knew the ride had already begun. We weren’t sure how long it would last or how it would end, but we knew that our only choice on this journey was what kind of passengers we would be. So we lifted our hands to our Heavenly Father and said, “We will rest in You if You will carry us.”

He carried us through the next 24 hours. We delivered our son the evening of January 9 and learned the reason for his death was an umbilical cord knot. We named him Luke Dixon. Luke because it means “light”--for he had been our light during a dark year--and Dixon after my mom, Dixie, because he would be her baby for eternity.

She made it to the hospital and held him. It is how I imagine them together in heaven. And on January 12 we had the most beautiful baby dedication for him--a celebration of the 35 weeks we got to love him and the gift he will always be in our hearts.

God continued to carry us through February and March. Already so broken from our loss, we held each other tighter. We knew that my mother’s days with us were few. We cherished each word, hug, and moment--we had the gift of one more slumber party, one more boat ride on the lake, one more snowfall, and many “I love yous.”

She told us not to look for her at the cemetery. Instead we would find her love notes written in the sunsets, her hugs and kisses delivered by the birds on our windowsill, and her music played through the laughter of her grandchildren. On March 11 she joined her grandson and her mother at the feet of Jesus. Not because she had lost her battle with cancer, but because she’d been granted her eternal healing.

Okay, by now you’re probably regretting ever opening your mailbox. This year’s letter is better suited to be a Lifetime movie than correspondence between friends. Fortunately, our ride wasn’t all downhill. (This was Space Mountain, not the Tower of Terror.) We believed in God’s wisdom and had hope that good things were coming. After all, the 23rd Psalm doesn’t end with “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” It ends with “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow.”

We got a glimpse of His goodness in May when we found out we were pregnant again. After weeks of hearing our little girls pray, “God, please give us another baby,” we were truly grateful for this answered prayer.

And so we began our time of waiting. There’s something significant and necessary about the wait between the valley of the shadow of death and the goodness and mercy that follows. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years before they reached the Promised Land. The world waited 2000 years for the Messiah. There were three days between Christ’s death and resurrection. And there would be one year between the loss of one child and the birth of another--our due date in 2005 was the day we lost Luke in 2004. What a special gift that God would grant our goodness and mercy within one year.

But waiting for God’s goodness is hard. How difficult it was to start over--going from third trimester back to first. I don’t do pregnancy gracefully--my morning sickness usually took encores in the evening. So I spent last summer kneeling at God’s throne and the porcelain throne. And last fall my days and nights were consumed with counting kicks, contractions, and the calendar. But our weeks in the wilderness kept us leaning on each other and dependent on our Heavenly Father. We continued to rest in Him and He continued to carry us.

Just like the rollercoaster, our lives seemed to travel at the speed of light, yet each minute seemed excruciatingly endless. And soon we were back where we had started--celebrating Christmas being “great with child.”

We were hoping our new baby would come by Christmas. The holidays were difficult without Baby Luke, my mother, and my grandmother. The girls must have sensed my sadness because one day they speculated. “Gigi, Grandmother Little, and Baby Luke aren’t missing Christmas, because I bet in heaven every day is Christmas.” I told them that they are so right. And since Christmas represents the celebration of God’s outpouring of love on us, in a way, every day on earth is Christmas, too.

We decided to leave up our Christmas decorations until our “gift from God” was delivered. And after we rang in the new year with sparkling grape juice and tossed confetti, I went into labor.

We went to the hospital New Year’s Day. As I waited for my labor to progress and hear the magnificent announcement of 10 centimeters, I reflected back on my past gifts from God.

I remembered holding my girls for the first time--such overwhelming joy over these amazing miracles. With cone-shaped heads, splotchy skin, and sprouts of wild black hair, they looked more Chia Pet than Gerber baby. Yet, I remember thinking when each of them were placed in my arms, “Wow. She must be one of God’s greatest masterpieces.” I couldn’t believe that out of all the women in the world, God had chosen me to be their mother. And although not a typical lullaby, my grateful heart could sing nothing but the simple tune, “God Is So Good.” (You may remember from past letters that the term “tone deaf” is a gross overestimation of my vocal ability. Thus I sing on a Vacation Bible School level.)

Then I remembered a year ago when Luke was delivered. There was nothing but silence till my midwife asked, “Do you want to hold him?”

I wasn’t sure how to answer. Would it be too painful to hold a child I couldn’t keep? Maybe it would be better not to see him--perhaps to pretend he never existed. But I knew later I’d wonder what he looked like and regret not saying good-bye. So I nodded and she placed him in my arms.

At 5 pounds, 11 ounces, he was smaller than his sisters, yet he looked complete . . . precious . . . perfect. I held back my tears so I could study his sweet face. I knew these few moments with my son would have to last me till our reunion in heaven. As I held him in my arms I thought yet again, “Wow. He must be one of God’s greatest masterpieces.” Then I remembered that as his mommy, I owed him a lullaby.

I waited till we were alone. I thought some might think it crazy to sing to a baby already at peace and I didn’t want to leave the hospital in a straight jacket. Then in my shaking voice barely above a whisper I began, “God is so good, God is so good, God is so good, He’s so good to me.” But this time I sang not with a grateful heart, but a broken one. This time it was not a proclamation of His goodness, but a reminder of His mercy. I sang until I could no longer contain my sorrow and anointed his tiny head with my tears.

And there we were again, starting 2005 the way we began 2004 . . . in the hospital. But this time we weren’t waiting for death. We were waiting for life. We were once again surrounded by angels disguised as nurses and midwives, being prayed over by a host of family and friends. I looked out my hospital window to see the most glorious sunset and to be reminded that my mother, grandmother, and Baby Luke were with us in spirit.

Then on the evening of New Year’s Day, our eight pounds of goodness and mercy was born. The only sound sweeter than “It’s a boy!” was his newborn cry. And when they placed him in my arms I thought, “Wow. Not only is he one of God’s greatest masterpieces, he’s proof that my Redeemer lives.”

My retired lullaby was reinstated as the anthem of my heart--and once again I found myself weeping before my Lord singing, “God is so good. You’re so good to me.” But this time it was a happy cry, as my tears of joy washed away the pain of the past year.

We named him Brady--so his daddy’s name could be part of his. And his middle names are after his dear grandfathers: Jack--meaning “God has been gracious” and David meaning “beloved.”

I wondered if my mom had “regifted” Luke. I held him close to my face to see if he smelled of her perfume, only to find he smelled like heaven. I searched him head to toe looking for an enclosed card, or maybe her signature on his bottom, but instead saw God’s magnificent handiwork. Brady looked strangely familiar, remarkably like his brother. Same mouth and chin, same eyes, same head full of hair (although we’ve since kissed Brady bald), but a new blessing.

After a year of our girls praying for another baby, kissing my pregnant tummy, and sleeping with ultrasound photos, they finally got to meet him. When Brad brought them into the delivery room to meet their new brother, they trembled with excitement. Ava whispered in her Daddy’s ear, “It’s so wonderful it feels like a dream, except it’s really true.” And later Olivia told me, “I think God gave us a baby as special as Luke.”

It was truly a triumph to leave the hospital with my arms overflowing with newborn treasure. It was almost 70 degrees for our trip home, as if nature was rejoicing in the baby who brought us springtime in winter. Just a year ago I returned home with my eyes swollen shut from crying. But for this homecoming, my cheeks ached from smiling.

When we pulled into the garage, it was like our rollercoaster returned to the platform. I looked at Brad next to me--my soul mate, prayer partner, and best friend. He cheered me on during the slow ascent up each hill and reminded me to laugh during the freefall down. We’ve shared the blessing of brokenness and our marriage, family, and faith will never be the same.

I looked back to see my daughters who had been on this ride with us--on my darkest days they gave me a reason to keep going. They reminded me not to mourn over the empty cradle, but to rejoice over the little girls kneeling in prayer by their beds.

And then I saw all of you known as father, mother, sister, family, neighbor, and friend. You had joined us on this journey from January to January. You have mourned with us, prayed for us, and now rejoice with us and we will always be grateful.

So the answer to the question, “Where’s the Williams Christmas letter?” This is it. Yes, I realize we are well into 2005, but we’re celebrating heaven-style where every day is Christmas--every day is a celebration of the outpouring of God’s love.

So this year, our holiday color is baby blue and our favorite Christmas carol is, “God Is So Good.” And we’ll not only find our Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke, but we’ll be reading from the 23rd Psalm. It always ends with “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow.”

With Much Love,
The Williams Family


Ghada said...

Wow, you have such a way with words. That was a beautiful letter. I am happy that things were a bit easier for you this year x

Dana said...

Very stirring. You should write a book! I loved it and can't wait to read more of your posts. :)

ANDREA said...

I knew Jan was the month...and I was thinking of you and your baby Luke...I just didnt know the exact day! Reading your Christmas letter made me cry...but now when I look at Brady, I can see your Luke...and I cant wait to meet your baby in Heaven one day too!! I love you and your family!! You, Brad, Ava, Olivia, Luke, Brady and Daniel!!! God Bless you all!! Love, Andrea

Lelia said...

How I remember getting that Christmas letter and weeping through the entire thing. And now reading it again, I'm crying once more. . .I love seeing those pics of your sweet family together. Thanks for sharing your life. Miss you---

Lucy said...

Its very interesting that I find your post today after posting my story of missed miscarriage today.

I didnt suffer in anyway like you did but your words put me right in the room with you and reduced me to tears for the second time this morning.

Im so glad that you had a better holiday and you have a very beautiful little boy. After my loss God blessed me with a beautiful boy too. Many hugs to you and God is so good.

Following you from MBC

Mamita J said...

I should have known from the depth and beauty of your blog that you have endured great heartache. I'm sorry for your grief, but grateful that God has carried you through it.

God bless,

sierrasmom said...

Ohh How beautiuflly written!! Kathie, I had no idea. I am helping (or trying to ) a friend who lost her precious 5 yaer old daughter (adopted fron China) in Nov. She got sick and died 3 days later from bacterial menengitis. They too are a family of great faith and I am in awe of the example they have set. They had started the paperwork for another adoption before...and they are still going through with it. They too are comforted knowing their Grace is with Jesus. Jan. 8th and Jan 12th are significant dates in our house. One year ago on January 8 we boarded a plane for China and on Jan. 12th we met our precious Sierra.I will always now remember your little Luke on those days. I am also sorry for the loss of your Mom from cancer. I lost my mom when she was 52 from cancer. I can't wait to be with her again someday......
Kathie in NY

tracey said...

I'm always humbled to read others' stories of grief. Mine is a bit different from yours...but I long for those tears of joy replacing tears of pain. Thank you for sharing this, it's a heartrending and redemptive story, and thank you for sharing your faithfulness.

Martha Hardcastle said...

I surfed into your post and didn't expect to be impressed. But your writing is truly inspired and graceful. You have a beautiful gift.

Teri said...

Oh wow, I had no idea. I have loved getting to know you and your family, I am learning so much from you about continuing to grow in faith and just doing life with God! Thank you for sharing your story and from the above comments it seems God is surely using your blog in a mighty way! How wonderful!

Sarah said...

What a beautiful post! You have a wonderful heart and I am so glad that God's mercies are new each and every morning!

Love Sarah xxx