Thursday, March 31, 2016

This Is Not The End Of The Story

Instead of waiting for the “perfect time” to sit down and put my thoughts together, I have had a peace in my spirit that today is the day. Since it is the last day of March, it is my heart’s desire to share before another month goes by. 

Since it has been so long since we have shared here, let me catch you up to speed a little and give you some of the back story before going any further. Let’s see, the last time I blogged was on September 2, 2014 so I will take it from there. On September 6th, I was driving home from a good friend’s birthday party (about 30 minutes away from our house) and had Natalie (4 month old) in the car with me and we were leaving around 10:45pm. The bridge that is normally there to take home had burned down weeks before and I had forgotten to take a different way so instead of going North on the interstate, I was forced to go South. This put me about 30 minutes in the opposite direction I was needing to go so once I got off at an exit, I was now an hour from home. My snacks were all eaten, I had already finished my water bottle, Natalie was waking and ready to nurse, and I do not like feeling lost. My heart began to race and I was on the phone with a friend and we were praying and talking through this. When I was finally about 20 minutes away from home, I pulled off the interstate at a well known exit “Moores Lane” and stood on the ground in the parking lot of a Mexican restaurant and said out, “In the name of Jesus, I pray for this awful feeling to stop right now”...I was able to regroup and make it home but was so shaken up by the physical symptoms I had felt in that moment that I couldn’t stop thinking about this episode for the days and weeks to follow. We were preparing to move from our then town home back into our “new old house” in a few days, I was exhausted, had two little ones 2 and under and had never had a panic attack but could openly admit that is what must have happened. 

I will spare you all the details from here, there, and in between but we got moved into our house the end of September, and I was taking it all one day at a time but did not feel myself that October, November, or December. That physical awful feeling would rush over me in this awful “fight or flight” feeling whenever I got into the car, which made it hard/impossible some days to go further than the grocery store or our church by myself. I remember taking Nelson and Natalie to Kindermusik once a week and that was 15 minutes from our house and that felt like the furthest I could go. In December, we were heading home for Christmas at my parent’s new house (newly built home after living in the other one I had grown up in for 20 years) and was so excited to all be together and have a wonderful merry Christmas and the next thing you know, Brandon got sick, Nelson got sick, my Dad got sick, and we had to leave in less than 48 hours after our arrival. My grandfather had fallen two days before we had gotten home (December 23rd) and we couldn’t even go see him because the visit was so quick and all were sick. I didn’t even get to see my grandmother, for the same reason. I was heartbroken but quickly learning that these things were out of my control. For so long, I felt like if you do A+B it will equal C. Now with kids and life in the fast lane, I see what even when you do “all right things” it doesn’t always end up like you hope. We are hardly ever sick and I couldn’t understand why all of a sudden this was all hitting at Christmas. My parents kindly spoke the truth to me in love encouraging me to “let it go” and “stop trying to figure it all out” and just to “surrender to the process”...whew, that is exactly what I needed. 

Moving on, my grandfather was starting to get a little better, with a long way still to go, at the beginning of January (still would not ever be going back home) and it was around that time on January 5, 2015 that my grandmother was starting to have some symptoms and family took her to the hospital and quickly saw her body shut down over the next week to ten days. Family came in from all over and had some of the most special moments with her, praying and singing and reading Scripture over her as her body was physically shutting down before our very eyes. I will never forget those days or the gift of her life. On January 14, 2015 she took her last breath on earth and was welcomed home into the loving arms of her Heavenly Father. Yet again, another time I had to put into practice facing the anxiousness and panic that had become such a part of my daily life at this point. It was effecting everything and it was starting to be too much to bear. Brandon’s company is based out of California, so he, Natalie, and I went out to the National Sales Meeting at the end of January. That was such a special trip and such a hard trip. I remember the morning we were suppose to go feeling like I had woken up with the stomach bug or something. Those who know me well know that I have not thrown up since highschool, and that morning I literally was doing any remedy I knew to not throw up because I had chills, the shakes, and felt like dry heaving. When mom got to the house to get Nelson before our flight, she looked at me and said, “This is stress. Let’s pray” and sure enough, that’s what it was. I got on the plane and was fine and then it wasn’t until a few days into our trip that Brandon and I had a major heart-to-heart about something eye opening. I will never forget one night after dinner when he said, “So are you saying that I am causing some of this anxiety?” and as hard as it was to say, I said “yes”...what was happening was he was trying to help calm me and saying *what was meant to be* encouraging things like, “Let’s take this thought captive. Remember the verse that says... You are stronger than this” and stuff like this but in those moments, hearing all of that was making the anxiousness come on more strong. It was at that time that he said, “I think you’re right. It’s time for us to reach out to a Christian counselor”...I had already met with our pastor months back (when this first happened) and had implemented the suggestions he had given me and then the one left go-to would be the Christian counselor. I had suggested that to Brandon but he had not felt that was necessary. And now I can see that only the person stuck in this realizes how it effects literally ev-ery-thing!!!! I was SO relieved when he said we could meet with a Christian counselor. That next day when I was flying home with Natalie (because Brandon was staying a few days more since his meetings hadn’t started yet), God arranged for me to sit next to the sweetest girl on the airplane that had actually experienced something very similar. She was SO encouraging about me getting help and how much it would help. I even got her email and wrote her a few days later to tell her we were in touch with a counselor and meeting with him in a few days.

When Brandon returned from his trip, we started meeting with a Christian counselor that had been highly recommended to us. That was the turning point. I felt so validated in that meeting and finally understood. All of a sudden, to sit there with someone who was saying these are normal feelings after a panic attack and my emotions are real, and so on and so forth, was so freeing! What he said that I will forever remember is, “Brandon, the best thing you can do for Whitney when these feelings come over is let her know she is in a safe place and let these feelings happen. When we try and stop them, it actually causes the anxiousness and panic to increase.” From that day forward, I can say that the anxiousness and panic like I had experienced from September to February did not happen again. I went through some intensive EMDR work with our counselor and was finally able to drive (by myself) from Nashville to Chattanooga again. That had been very frustrating to not even be able to drive home by myself. Family was so supportive and so patient- and still is if I ever notice any of my triggers (usually exhaustion or stress) weighing on me and needing extra support. I have talked with so many people, especially a lot of mom friends, who may not have experienced the exact same thing but something similar. Our bodies change so much as we enter into motherhood and have hormones going up, down, and all around and so much to remember and so much information we are constantly receiving at this day and age and so on and so forth. I had to learn and put into practice healthy boundaries for giving “my best yes” to people and learning to say “no”...a lot! And not compare my load to another’s and think, “If she has 6 babies, is pregnant, homeschools, and prepared me a fresh homecooked meal, surely I can get it together and take someone a homecooked meal and not something from the store”...NO! If I need to pick something up, then so be it! We are all different and must embrace that we are all carrying different loads. And I have noticed, true friends get it.
So from there, my dear grandfather passed away in May. Dad had a heart procedure in June. Said “goodbye on earth” to Brandon’s dear grandmother in July and she soon passed away in August. This was the last of our grandparents - for both Brandon and I. That was a big moment because we have both had these dear ones as part of our life since the very beginning. We said “goodbye for now” to my brother and sister-in-law in August as they were deployed in September. 

As you know, we had Natalie in April 2014 and then with the anxiousness that began in me that September, I knew that I needed a “break” for awhile before even talking about having more children. We knew in our hearts that, as far as the Lord had shown us, we still most definitely had the desire to have more children but I needed to take care of myself first. Wild to think that I became pregnant with our first pregnancy (Nelson) in October 2011 and have been pregnant or nursing Nelson or Natalie every day since then. As special as that is and a bond I wouldn’t trade for the world, I had to accept I am not superwoman and need to prioritize “self care” (including napping when the nap a lot of days) during this season. So I can remember after Brandon’s grandmother passed away (August 2015), us leaving the celebration of life weekend there and driving home sharing our hearts. It was at that point that something came alive in me to be willing to be open to a third pregnancy. For those of you that know our birth stories, both were “planned home births”. Healthy pregnancies and then in the final two weeks with each baby (week 38 with Nelson and week 35 with Natalie) my body began this horrid itching that started in the palms of my hands and soles of my feet and then would wreak havoc in the nighttime (usually 11pm to 7am was the worst) and my body would itch all over and I could not sleep. There is no rash -- all internal in your bloodstream. My liver enzymes (that are supposed to be in the teens) had elevated to very night numbers which meant I needed to plan on birthing at the hospital. We had two very positive natural birth experiences that were truly one of the best days of our life both times, but as you can imagine, after physically enduring something like that with the not sleeping for two weeks before each birth, my liver being compromised, and a lot of other factors...I needed to take a step back and prayerfully ask for the Lord’s guiding hand in giving us wisdom and direction about HIS timing for the next Baby Nall. 

Well, if you’re still reading...this is the part I was getting to but for the past year have wanted to share the part you just read so thank you for caring enough to read on. Feel free to go refill your coffee so you don’t get sleepy! 

In the Fall of 2015, we were open to the Lord’s timing as far as the next pregnancy and were just waiting to see what He had for our family. Meanwhile, it had been on my heart to meet with this highly recommended doctor to talk about supporting my liver *in my mind I was thinking BEFORE the next pregnancy* and as it turned out, I did all the pages and pages of paperwork to submit to even have a consult with him, then found out I was pregnant with our third pregnancy over Thanksgiving weekend, and had the consult with him the following Wednesday. We were overjoyed about the pregnancy and so very thankful how the Lord worked it out for me to meet with him at the beginning of this so we could be proactive in supporting my liver. Those first two weeks of December were filled with so much Christmas joy and an extra hop in our steps carrying around this blessing from the Lord inside of me!! On the weekend we were setting up our Christmas tree and decorating for Christmas, we hung a stocking for Baby Nall and Facetimed in our family (including my brother deployed overseas) to share with them our special news. Family was ecstatic and couldn’t wait to meet the precious one that was set to arrive on August 2, 2016. Nelson’s due date was August 6th so it was days apart to being a similar pregnancy timeline. Wouldn’t need new clothes or anything because I had already been pregnant in this season. So many sweet memories! 

The five of us!!
Our newest addition!!

On Sunday night, December 13th we went to our favorite Christmas concert “Behold the Lamb of God” with Andrew Peterson and friends and tears filled my eyes yet again during the “Labor of Love” song and the opportunity to carry another sweet life inside of me. Then on the morning of Monday, December 14th, I began miscarrying our precious little one at 7 weeks. I am more than open to share with you this process if any of you reading ever need to talk through something like this in more detail for personal encouragement, let me know. We are an open book and want to use these low points to bring God the glory even still. We were still hopeful that Monday that this little one would be OK but the pregnancy loss was confirmed that Tuesday at the ultrasound. It was sad and unlike anything we had ever had to process, and especially when you still have life living out right before your eyes. That Tuesday night was Nelson’s preschool Christmas performance and he was such a LIGHT to us and our family that night. Not to mention, the morning that I started bleeding (that Monday), Nelson saw my face sink at one point when I crawled into bed with the heating pad on my stomach and he looked at me and said, “Our God is so BIG, so strong and so MIGHTY, there’s nothing our GOD cannot do for YOU, Mommy”...oh my, no words for how precious when  your very own 3 year old son ministers to you. He then started praying, and asking the Lord to take care of mommy. The way the Lord has used Nelson and Natalie to be such LIFE giving blessing to me during this time is something that I will always cherish. We felt so loved by our family and friends and church and could feel the Lord comforting us in only ways that HE can during times like this. Some people would say, “I am so sorry that this has happened...especially at Christmastime” but the way I saw it was, this is why Jesus came for heal the broken world. At the beginnings of January, Brandon and I got to go to Atlanta for a weekend away with *just the two of us* and thousands of college students (!!) as we had the opportunity to serve as Door Holders at the Passion 2016 conference. Very special, as we celebrated how the Lord had brought us together for the first time ever at Passion 2007 in Atlanta. That was a special weekend to regroup and have time hearing about the even bigger things God is doing in and through Christ followers all over the world, and just remember that the part of life we are in day in and day out is *ever so small* compared to the rest of the world. Doesn’t minimize it, just good perspective. 

On Monday, January 18th, after a few days of nausea, I took a pregnancy test and found out I was pregnant with our fourth pregnancy. We were overjoyed and thankful all over again!! A friend of ours had been pregnant and had a miscarriage right before us in the Fall and then had found out she was pregnant recently too and was filled with so much fear and worry. I remember Brandon and I praying that if and when the Lord allows us to get pregnant again, that we would be filled with His JOY and HOPE and not live in fear. This was such a blessing to feel so hopeful, knowing that is not always the case in a pregnancy following a miscarriage. Soon after this, we got to go back to San Diego for this year’s National Sales Meeting and this year as just the two of us. It was night and day different to go there *without the anxiety* that I had been dealing with the year before. We had the BEST time and such a life giving time together, celebrating the new little life inside me. We had shared this special news with a few friends we live life with day in and day out in Nashville, but waited until after our first appointment to share this news with family. On Friday, February 5th, we went to our first ultrasound appointment and our prayer was to see a baby AND a heartbeat!! We weren’t sure how far along we were so we were excited to find that out as well. As the Lord would have it, they put the monitor on my belly and saw a baby and a flutter right away! As our midwife exclaimed, “This baby’s heart must have JUST started beating!!!!” I had chills and tears of joy, knowing that was an answer to our prayers. Thank you, Lord for that sweet blessing!!! The amazing thing, too, is that I was 5 weeks, 5 days at that point according to the measurements and sometimes people don’t even get to see a baby OR heartbeat that early. It was seriously a gift from God.

Came right home and had a frame ready for our precious one!!
Right on our dresser so we would be reminded to pray without ceasing! 

The next week was Valentine’s week and it was so special getting to call our family and share with them the news. So much LOVE for this little one already. Talk of if this is going to be a little brother or a little sister for Natalie. And the due date is October 2nd, and what a special time of year!!! We were finding out of other friends sharing with us their news, too, and so so many dear friends with babies due in August, September, and October. Thanking the Lord for the blessing of getting to be on this journey together. My belly was starting to pop and I was excited about getting closer to sharing with more and more people about this God given blessing that was our miracle baby we were so excited about!! 

Baby Nall ~ Due October 2016
7 weeks & approximately the size of a blueberry! 

So much love for this 'lil baby bump!!
Nelson & Natalie LOVE kissing baby!!! 

There is no easy way to transition into this part ... and this is much like it felt in real life when we had to share with friends and family ... I started miscarrying our little blessing at 9 weeks on Monday, February 29th (Leap Day) and it was one of the most painful days of my life ... physically and emotionally. There is no way in the world to describe how happy and joyful and HOPEFUL we were about this baby’s life. Then all in an instance for this pregnancy to end in another loss, broke this mother’s heart more than words. Tears stream down my face at this part of the story. I remember saying, “This is not the end of the story” ... we are going to grieve, we are going to be sad, we are going to embrace this, but this is NOT the end of the story. We know that we know that we know that GOD IS IN CONTROL NO MATTER WHAT. We TRUST HIM with our lives no matter what. And we can also cry tears of sadness because as our dear counselor has shared with us, “Sadness is the emotion we feel when we’ve lost something. This also tells us how much we value something. And it’s beautifully evident that this child had value to you and Brandon” ... AMEN! Our grief honors that. It is OK to not rush just to “move on” and “be ok” .... there is a physical connection, emotional connection, spiritual connection a parent (especially the mother) has with a baby (no matter the age) from the moment you find out that you are pregnant. 

We knew from the get-go that we wanted to be open with what we are feeling and vulnerable to sharing our story with the others and have seen over and over and over again the beauty of the body of Christ. We have felt more loved than ever before. It’s hard to put into words the COMFORT and PEACE we have felt from the Lord. When I sit here today on March 31 and think about all that we have gone through this month, there is part of me that can’t even believe we are still in the same month because of the amount of PEACE we feel today. There are certainly still times and moments and occasions that will raise up a strong emotion of sadness, but I acknowledge those and take a step back when they come and don’t try to just “push through” because I am a positive person. I have been encouraged again and again to grieve now - or this will come out one way or the other later. Even our pastor from home who is in his 50s now says he and his wife still talk about their two miscarriages. This will forever be part of our story. Because these are covenant children, we have been encouraged that we will see our two babies in Heaven one day. *Insert tears here* To say that Easter was more meaningful this year than ever is an understatement. The one word that keeps coming up ev-ery-where for me is H O P E. The HOPE I have because MY Lord, the KING OF KINGS, rose from the dead is one worth investing your whole life into. 

This has not been an easy month. If you got to read this whole entry, you’ve seen that this hasn’t been an easy year. But it’s wild because we don’t dwell on that. We praise the LORD for using the anxiety that I felt so strongly in January 2015 to connect us with our dear counselor in February 2015 to give us the tools for a stronger marriage and a stronger family in Jesus’ name that will be a gift to our children for our lifetime and beyond. Real life is messy. We are not afraid of sharing that. We also have experienced that there is LIFE happening all around us. Walk outside and open your eyes to the trees in your front yard -- this life is beautiful - because we personally know the CREATOR. This has been such a powerful and pivotal year for us. I pray to have the mental energy to continue to write more than once every year and a half on here, because it really is healing for me to share. Thank you immensely to those of you that have come over just to “be” with us, those of you that have brought us groceries, meals, flowers, written some of the most beautiful letters I have ever read, loved on our children, and spoken LIFE over us. I will close by saying that it’s unreal how God prepared us for this. Last year He began making the ROOTS of our marriage strong in a foundational way (I hope to share more about that in another post sometime), we have been able to share with family members in a different light after now having the tools, we have had peace in the midst of losing dear loved ones, we have have had peace in our hearts sending our brother and sister-in-law off to the other part of the world, we have had peace raising our children even when the days are long sometimes and the years are short, we have had the boldness to speak up to different friends about situations that need addressing, and so on and so forth...because of HIS grace! And even on a more personal sidenote, have also prayed for sometime now to be in a Bible study with childcare and our church started one in the Fall/Spring ... and I have prayed to be in some sort of mommy/child exercise class that I can be accountable too and I started that this January ... then got to see Natalie Grant in concert with a friend the week before the miscarriage in our fourth pregnancy ... and got to see Priscilla Shirer speak at a prayer conference for a book we are studying days before the miscarriage in our fourth pregnancy ... and even looking at all of these details big and small, I see how how to personally pour into me and equip me for this battle. One of the things that Priscilla said that night was, “Life is a battleground, not a playground”...and a friend, soon after this marriage, spoke over me that I am one of the most life giving people she knows and of course the enemy would love to get me down over a topic that I so love...LIFE! I love my husband, my children, pregnancy, even labor and delivery when thrown a curve ball, childbearing years as a whole and have felt called to minister to women in these stages and of course the enemy would love to make this an uncomfortable or awkward topic. But to stand STRONG knowing that “Greater is HE that is in me than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4)... and it has been such a blessing to have a God given desire to meet with the Lord each day and ask Him what HOPE filled message He has for me. Every day it has been spot on. The way He has lined it up for me to be a part of not one, but two powerful Bible studies this spring by Priscilla Shirer, Fervent AND Armor of God...and having the exercise with the mommas and babes on Mondays and Wednesday...and the Christian counselor...and the family and friends and church that love us so much...we have not felt alone. Thank you for reading. Thank you for listening. Thank you for praying. There is SO MUCH more I could share but I have tried to keep it to the highlights while this is all fresh on my mind and no more time passes. Because life is too short to not be real and share. To God be the glory!!