Psalm 121

I look up to the hills, but where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord, who made the heaven and earth.

He will not let you be defeated.

He who guards you never sleeps.

He who guards Israel never rests or sleeps.

The Lord guards you.

The Lord is the shade that protects you from the sun.

The sun cannot hurt you during the day,

and the moon cannot hurt you at night.

The Lord will protect you from all dangers;

he will guard your life.

The Lord will guard you as you come and go,

both now and forever.

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A Year Later

Yesterday marked a year to the date of Reece’s transplant.  As it turns out, the day was harder for me than I had anticipated. I knew it was coming—obviously—but didn’t expect to feel attached to it in the way that I did.  We had so many hopes for this transplant and such a desire to be celebrating a full year of new, healthy blood with him.  In fact, we had sort of “sold” the whole transplant idea to Reece by explaining that he would be the only kid we knew who was able to celebrate two birthdays a year—his date of birth and his date of new blood or his “Blood Birthday”.  We had hoped to take a special trip if he was well enough.  We had hoped for a lot of things…

I have such mixed feelings about his “Blood Birthday”.  If he was here and everything had gone according to our plans, it would have been cause for a big celebration.  However, things did not go according to plan.  The new blood destroyed his body; it’s disturbing.  He was so brave about the whole thing.  He never asked why he had to go through what he went through.  He trusted us.  He so sweetly told my mom the day of transplant that he was, “…a little nervous.”  The only thing I’m celebrating a year later is what we celebrate every day–Reece.  But whatever our party here theoretically would have looked like, it would have paled in comparison to what he is experiencing now.  That doesn’t change the hurting part here, but I take comfort in knowing that.

Many memories from the hospital have all merged together, but I will never forget a year from today when Reece awoke at 4 am, the day after transplant, ready to play the entire day.  Being six months pregnant, I tried to fight through the tiredness to enjoy it.  In fact, it is my last memory of him wanting to get down and play with toys on the floor.  I’m sure he did so for a few days after, but I cannot distinctly remember what day the floor playing ended.

Playing with hexbugs the day after transplant!

Playing with Hexbugs the day after transplant!

We miss you, Bud.

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A New Space

It’s a new year and I’ve decided to move into a new space for writing.  I have come to the conclusion that I view Like Olive Shoots similarly to how I view many of Reece’s things.  They have become somewhat untouchable and I am heavily into “preservation mode”.  I plan on keeping this blog the way it is; it will remain active for the time being as I believe it is purposeful and something that people reference and have a need to visit from time to time.  Our family also needs it for reference in many ways.  It feels a little strange to be writing primarily somewhere else, but it also feels right.  Thank-you for respecting this space and for your support, which has and continues to be incredibly meaningful to our family.

Feel free to check out my new site: www.lifeafterthursday.com

Thank-you for sharing in this journey; it has been an honor to write on behalf of Reece and our family.

Terri

 

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Haste the Day

December is upon us and we are already at the point of one year anniversaries.  I’m not sure how I feel about that–I suppose it depends on the day.  I do feel a sense of relief in a lot of ways.  Several people have asked me about Christmas and have implied that it will be hard.  Yes, I am sure there will be some hard moments, but I can’t anticipate when or where those will be.  However, holidays are days that happen once a year; traditions that we celebrate on a yearly basis.  I have five buckets of memories of those holidays with Reece.  There are things that we did as a family every day, which means I miss every day.  Each day is challenging, so I guess the missing Reece part doesn’t change because of the holiday.  Last year was particularly heavy, so comparatively speaking I know that he will not be suffering any longer.  Last year, in my opinion, was much heavier knowing that he would be facing so much.  Perhaps tomorrow, my opinion on that will change.  Grief is unpredictable that way.

I am feeling a little sad that 2012 is leaving us because it is the last year that Reece was here on earth and it is the birth year of Scarlett.  Yet the weight of the year needs to leave us.  I’m relieved that I don’t have to relive this day.  Or yesterday or the day before.  Firsts seem to be a hard sort of thing, yet I’m not convinced seconds, thirds, or fourths will be any better.  So time passes and we pass with it.

Writing the book proves to be an interesting task; it’s not even close to a book yet–more like a general outline and a few paragraphs.  It is so very different to write about past events versus current life happenings.  And it is difficult, as I anticipated, to recall the things that happened.  I am realizing that I will need to be tapping into different writing exercises to come to some sort of groove with it.  I am also accepting that it may never feel like I am in a groove at all.  It may be a labor of love that is painful the whole way through.  I hope I can present something that honors Reece.  I love writing his name, so that is one easy part!  Reece.  Reece.  Reece.

I continue to look to others who have walked this path before for comfort or some sort of general understanding.  While I’m not comforted that someone else is suffering or has suffered, I am grateful that there are others that we can be in community with, even though the common ground isn’t one that anybody would choose. I have looked at a few stories of well-known people who walked through life with at least one child who passed away.  It was a purposeful decision for us to have “It is Well with My Soul” played at Reece’s memorial service.  I knew the man who wrote the song–Horatio Spafford–had suffered the loss of multiple children in his life.  A couple of days ago, I decided to re-read a general description of his life and search for more info on him.  There are many websites that give accounts of his life.  He ended up losing six children of the eight that he and his wife had.  He lost a four-year-old son to scarlet fever.  Two years later, his wife, Anna, and four young daughters were on a large vessel to Europe for a family vacation (Horatio would come a few days later to join them, but was delayed by business) when their ship was struck by another.  The following is an excerpt from biblestudycharts.com:

On November 2nd 1873, the ‘Ville de Havre’ had collided with ‘The Lochearn’, an English vessel. It sank in only 12 minutes, claiming the lives of 226  people. Anna Spafford had stood bravely on the deck, with her daughters
Annie, Maggie, Bessie and Tanetta clinging desperately to her. Her last memory had been of her baby being torn violently from her arms by the force of the waters. Anna was only saved from the fate of her daughters by a plank which floated beneath her unconscious body and propped her up. When the survivors of the wreck had been rescued, Mrs. Spafford’s first reaction was one of complete despair. Then she heard a voice speak to her, ‘You were spared for a purpose.’ And she immediately recalled the words of a friend, ‘It’s easy to be grateful and good when you have so much, but take care that you are not a fair-weather friend to God.'”

While he was sailing to Europe to join his grief-stricken wife and accompany her back to the US, Horatio penned the song “It is Well with My Soul”; the voyage he made required he pass over the site where his four daughters perished at sea.

The Spaffords had three children after this tragedy and lost yet another four-year-old son to scarlet fever.  On top of this, their church considered these deaths a divine punishment from God.

After reading the accounts in detail, all I could do was weep for them and weep for the parents all over the world who are chosen to live out life here without a child–or multiple children.  All I could think about was what incredible sorrow the Spaffords must have experienced in their lifetime and yet this beloved hymn has brought hope and peace to so many people over the last 140 years.  I had never read the part about Anna hearing she was “spared with a purpose”, but that also brought me much encouragement for my own life.  God brings us through circumstances purposefully, not in vain. I don’t know; I guess as I look at where my life is at, I need that encouragement.  I need to know that kids aren’t swept away with parents left behind for no good reason.  I think of Anna and how painful the rest of her life probably felt, knowing that she was spared–the guilt and anguish that would have followed and the need for relief that can’t be found by the things of this world.  When I read their family’s story and think of our own life as a family, I just need to know it’s not in vain.

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Thanks-Giving

As I have gotten older, I have come to appreciate Thanksgiving more.  I think growing up, it felt like a short stop on the holiday highway from Halloween to Christmas.  And, for the record, I do not consider Halloween any sort of holiday.  I know that in other cultures, there are traditions and customs that are celebrated in more of a holiday fashion.   I can not intelligently speak to the history behind it or where it all comes from.  So, to clarify, in my household Halloween is nothing more than dressing up in a costume and getting candy.  That is not a “holy day” to me at all.  As we went through the fall celebration season, I looked around my house and decided that going forward, I am going to de-emphasize the Halloween part of fall and emphasize the Thanksgiving part.  Halloween décor will be up for the week prior and that is it.  I can not control stores pushing the Christmas season, which ultimately short-changes Thanksgiving.  I’m going to water down Halloween and try to focus on a holiday that celebrates gratitude.  I think it is incredibly meaningful and a great way to begin celebrating Christmas.  In light of where our society is at with Christmas, we all need a little more thanks-giving.  I have lots of feelings about Christmas and not nearly enough space to right about it.  If you have been reading the blog, you probably have a good idea of what my thoughts are anyway.

This year especially I have a new-found love for thanks-giving, which is why I feel even more strongly about the celebration of it.  It has been sustenance through this storm of life.  I know I included my thoughts on thanking the Lord to some extent in previous posts—especially when Reece was in the hospital.  I am not exactly sure why being thankful in the midst of turmoil can produce such a calming and peaceful effect other than God wants us to do so.  It was a surprising realization to me, but the Bible specifically states in all things to give thanks (1 Thess 5:18).  In the past, I think I viewed being thankful as an obligation, versus a necessity for getting through life.  When I follow the mental trail of the things I am blessed with, it is incredibly affirming and humbling to know how well I am provided for and how God covers my family and me in his love.  I heard a cheesy-but-true statement on the radio the other day: What if you woke up tomorrow with only the things you thanked God for today?  I generally don’t like statements that strong-arm me into doing something.  I want to give thanks with a grateful heart, because when it’s not genuine, it does absolutely nothing.  Without the heart gratitude, the words become a place marker for the rest of me to catch up and genuinely mean it. But this statement I heard has stuck with me.  I think how I viewed the whole pilgrims-and-Indians story (or at least what the text books told us in the 80’s and 90’s) was that they were given all they wanted and stopped to give thanks.  I’m not sure I focused on the provisional aspect and whether or not it was in line with what they wanted.  I’m sure we never discussed it in that amount of detail growing up.  Regardless, throughout our year and even before–well before–we were provided for.  Reece, I am learning even now, was so well provided for.  How can I not be thankful?

If you would have told me a year ago that this holiday season Reece would be gone and I would feel gratitude, it would have been a tough sell.  However, reflecting on all that has happened, I am grateful for many things.  I am grateful that I feel grateful!  I am thankful for being blessed with all three kids, my husband, my family, my friends, Terry’s job, our home…I could go on and on.  Here are some things that I feel a sense of gratitude for, as I reflect on this last year.

1.)    I have a Savior; I need a Savior.  Because of Him, I get to see my son again.  I am only separated from him briefly.  It is only because of Jesus that this is the case.  Thank-you, God, for sending your Son.

2.)    God sent a Son who suffered.  He chose to save us in a way that I can personally relate to.  I am humbled that he chose this way—of having a child suffer and die.  He could have saved us in many other ways and he chose the most painful way imaginable, in my opinion.  I would not be able to make this choice myself.   I fully admit that if I had been able to do anything to save Reece and spare him from suffering and a physical death, I would have.  That includes allowing many others to perish.  Yep—I’m that selfish.  I emphasize #1 again—I need a Savior.  Thank-you, God, for demonstrating your love through sending your Son to die.  I can not imagine how painful it was for you, but I have a taste of it in my own life.

3.)    We had a baby in the midst of it all—not part of our planning.  We were thinking in our minds that we would try to get pregnant in the summer of 2012.  Going through pregnancy in the midst of this, while we always were thrilled to be pregnant again, was a stressful thing.  I would not have chosen to be pregnant during this time and often felt like God must have some great big plan, because this pregnancy was so specifically placed in the middle of it all.  I still am working through mixed feelings of delight over Scarlett and deep sadness over Reece.  Still, God provided for our desire to have three children, knowing we would not be able to take on a pregnancy in the midst of our grief.  We found out we were pregnant just a month before any of Reece’s blood work began.  Thank-you, God, for knowing what is in my best interest, even when I do not.  Thank-you for having a sovereign plan over my life.

4.)    I have five years, three months, and eleven days of spending time with Reece on earth.  It could have ended during the pregnancy.  It was strange, in light of the circumstances, that it did not.  Reece’s time here was a gift to us as parents and all that know him.  Thank-you, God, for allowing us to know Reece for five sweet years before taking him to be with You.  I anxiously await the day when I get to look into those gorgeous blue eyes again.

5.)    I am blessed with three children.  I love each of them dearly.  I had nine weeks with them here on earth together.  In those nine weeks, they were probably all three together three times.  I have one picture of them together.  At times, I have felt anger over this.  I still feel a longing to have them be together and for our family to feel that wholeness.  Yet somehow, over these last few months, I have come to appreciate that I actually do have a picture of them together; that I do have a few nights when they were all under one roof.  I choose to see those few weeks as a gift.  Reece may have never made it back to our house, but he did.  As stressful as it was, it provided times for us to be together as a family.  Thank-you, God, for the moments I experienced with all three of my kids together.

6.)    Even though I know Reece suffered, I know he was provided for.  He stood in his furnace and God was with him.  As I reflect on the last year, the last five years, read my journal entries from Reece’s life (as limited as they are), remember things that he said to us over the years and during his time in the hospital, I know God was with him.  Thank-you, God, for providing for Reece in ways that only You and he will know.  Thank-you for the few things that Reece shared with us that permeate our souls and provide deep understanding that you were always with him and that he knows and loves You.  Thank-you, for being his perfect Parent.

7.)    I know where Reece is at and that he is healthy and happy.  I have no doubts.  Thank-you, God, for promising Heaven, to those who believe in Jesus.  Thank-you for reassuring us that Reece is with you there.

8.)    I have a loving family who is supportive.  They came together in this time and showed love and care for us and for Reece.  Reece loves them dearly.  Thank-you, God, for our family.

9.)    Reece passed away from a complication of a complication of a complication of a complication.  There is nothing I feel aligned to in regard to pointing fingers at why he passed away.  It is not a distraction in that way.  I don’t feel focused anger at any one thing, because where do I start? Adenovirus?  GVHD?  BMT?  MDS?  Each contributed to Reece’s body failing.  I certainly struggle with what happened, but in regard to how to direct my efforts going forward, I’m more concerned about focusing on his soul and his faith.  I know God will restore his body someday.  Everyone has a body that will eventually fail.  Thank-you, God, for resolving this part mentally, for me.

10.) God is sovereign.  He gets my life way better than I get it.  It takes a whole heap of pressure off me—a person who struggles with anxiety—to figure everything out.  Included in my life is faith in Him.  Faith is a gift. Thank-you, God, for being sovereign over all things and for giving me faith in you.

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Speaking of Answered Prayers

I want to thank everyone out there who continues to lift our family up in prayer.  It is needed, felt, and appreciated.  I have been told by many people that the early childhood period of parenting and life goes by so quickly…, “The days are long, but the years are short.”  Our life right now feels somewhat in reverse–the days are short, but the years (or months so far) are long.  However, this last month or so it seems that the days get longer and longer, too.  We certainly are still in need of prayer and are encouraged that some prayers are being answered at this early stage.  We are, in fact, surviving.  That feels monumental right now.  We are also able to have many laughs and what would appear to be “normal” moments.  They are only moments, though, but we will take them.  We are thoroughly enjoying the girls.  We are thoroughly missing Reece.

I was at the home of a close friend last week for a playdate with the girls.  We really haven’t had any playdates at our home since Reece passed away.  I intend on having people over at some point, but we are still in the very slow and not very steady process of packing up many of his things.  More things need to be put away before any playdates can happen.  So we headed over to our good friends’ home.  One of the girls we visited, Stella, is the only child who saw Reece after his transplant.  She visited him in our home when Reece was couch-bound and constantly asking for warm blankets.  He spoke very little during that leg of his journey.  In fact, the two of them barely spoke to each other during the visit, but sat on the couch together and watched Scooby Doo.  I am sure it was awkward for both of them, but it meant so much to Reece to see her.  His demeanor was very different as a sick child, but he talked about their visit after she left and how much he liked seeing her–and he grinned about their time together, which was his way of showing happiness in the midst of a very challenging place in his health.

So while we were at her home last week, Stella and I were in the living room together while I was feeding Scarlett a bottle.  And this was our conversation:

Stella: Can we come over to your house sometime to play, even though Reece isn’t there?

Me: Yes, you are always welcome to come over to our house.

Stella: I bet you were sad when Reece died.

Me: Yes, I still am sad.  But I am so glad that you were able to come and see Reece when he was in our house.  I know he didn’t say much to you, but he was so happy that you came to see him.

I can not put into words how much it meant to me that she talked about Reece, that she said his name, that she acknowledged the sadness, and that she said what she felt.  I was also glad to be able to share with her how meaningful her visit was to Reece.  Kids are so beautifully real about things.  I wish that adults could be as transparent.  It is perfectly acceptable and welcomed to talk about Reece, by name, to us.  We are still his parents and he is still our son and part of our family.  We talk about him every day and think about him nearly every waking moment.  We laugh and cry about him.  We love it when people share memories of him or simply ask how we are doing.  We love hearing his name and hearing about him. I know there is the worry out there that one will say the wrong thing and so the tendency is to avoid or shy away or act like nothing happened at all.  Or maybe it is such a painful topic that it is easier to avoid the encounter altogether.  Saying the wrong thing is highly unlikely.  It’s better to take the chance of saying the wrong thing, versus not saying anything at all.  If you or your kids knew Reece personally, we treasure the memories that you share, because very few people over the course of our lives will have memories of him.  If you walk up to me and say nothing more than his name, you will have blessed me more than you can imagine.  That’s how much it means to me and that’s how much we miss him.

So speaking of answered prayers, I am embarking on the journey of writing a memoir about Reece and his journey through transplant.  I have often reflected on a year ago when I was feeling led to write a blog and my motivations for doing so.  At the time, part of my reasoning was to have details to share with Reece as he got older.  I wanted him to be able to read what he went through and to be able to explore his journey in greater detail.  As I look back at the blog a year later, I realize that in light of Reece’s passing, likely a big purpose for it was to support writing this book and remind us of steps along the way. It’s not exactly the way that I expected it to be used, but I am so grateful that I wrote it now, so I will be able to go back and remember things that would have faded by now.  I know this will be a difficult thing to write, but I am confident that if I can do it, it will be purposeful to me, meaningful to our family, and hopefully powerful and God-honoring for others to read.  My blog posts will likely be even more sparse due to this, but I will continue to do some updates from time to time.

There have been some clarifying moments for me and I know they are in some way answers to prayers lifted on our behalf.  So, thank-you.

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Parental Advice

My last post that was written a couple of weeks ago was something that weighed on my mind over a period of time.  I mentally “wrote” parts of it for nearly two months in my head.  It took much cognitive basting before I could actually sit down to type it out, as it is not a subject matter that I take lightly.  The devil has become this commercialized figure in our society that we, as a whole, feel comfortable joking and laughing about.  People dress up like him for Halloween; many don’t believe he even exists.  However, I find it irresponsible to bring his name to my blog in any sort of nonchalant manner.  He is a creepy dude and I don’t like giving him much “air time”.  The day I actually blogged about it, I felt compelled to write about the subject.  I can’t exactly tell you why it needed to happen on that particular day, but many of my posts have been like that.  I will have something brewing for some time and then it just pours out of me.  I mention this part to illustrate the point that my last post wasn’t done on a whim or without some careful consideration.

My reason for circling back about the journal entry is what happened the day after I posted it.  I was crawling into bed late the next night and felt like I needed to read from the Bible.  I opened it up, turned to the Book of Jude, and was hit on the side of the head with the following passage:

“But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him,  but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”  Yet these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do not understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals–these are the very things that destroy them.”  Jude 9-10

When I read that, it hit me like a ton of bricks.  It was apparent that God was telling me that I do not know what I am up against and that it is his job to deal with Satan, not mine.  I can resist temptation and the products of the devil’s work, but my job here is to point to God in all facets of life, not focus on the devil.  Focusing on the devil is not where I can be fruitful, it is where I could get lost and potentially consumed and potentially take others down with me.  And God is right–I have no understanding of what the devil is all about other than he vehemently opposes God and would love to drag me down to the depths.  In that moment that I read this passage and even now as I type this, I felt miniscule and weak, as I should.  I never assumed that I would be going forward and doing something in opposition to the devil without God’s help, but to have him blatantly point that out to me in his Word was quite humbling, to say the least.  God continues to be so parentally good.  As I reflect on how he handled it with me, it was done out of total love and protection for me.  He wasn’t belittling me, he was warning me to not get involved in matters beyond my human comprehension.  Point taken.

I don’t feel compelled to write about most of my personal prayer time or experiences with the Lord.  But I feel like it is important to point this out, since I chose to write about the subject matter.  In fact, I was so taken by this passage of Scripture, I nearly took the post down immediately.  I could and still do feel the weight of the message to me and I don’t take it lightly.  It has stayed up, but only because I wanted to follow-up with this and for therapeutic purposes.  I also know that the post reflects my raw and true feelings and that taking it down doesn’t change the way I feel–since God knows my heart, I will heed his warning, but respectfully leave my post where it is at.

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