Sunday, December 24, 2017

Advent Challenge Day 24 - Give

Write about something you have given

Like yesterday’s post, the automatic thought this time of year when you think of something you have given might be the brightly wrapped presents under your tree this year or years gone by with the name of a loved one on it.  It might be thoughts and memories of shopping for that perfect gift and of the reaction to it.  

But for me there is no more perfect gift that I’ve given then what I’ve given to others in memory of Cole.  That encompasses a lot of things, a lot of areas.  Yesterday I wrote about the gifts God has given to me that I’ve been able to share with others. Having spiritual gifts to be able to offer support, encouragement, hope and comfort to those in need is a gift worth giving in my opinion.  It’s one I feel blessed to be able to give.  There’s a feeling I get when I know my words have been a comfort, a blessing and a help to someone.  It’s a feeling of something being right in the world if that makes sense.  A feeling like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing and that this journey is so worthwhile.

The gift of my time and of my spiritual gifts offered to words through words and help online is a pretty big part of my life.  I don’t know, nor do I actually want to, how many hours I spend doing it.  Years ago I talked about this time as a family balance of my mommy time.  Each member of my family gets a piece of my time and the time I spend helping others, the time I spend reaching out and offering support or going to the resources I have available to me to get them help is what I consider my mommy-ing Cole time.  I don’t get to have hours on earth with him making his meals, washing his clothes or making his meals and most especially I don’t get time with him playing, reading, going places and creating memories.  So for me it feels like this is his time.  And that feels just right.

Another area of gift giving that I do in memory of Cole is our annual fundraiser.  For those who don’t know, in 2010 we began our plan to give back to Mt. Sinai and Dr. Ryan.  That year we held a dance with a large silent auction and a few other side activities, including Zack, then 7, cutting his long curls off and raising over $900.  The following year we held our first more public event...a mom to com sale and movie night.  From there it became, for a number of years, a halloween themed event with an evening family fun night...costumes, party games etc.  That event grew, moved locations and then grew again.  We added in a 5k run that I actually trained for and ran in for a few years.  Now it’s a Christmas Gift and Craft show with a 5k run and a photo scavenger hunt.  It’s a ton of work and admittedly I do most of it on my own ahead of time along with the assistance of a great friend who understands baby loss all too well.   Together we organize a huge silent auciton (I find almost all of the 80+ items and she posts them online, organizes the bidding) as well as organizing and setting up for our 40+ vendors who come to sell the wares and help support us too.  There’s always a few tense moments but in the end we, her, myself and my whole family, walk away knowing we’ve done a great job and held a successful event.  It feels good, it feels right and it’s a gift I don’t mind giving… and I don’t mind handing over these big cheques either….

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Advent Challenge Day 23 - Received

In this season of giving we often think of those brightly wrapped packages under the tree when someone asks us about something we have received. For many when asked about something they have received the first thought that pops into their mind is some sort of a gift. Well, the first thing the popped into my head was some sort of a gift too. The first gift I thought of was my salvation. But I've already wrote about that and I might touch on it again later. So the more I thought about it, the more I realized that what I wanted to write about was some of the gifts that are some of  the greatest treasures I've ever received. Those gifts are the spiritual gifts that God bestowed on me.
I'm sure you've heard someone say that a person has a natural gift for something, a natural talent. Sometimes those gifts are talents like dancing, singing, playing a musical instrument, working with tools, writing, get my point. But sometimes people are talking about gifts that might incorporate one those things but are used in a way to help, support, encourage, grow, and teach.
I believe that God has given me the gift of exhortation

EXHORTATION: Rom. 12:8 - to come along side of someone with words of encouragement, comfort, consolation, and counsel to help them be all God wants them to be.

And mercy

MERCY: Rom. 12:8 - to be sensitive toward those who are suffering, whether physically, mentally, or emotionally, so as to feel genuine sympathy with their misery, speaking words of compassion but more so caring for them with deeds of love to help alleviate their distress

I may have always had a gift for these talents in some way but it wasn't until I really grew in my relationship with Jesus that I really began to see them flourish. And my relationship with Jesus didn't flourish until after I had experienced the crushing, heartbreak of losing my child.

I believe that God gave me these gifts in the form of writing. I've been writing since the very early days of our loss. In those days I don't think my writing was as effective I guess. But as time went on, as I grew to understand my relationship with Jesus and as I came to see our journey in a whole different light, this gift just seem to flourish. When I read over some of the things I've written over the years I'm rather shocked. I didn't struggle in English per se in high school but I certainly was never complimented on my writing style, never told I had a way with words.
Now I like to take the words I can write and use them to offer encouragement, support and hope to those who are struggling. I often start to write to someone with a thought of what I want to say and marvel at how it all comes to together.  It’s like the holy spirit gives me the words to say.  I see this even more in my blog posts.  I often find myself drawn to a song, a picture or a comment that someone else has made and feel the pull to get my pen (ok computer) and write.  I won’t always even know why I want to write or what I want to write about but just feel drawn to do it.  And as I put my feelings and thoughts on paper it’s like I don’t even have control over my hands.  The words just flow naturally out and rarely require editing for anything other than spelling mistakes.  And thankfully, most times my words are well received and offer encouragement, hope and sometimes clarity in regards to faith questions to those who read them.  

I, unfortunately don’t use my gifts often enough in the form of blogging but  I think, I hope, that I am using them in the world of social media in a way that offers people something to think about, something to find hope and encouragement in.  I think I do this because I seem to hear compliments from others and even get tagged in words of thanks from members of the groups I’m in….which can feel weird at times.  It’s again like being told I am strong or a blessing.  It’s hard to accept thanks or compliments about something you do naturally, that you do because it’s what feels right.  

Regardless though I am very grateful for the gifts of exhortation and mercy for what they can offer others.  If I can do anything to help someone else find comfort, hope, peace or just even feel listened to and loved, then I know that these are definitely gifts from God and are being used just how He intended.  

Friday, December 22, 2017

Advent Challenge Day 22 - Memory

Write about a favourite memory

I have no idea why this has seemed like a struggle for me to write about.  I mean those that know me, especially my family, are always blown away by my memory, by what I remember from my childhood.  Perhaps what is difficult is selecting just one memory or just one area of life to find a memory from.  

I’ve already shared the moments I wish to never forget from my journey with the twins and I’m not even sure that’s what I would share when it came to a favourite memory.  

Would it be the day I got married?
Definitely not the day I got engaged….but that’s a story for another time.

The day I became a mom?  It could be as it was pretty amazing...but it was also marred with some pretty unexpected events when it came to Zack’s health so I’m not sure that would be it.

Or maybe it should be childhood memories…. A special birthday or holiday?  A special trip?  Festive traditions?

Honestly this is so much harder than I thought it would be and so I’ve decided that in the spirit of Christmas I will recall memories of childhood Christmas celebrations.  Not specifics perhaps but those ‘things we did’ that I’ll never forget.  

Our holiday season usually began with my family travelling to ‘the big city’ to stay at my Aunt Sandra and Uncle Jerry’s house for a weekend of sleepovers, some shopping and, of course, the Santa Claus parade.  Staying with cousins Julie and Janiss was definitely a highlight of my childhood.  I’m sure the parade back then wasn’t held nearly as early as it is now as it didn’t seem long after that fun weekend that Dad was sent into town to buy a Christmas tree.  It would stand outside the house for a few days.  My childhood brain couldn’t wrap my head around why we didn’t just bring it home and put it up immediately.  I remember walking by it as I came home from school with the knowledge that it was a promise of fun times decorating coming up soon.  
And soon that day came and we’d gather around as a family and decorate the tree.  There was a box of ornaments that we were never allowed to touch.  They were gorgeous in the eyes of a child….fuschia and teal with snow like glitter and as shiny as could be.  They had been a wedding gift or something like that and they were so very special to my mom.  I remember we’d decorate the tree while listening to Christmas records on the record player.  When we were all done my dad would life one of us up to place the angel on the top of the tree.  What an honour that was!
Just before Christmas the junior choir from my church would go caroling.  And not just any old caroling where you’d walk from house to house.  No, we’d go in a horse drawn sleigh and would go to sing at the retirement homes in our town as well as to all the ‘shut ins’....those folks who often didn’t get out much during the slippery winter season.  After that we’d go back to the choir directors house for fondue!  I’m sure there were tons of other treats too but the fondue will always stick out in my mind.  Somewhere in there we also had our church Christmas pageant.  Every year, without fail, there was a nativity play of some sort with lots of singing and adorable children in sheep and angel costumes.   
Soon Christmas Eve would arrive and we’d leave out cookies and milk (or sometimes it was a beer or rye and coke…. apparently Santa needed a drink by the time he got to our house) and we’d head off to bed with visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads.  
The next morning, bright and early, we’d be knocking at my parents door and asking mom if we could go down to see what Santa brought.  Some years we beat my dairy farmer dad, who rose well before 6 a.m. to go milk the cows, out of bed and were sent back to bed with ‘the look’ from mom. But soon enough down the stairs we’d go to see what was left under the tree by ‘the big guy’.  It was never wrapped and that and our stockings were the only thing we were allowed to look at/open until Dad came in from the barn.  I remember there being present after present to open and it being kind of a chaotic mess in our living room.  And then just as soon as it started, we were done and it was time for a big breakfast complete with fruit salad (which apparently was quite a treat for us LOL).  
After dad had a nap and we’d played sufficiently with our toys, it was time for us to travel to one grandparent or the other’s house for family Christmas.  In later years it was always my mom’s parent’s house as we had my dad’s side a week or two before Christmas (after a year we did it on Christmas Eve and all the city relatives got storm stayed in Teeswater!!!).  

Christmas with cousins, especially my Ireland ones (there were around 10 of us within a 6 year age span...and another 6 or so a few years younger) was always a fun time filled with huge meals and dessert feasts! Soon after dinner the kids would gather around and open presents.  Another chaotic mess in the living room, the tradtional Christmas photo pose with our grandparents (I could only find a photo from Dad’s side to post) we’d be sent outside to toboggan down the hill while the parents opened their gifts.   

All too soon it was over and we headed for home with full belly’s and smiles on our faces knowing we were loved and blessed by an amazing family!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Advent Challenge Day 21 - Magic

Write about something magical

I’ve struggled with this one. I wanted to write about the magic of Christmas….I mean what is more magical than the excitement of children at Christmas. Some of best memories from my own childhood involve the seeing Christmas lights and decorations put up in our town, travelling to ‘The City’ to watch the Santa Claus parade, going to see Santa in our own small town and, of course, getting up early Christmas morning to see what Santa had brought us. And I have similar memories from my own children’s magical experiences at Christmas.
And although that magic is awesome to take in, and as much as I do enjoy watching it, it’s not the kind the warms my heart this holiday season because, well because it’s not from the heart. I mean it’s wonderful and I totally embrace ‘Santa’s Magic’ at Christmas. We definitely ‘buy’ into the myth of Santa despite what some believe about it ‘teaching your kids that a lie is ok’. But as much as giving is from the heart and giving our kids this ‘magic’ feels great, it’s not the same as a magic I see in my kids, most especially Cam, around this time of year and even throughout the year regarding the connection they have with their brother in heaven.

It usually begins with putting up the tree. As we go through our box of ‘Cole’ ornaments (and I cry, of course) they each offer hugs and love to me and also to Cole. They talk about some of the ornaments and where they came from or what they mean. Each year they eagerly help to (or instruct us to) pick a name from an ‘angel tree’ type of toy drive project. The name must be a boy in the same age range as Cole. Together we go to the toy department and select a gift that we think Cole would love to get this Christmas and then we donate it in his memory. In this process there are usually lots of comments about what Cole would do if he was here, what they think he’s doing (or has done) up in heaven. There are always comments about how much they miss him and wish he was here but they also talk about him like he is. He is their brother and they each have their own way of connecting with him. Sometimes it’s questions or comments, sometimes it’s actions towards others and sometimes it’s just in their facial expressions as we talk about him.

This doesn’t just exist this time of year although it is definitely more prevalent. It’s also part of their daily prayers, which for our family occurs at meal time as part of grace. Each one of my kids, when closing a prayer, says ‘Please give Cole a hug and a kiss up there. Amen’. It’s rarely forgotten and if someone does forget then someone else adds it in. Some may think it’s a ‘sad’ ritual but to me it’s a magical connection. It’s their way of connecting the God we pray to, thank and share praise with, to the brother they firmly believe lives in heaven and that they will someday give their own hugs and kisses to in heaven.

It’s a magical connection that I’m sure goes both ways. If it didn’t then I don’t think my kids would be as comfortable talking about him and definitely not as eager to help with projects we do in his memory. Magical love that extends from earth to heaven…. Yup, definitely the kind of magic I believe in!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Advent Challenge Day 20 - Bless

Have you ever been told that you're such a blessing? It's one of those awkward moments for me. Almost as awkward for me as being told someone admires my strength. It's different than when you give someone a gift and they say thank you. When you do that, even if you're not looking for thanks, you didn't do it for the thanks that you would hear, there is sort of a sense of expectation that you'll hear it. Now when you bless someone, when you do something that's completely unexpected for someone, you don't do it with any intention of being thanked. Not if it's a true blessing in my opinion anyway.

But that's not actually what I'm talking about though. I'm talking about being told you are a blessing. That you, yourself ,are a blessing to someone in need. So often a blessing is more than just an action, more about your personality, your talents, your gifts then it is about what you've done for someone.

And while it is awkward for me to be told I am a blessing, I also know that it is such a heartfelt compliment. I've been told this after I've done something like take food to someone in need; someone who's had surgery, had a death in the family, had a new baby or is just having a tough time. And while that is one of those times that is a little easier to accept, it's a little less awkward because I did do an action that I could be thanked for, it still feels weird.

What is more uncomfortable for me is being told I am a blessing by someone who I've opened my arms and heart to at a time of emotional need. My heart leads me to do these kind of things and so a compliment about it just doesn't necessarily make sense to me. It's kind of like I talked about in my post about strength. There really isn't any other choice to me. It's just something you do, something that comes natural. And for me, it's something that feels like it has Heavenly guidance. It's definitely gift, a spiritual gift, that God has bestowed on me. And when it comes to being a blessing to someone who is going through TTTS and even more so, someone who has suffered a loss from it, another pregnancy-related complication, stillbirth or infant loss, it feels like it's something that Cole is sending me to do from heaven. It's like it's his way of still being involved in life on Earth.

And so when I look at it that way, then I guess it is perfectly okay to be a blessing to someone else. It's not awkward at all. It's just how my son can live on through my actions.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Advent Challenge Day 19 - Ask

Write about Asking for something

I looked at this word, Ask, and I thought ‘I don’t want to write about asking for something, about those superficial wants we all have...I don’t want to share my ‘Christmas list’ with anyone’. Right away I had a vision pop into my head of someone kneeling in prayer and realized that holy spirit was leading me in the place that this blog theme was most likely intended. Asking God for what we need, not asking others for what we want.

I admit, prayer in the way that most would think of it is not my strength. I always say I would like to be more prayerful, envision myself as having a prayer room with sheets of prayer requests on the walls etc but I just don't seem comfortable doing that. Maybe that's lame, but it's not for lack of faith. I have my own way of praying to God and thanking him and requesting things of him. It tends to be more conversational, more thought processes as opposed to getting down on my knees or even just sitting quietly and talking to God. I decided to share one of the times that I did clearly receive a message from God, when I asked for a sign and I got it. This next little bit of my blog post is actually taken directly from a post from last December. It's sort of a recollection of where I was at in the time after Cole was gone, after many weeks have passed, and I was still in the hospital and still very unsure of what was going to be Cameron's future. I was exhausted, I was tired of being away from home, and I was ready for a change.

My faith didn’t seem very strong at times in those months in the hospital but it did give me a sense of hope. Unfortunately I didn’t have the strength in my faith to trust God and not feel anxious. Often, on times where the stress of being away from home and feeling deeply lonely, the wish to move forward definitely won out. It's not that I wanted Cameron to be very premature but I felt more ready for that to happen since he was at a safer gestational age and I was not so scared. I was caught between wanting to keep him in for so much longer and wanting to move on the next stage of joy and grief.

And so for the first time in a long time I actually prayed. I asked God to help me, to give me a sign to show me that my boredom, homesickness and anxiety about the birth (and the desire to speed this process up) were selfish and not where my head should be. I didn't ask God for much in those days...I prayed in my own way but tried to only ask him to guide and help me. The night before the surgery in December, the night we learned about TTTS, I had asked God to be with both my boys and to save them both. The outcome wasn't what I asked for, for reasons I knew I wasn’t meant to understand this side of Heaven. So I stopped praying for concrete things like that because I didn't want to be disappointed and have my faith questioned in my head. I trusted in God to give me what He felt was best. But that day I asked for a sign and later on felt myself drawn to a place on a support message board that I hadn't looked at yet. It was the NICU support board and I read a post from a mom about her boys.

They were born at 31 weeks 2 days and her donor baby was 3 lbs 6 oz. He suffered heart issues and kidney issues at birth, was ventilated and then on the CPAP for a few weeks. Things seemed to be going well for him and then when he was 3 weeks old they discovered he had 2 brain bleeds and they were told his disabilities would be severe. This really hit home for me because at 31weeks 4 days Cameron was 3lbs 10 oz and he too was a donor baby who, like this little one, was 'stuck' with no amniotic fluid. It made me realize that although everyone says 32 weeks, or close to it, is the big 'safe' place to get to in preterm births, it isn't always safe. That 32 week marker is based on babes who are 'just' preterm.....not ones compromised by other situations like TTTS or pPROM. There are no guarantees that if Cameron was born at this gestational age that his fate would be any different from this other baby's.

Those last two paragraphs are taken from things I wrote while in the hospital and I am once again struck by how the Holy Spirit was working. He lead me to that website and to that story. He answered my prayer with a sign and, to this day, it’s one of the most concrete signs I’ve ever felt I got from God.

So while I don't ask for much in really any areas of my life including my faith life, I do see clear times when asking God for signs, confirmation or the help and support we needed, He would deliver. I've learned through the years that what we ask for in prayer is often answered but just not always in the way we anticipated.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Advent Challenge Day 18 - Rest

Write about whether you are restful or restless and why

Though I hope to have a photo of the place I may occasionally rest in, I am definitely not a restful person. I don’t think of myself as restless but rather not capable of taking a restful period much more than the time before bed and then while I sleep….which definitely isn’t for the recommended length of time each night!

Physically I have a hard time sitting when I know there is work to be done. I can definitely get a lazy on, not doubt there, but I typically can’t really settle in to ‘rest’ until the ‘jobs’ that are mine are done.

Once I am sitting and ‘resting’ though I am not truly in a restful state. Like many people, I find myself drawn to my electronic devices, usually my phone. And while I can just simply ‘waste time’ on it, for the most part I spend my time on facebook surfing through the support groups I manage, often because someone has tagged me to help out with a situation or offer words of encouragement, support or experience. It gives me great satisfaction to do this and fills a need I have...but it’s not a restful past time usually. Often I can get quite worked up, sometimes even obsessive.

Thankfully though I know when to put my phone down, turn off the lights, had to a place that looks pretty similar to here (though with crazy green walls that I left Geoff pick the paint for and not nearly so tidy LOL)…..
for a restful time of reading and relaxing before I drop into my 6ish hours of, usually fairly restful, sleep.