Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Three Years

Today marks three years, nearly to the minute, of Emily's day of birth and her homecoming. Obviously, we can't help but think how different our lives would have been had things been different. More than a thousand days checked off the calendar and a thousand moments of remembering have come and gone and still our Emily marks our hearts and lives. Know on this day, as with all days, you are loved, sweet one!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Introducing our New Little Girl!

The Lord who is kind, redemptive, who turns the tables on difficult times and gives generously simply because he can, has given our family a gift: a new little girl!

As a word of confession, Laura and I have known about this pregnancy since early June (the due date is early February). At first we decided to say nothing to anyone since we knew all too well a miscarriage could be our lot. As the days ticked by and Laura entered the second trimester we continued to hold our breath and found we couldn’t share our news with others. Certainly we were excited but in an odd twist we found ourselves living on tender and sacred ground worried, anxious, cautious, and prayerful at every turn.

In August a special ultrasound was done and a repeat of anencephaly was ruled out. The news was met with tears of relief and, interestingly a deep mourning for Emily (we still miss her very much). Finally, last week Laura had her 20 week ultrasound and, thankfully, our little girl appears at this point healthy and active. A quick funny story: as the tech got started and we watched the black and white swirling of the ultrasound picture settle on our first good look of our daughter she was, clear as day, giving us a thumbs up (even the tech was laughing). Thank you, Lord, for your kindness and the thumbs up (so far) on a healthy pregnancy! We will keep you posted…

Friday, September 2, 2011

2 Years

Happy Birthday, Emily Jean!

Under different circumstances, today (August 29) you would be 2 years old- active, curious, and full of life. We trust you are much the same this very moment in the presence of Jesus. We all miss you very much!

With Love,
Your Family

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Glimpse

We haven’t written much on this blog this past year but this doesn’t mean we haven’t had anything to share. Emily is often on our mind and always in our heart. Now, with Emily’s birth date fast approaching and a few days of free time thanks to a short vacation it is the perfect time to pass along a special story.

Nearly a year ago, a few days after my hand accident to be exact, Laura was driving home with the kids from Iowa. As she drove the minivan somewhere in the flat scenery of Nebraska she had what she later described as a glimpse, a momentary sight of Emily- not with her eyes, but in her mind. Emily was older, beautiful with long flowing hair and her back to Laura until she turned and gave a big smile… And that was it- a glimpse, a smile but for Laura (and later for me) this was huge.

Honestly, I can be skeptical when I hear stories of visions, not because I doubt God but I question man and motive. That said, here is what I know: That glimpse has been deeply helpful to us both as well as an affirmation of the truth we cling to from Scripture: heaven is real and to be present with Jesus, whether here or there, is joy!

There is one more part of our story worth mentioning: Several weeks after Laura’s vision she was telling a close friend what happened. As the story unfolded this lady shared with joy that, unknown to Laura, she had been praying for several months that Laura would get to see her daughter Emily as she really is. This is an aggressive request from a loving friend and we are so thankful she asked and the Lord answered.

(Note: To others who read this blog who have lost a child we hope you find this account a personal encouragement)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Video: A Family Reflection

Recently we were asked to share as a family about our experience of losing a child. On the one year anniversary of Emily's passing we thought it would be appropriate to share it with you. (Pause the music at the bottom of the blog to hear the audio)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Lost and Found


Nobody likes this word… or the feeling. We fear loss, whether losing a possibility such as a dream or experiencing a loss that is much more tangible such as a child. Two weeks ago I lost part of a finger while serving on a mission trip in Mexico. Part of the pain of this experience has been grieving losing a body part- flesh and bone- that I have had with me 35 years. I look different, I feel different, and I have less ability… for now. Much like losing a daughter, a primary focus of this blog, losing a part of my body has been a stark reminder (not that I needed one!) that loss hurts. It is supposed to hurt. So much of the Bible is loaded with texts dripping with tears and oozing with pain.

In contrast, it feels great to find an old friend, a missing wallet, or a renewed sense of purpose. In the Bible Hannah longed for a baby. She prayed… she waited… year after year after year. She grieved the loss of a dream, until the Lord blessed her with a little boy. Nice endings are nice, but this is not the end of the story. At around age 3 Hannah and her husband gave their son away and experienced a new tangible loss (see 1 Samuel 1:1-2:11 for the entire story).

Ever leave the hospital without a baby in your arms but with a lump in your throat? Many reading this blog know this kind of loss. Hannah felt these emotions too as she said goodbye to her son and thankfully, while still swimming in hurt, the Bible provides us her raw, honest, and insightful prayer to God.

By the way, what would you say to God in her shoes? If you’ve been in her shoes what have you said to Him? Would you listen, yell, curse, cry, or walk away? Hannah praised God in prayer. Now before you groan, gag, or move on from this blog give her a moment to speak. Why did she praise God? She noted four reasons to praise God in the midst of loss:

· She had a foundation- First, she called the Lord her “Rock” (2:2). When she felt like she was drowning the truth was that she was secure in the Lord.
· She was known- It is comforting to be known. Your tears are collected and your sorrows are not ignored by God. As Hannah prayed, “the Lord is the God who knows.”
· She had hope- With God there is always hope as His character is One that often reverses human circumstances, humbling the proud and exalting the humble.
· She knew God heals- More specifically, she knew healing was found in the Lord as she said, “It is not by strength that one prevails.”

I have a temporary handicap. I just learned typing this note that I can no longer naturally type the letter “I”. This is a loss. Yet the Lord prompted me to let this serve as a reminder not to allow my focus to remain on “I” but on Him- a lesson I need to keep coming back to. Thanks to the Lord that in the midst of our losses, which we all experience in life, He provides nuggets of hope and healing ready to be found.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

9 Months

Today marks 9 months since we said "hello... goodbye" to our Emily. We miss her very much, and Jesus is slowly healing our hearts.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Agony and Irony

Have you ever found God hard to figure out? His Words are true and his character unchangeable, but sometimes His ways are not understandable or predictable. Overall, I am thankful God is bigger than any box I might have for Him… but admittedly not so much today.

Outside of a few family members and friends we had not yet announced our exciting news that Laura was pregnant. The timing was a surprise but our joy was immense; we felt like the Lord was blessing our family after a season of testing (the due date was August 28th, the day before Emily’s one year anniversary). The pregnancy seemed strong, Laura did everything right, and we were fervent in prayer (the daily prayer of the kids: “Lord, can we keep this one?”).

Sadly, our announcement now is simply that we are not out of the valley; our “one more shot” at having another baby came to an end yesterday with a miscarriage. The Lord clearly has another plan and we carry another wound. We are not sure how to process this one other than seeing again the Lord does not always put the grieving in a protective bubble to fend off further pain (remember Job?). We would appreciate your prayers.

Agony aside, in a weird twist of irony as my wife was having a miscarriage my sister was having her first baby. I mention this good news as we asked for prayer for baby Clara previously on this blog. The latest news is that Clara is healthy, chunky, and a fervent eater. We are thankful that all is well.

“For my ways are not your ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Ordinary Privates

“… We want to prove to ourselves that we are lovers on the grand scale, tragic heroes; not just ordinary privates in the huge army of the bereaved, slogging along and making the best of a bad job.”
C.S. Lewis A Grief Observed

I read this quote by Lewis on the final day of 2009 and was struck by how true his statement was of me. I confess that there were (are) times I thought nobody else loved a daughter or experienced a loss like we did. In all sincerity, please forgive me. On one hand I know nobody loved Emily like Laura and me (naturally), so we grieve her more than others. But that certainly doesn’t mean we grieve more than others in general. We all face troubles of many kinds and grieve in our own ways. And so, we want to continue writing on this blog in the New Year as “ordinary privates slogging along,” and not tragic heroes. There is only one hero, Jesus Christ, and words shared here desire to point to Him as the true source of hope and healing.

“Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs- he wants to please his commanding officer.” 2 Timothy 2:3-4

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Missing Her

Today marks 3 months since Emily’s birth. She has been on our minds and hearts all day; really this is not a whole lot different from any other day. We have noticed with the holidays upon us that the hurt is only heightened and the void we feel is only deepened. We don’t say this feeling sorry for ourselves, but what is it about silent nights around a softly lit Christmas tree that makes us miss Emily all the more? As we celebrate the birth of Christ this coming month we know it will be all the more important to focus on the Child God provided as opposed to the daughter He chose to take away.

As an aside it has been an encouragement to meet E & A and T & L recently. One of these couples recently lost a daughter to anencephaly and the other is expecting a son with the same condition. With anencephaly being such a rare situation it is surely the hand of the Lord that has brought them into our lives. They have been a blessing to us and we admire their strength in the midst of heartache. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Process of Grief

I've heard it said that grief comes uninvited and is never in a hurry to leave. This has certainly been true in our lives. As the weeks move by since our daughter's death we still, as much as ever, miss our little Emily. 

Recently I (Ryan) have been a little surprised to find myself really tired (bedtime at 8 pm sounds great), emotional, and unfocused. I don't sleep all that well and often rehearse in my mind any memory I have of our experience with Emily so I can somehow ensure myself I won't forget. In a weird way I am experiencing some of my deepest moments of sadness now, months after Emily's passing. 

I don't think my experience is unique, especially from other men who have endured a tragedy. As men attempt to love and lead their loved ones through a difficult experience their own opportunity to grieve is often delayed. For me in the months prior to Emily's birth and the months after her death I ran on adrenaline and I ran cover for my family. And now... well, I'm not able to run anymore. I feel rather stuck. And so I'm going to be still and grieve and pursue my God as the One who encourages hearts, heals souls, and holds the broken together. I would appreciate your prayers.

How Great is Our God!

On another note... we recently learned that my (Ryan) sister, Cortleigh, and her husband, Jim, who are expecting their first child, received news late in the pregnancy that their little girl, Clara Grace, is in rather serious danger. Cortleigh is now living at the hospital under continual care and testing. Please pray for strength for this dear family and healing for little Clara.  

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Defining Pro-Life: October 21, 2009

Recently Laura and I found ourselves discussing the topic of abortion. Immediately we were reminded of when we first learned of Emily's diagnosis of anencephaly and the undercurrent of expectation from people that we would continue the pregnancy and not choose to induce early; after all, we are Christians and, therefore, we are Pro-Life.

The painful irony of our situation with Emily was that the choice about life had been made by her Maker; barring a miracle she would not live long in this world. As the parents we were not consulted on Emily's development and having an abortion was never one of the options given to us from the medical community. We desperately loved (and still love) Emily, but the source of our pain was that keeping her was not an option for us. The ugly reality was that whether we induced labor sooner or chose to do it later, the outcome would be identical.

The Bible is clear, in our opinion, that the giving and taking of life belongs to the Lord and our role, as followers of Christ, is to protect and invest in life. But it isn't always so simple. And at its core it certainly isn't political. It was the Lord that led us to continue with the pregnancy and surrender the whole situation to Him. This doesn't make us great and we didn't do it to raise a political Pro-Life flag.

We wholeheartedly believe in protecting the lives of the unborn and applaud those who invest time in this important effort. And as followers of Christ we wonder if we shouldn't also broaden our notion of being Pro-Life beyond fighting the practice of abortion?

  • What if being Pro-Life also meant being intentional to invest in the lives of people around you, whether your spouse or child, your neighbor, a co-worker, or the widows and orphans? Lord, forgive us when we forget that all of life is precious and we passionately fight for the unborn but neglect the born.

  • What if being Pro-Life also meant we cared as much about people being born-again as we do about people being born? Lord, forgive us for when we are timid, unwilling, or simply do not care enough to share You and your love with other other people.

Life is precious- all of life. Losing Emily has helped us embrace life as the treasure that it is. It is our conviction that as followers of Christ we are to live with this kind of perspective and this kind of passion.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

One Month: September 29, 2009

A month ago Emily was born, not into the cradled arms of her expecting mother but the tender hands of her loving Savior. Each day since has brought its share of heartache and hope. It has also continued to be a time of refining in our lives.

Before Emily’s birth I wrote in my journal, “Emily is not the only one who is dying. I believe there are things that God wants to kill in my life, things that do not bring him glory. As Emily is peacefully surrendered to the will of God in her circumstance, so I want to be surrendered as well under the Lord’s leadership. Death brings life. I can see many areas in my heart that I need God to deal with.” Selfishness. Anger. Wanting to be in Control. And the list goes on and on...

These weeks of refinement have also been weeks of grace and experiencing God’s gentleness. More than ever we can see that surrender to Christ is not about giving up or giving in, but giving over. Amazingly, He wants our junk and He wants our hurt and He wants to do something beautiful with the mess.

Our first month without Emily had been a clumsy experience for us; we grieved in awkward ways and in awkward moments. We also experienced the peace that passes understanding as God, with all gentleness, showed us rough edges in our lives. It would seem a cruel season for God to refine a couple, yet it also has shown us just how much He really cares. His fingerprints are all over our lives right now and we couldn't be more thankful.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Staying in the Game: September 14, 2009

"Teach me how to live, O Lord." Psalm 27:11 (NLT)

It is incredibly ironic how the death of our daughter, Emily, has taught us more about life than any other experience.

For example, I can remember sitting in on one of Laura’s pre-natal appointments when our doctor described the idea behind the movie Click, which we have not seen. Apparently the movie is about a man (played by Adam Sandler) with an amazing remote control that allows him to fast-forward through parts of his life that are painful or undesirable. The lesson learned from the movie is that gutting out these difficult seasons of life takes away the best parts of living.

Truly, grief comes to all of us. Many of us navigate though life avoiding any situation or relationship that carries the risk for hurt. But the truth is that grief comes to us all uninvited, and is often never in a hurry to leave. It is only a matter of time before it is our "time to mourn" (Ecclesiastes 3:4). A constant challenge for Laura and I these past several months has been to be willing to engage in our season of struggle and not instinctively search for an escape. I would say we have had moderate success.

A primary motivation for staying in the game for us has been the desire not to miss out on anything God was intending to accomplish as a result of Emily's life. God led us to carry Emily full-term and not induce early, and a big part of this difficult decision was based on this desire. Yes, we desperately wanted and prayed for a miraculous healing for our daughter. Every ultrasound appointment we wondered if this would be the day the doctor would be speechless to explain that Emily was completely normal. I remember within weeks of finding out about Emily’s condition the Lord impressed on Laura’s heart that we needed to be surrendered and allow Him to define the miracle. Our faith became less about demanding a change in our circumstances and more a broken posture of surrender to Christ. For weeks we reminded ourselves of the words of Mary after her world was turned upside down with the news that she was pregnant with the Son of God: “I am the Lords servant… May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38). For whatever it was worth and with whatever determination we had inside we intended to stay in the game, no matter how much it all hurt, and discover what treasures the Lord had in store. This is still our heart's desire.

“And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness- secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name.” Isaiah 45:3

Friday, September 11, 2009

It's Been a Week: September 11, 2009

"It's been a week."

Laura's words this morning snapped me back to the previous Friday, the day we said our final goodbye and Emily's casket was lowered into the ground. In kindness people have often asked how we doing, but this simple question is a difficult one: how are we supposed to be doing? We manage to get up each morning and find our toothbrush so I suppose that counts for something.

In all seriousness the Lord has been our help each day. We are eating, sleeping and taking care of our responsibilities, but there are those moments- those unexpected mule-kicks in the gut when all the hurt storms back and knocks the wind out. All it takes is a quick glance at Emily's handprint hanging on our wall, hearing her name, or a flash memory of her long fingers or toes and we are right back in that hospital delivery room freshly grieving the loss of our daughter. Yesterday I (Ryan) met with a friend I'm discipling at a coffee shop and all he asked me was how I was doing. I wish he wouldn't do that... people sipping their lattes around us began to stare as two men wept.

Tonight Laura and I are going on a date and we are going to bring Emily flowers. Its been a week.
“We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us” 1 Thessalonians 2:8

On another note, it has been encouraging to see how the Lord has been using Emily's brief life to make an impact. Whether from this blog or the unfolding of relationships (this person know that person, etc.) we have had incredible conversations and opportunities to minister. One example is that we have been invited to share next Tuesday our story to a group of medical students at the University of Colorado. Laura is getting her doctorate degree in a medical field and I can hardly spell anencephaly so I think she will do most of the talking. We appreciate you prayers.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A New Normal: September 6, 2009

It's all over.

Friends and family have left town. Weeks of anticipation (37 to be exact) followed by a birth, a death, a burial, a service... and now it's quiet. Very quiet. Last night we found ourselves each clinging to one of Emily's blankets and rolling memories of the previous week through our minds. We were not good company- not even to each other.

I find it interesting that, as a pastor, I am privileged to walk with people through their grief. I've officiated funerals for both the young and the old and attempted to provide people with a biblical perspective and encouragement during these occasions. But now that I am the one going through the grief I'm far less certain- not in the truth of God's Word but how to move forward in life. How do I return to a normal routine? How do I move forward? When am I allowed to feel joy again (without feeling bad that I feel good)? I even carry the fear that remembering how to go about daily life again will mean the forgetting of Emily. I sense that normal, from this point forward, will be redefined. It must be redefined.

Lord, would this new normal become nothing short of a deeper love, broader dependence, sharper holiness, firmer faith, and more passionate worship of you.
"Teach me how to live, O Lord..." Psalm 27:11a

Celebration of Life Service: September 5, 2009

Laura and I want to thank the many that helped make this an unforgettable day: our family who drove or flew in from various parts of the country, our church family at Broomfield Community Church (you are amazing!), our friends, and Stapleton Fellowship Church. A special thanks also to Pastor Dean Hill, Pastor Ben Blackiston (Laura's dad), George Seitz, Fred Stricker, and Mark Cicotello for sharing during the celebration. Finally, thank you to all that came out to join in the celebration.

Below is a letter we wrote that was read during the Celebration. It attempts to capture our hearts...

Well Done, Emily

We want to begin by thanking you all for your love, support, encouragement, meals, prayers, hugs, emails, and cards. You and many others have been a major part of how the Lord has under girded us as a family to give strength for the day and peace through the night. Thank you.

Our deepest desire this morning and our entire journey with Emily is to spotlight Jesus Christ through our experience, not to spotlight us through something God has allowed to happen. We have not suffered more than most, but our time with Emily, although brief, has forever changed our lives. She never spoke a word but made the loudest statements. She brought nothing into this world and took nothing out of it, yet she has made a lasting impact.

Laura and I have been asked from time to time if we ever questioned God why this happened. Our short answer is “no” but this certainly doesn’t mean we easily accepted the fatal condition of our daughter. J. Vernon McGee offered an illustration that helped us keep our focus on the miracles God was looking to accomplish through Emily. He wrote,
“There is a custom with shepherds in the Alps. In the summertime when the grass in the lower valleys withers and dries up, the shepherds seek to lead their sheep up a winding, thorny, and stony pathway to the high grazing lands. The sheep, reluctant to take the difficult pathway infested with dangers and hardships, turn back and will not follow. The shepherd then must reach into the flock and take a little lamb and place it under his arm, then reach in again and grab a lamb and place it under his other arm. Then he starts up the precipitous pathway. Soon the mother sheep start to follow and afterward the entire flock. At last they ascend the torturous trail to green pastures.”
Our Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ, chose to reach into the flock and pick out our Emily, His little lamb. We believe He did not do it to rob us but to lead us out and upward. He has richer and greener pastures for us, and He wants us to follow. And we will follow.

There were many things our little girl could not do. But one thing Emily did do better than anyone I know is worship- she brought pure pleasure to God. She was and did exactly as her Maker designed her. She has graced our lives, brought color, and provided us an example. We will miss Emily everyday of our lives; we long to see her again and when that day comes to simply say “thank you.”

We love you, Emily. Well done.

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Final Goodbye: September 4, 2009

This morning we said our final goodbye to Emily. Honestly, this was the moment we dreaded most; it took a lot just to get out of bed this morning and into the car headed for Mt. Olivet Cemetary. How do you say goodbye to a daughter? How do you say goodbye when we hardly got to say "hello?"

But for all that shook our hearts and hurt to our core about this day it was a beautiful time that we will never forget.

At 10:30 am we were able to view Emily's body once more. Her little casket was so small. Family and dear friends joined us in the viewing room; a lot of hugs were shared by all. When our time was running short the room was cleared and Laura and I were able to say our final goodbye. We thanked the Lord for our Emily; we feel so honored to be the chosen parents for this precious little girl. Laura and I each wrote our own letter to Emily, which we took turns reading. After drenching a handful of kleenex tissues we tucked the letters into the casket and the lid was shut.

Laura's dad, Ben, who is a pastor from Michigan, did a beautiful job leading the brief graveside service. He read from 1 Corinthians 15, Revelation 21, and Psalm 23. After a time of prayer Emily's body was committed to the Lord in anticipation for the coming resurrection.

Yesterday Laura and I went out and picked flowers at a nearby Berry Patch Farm, which we sorted and tied into five different arrangements. As the service closed Sean (6), Megan (5), and Alayna (3) each grabbed their bouquet and, along with Laura and I, we arranged them around Emily's coffin. Our kids surprised us as they each melted into tears and spoke how much they missed their sister and wanted her back. They were incredibly tender and expressive, which was beautiful to see.

Thank you, Lord, for all your gifts, big and small, and for being loving in all you do.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Strength in Weakness: September 3, 2009

Tomorrow we will say our final farewell to Emily at Mt. Olivet Cemetary. How do we say goodbye to her when we barely had the chance to say hello? We know the Lord will give the strength we need.

"My help comes from the Lord the maker of heaven and earth." Psalm 121:2
"Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you." 2 Chronicles 20:17

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Celebration of Life
Emily Jean Whitson

Saturday, September 5, 2009 at 10:30 am
Broomfield Community Church
255 Miramonte Blvd. Broomfield, CO 80022
Questions: 303-469-5984

Live in the Beauty of Today: September 2, 2009

Emily's personality is showing up everywhere. Her impact on my (Laura) life- she showed me how to live brighter and louder. When I would normally choose something that would match my wardrobe or house for the next 10 years, Emily would say (via my complete taste change during pregnancy)...

"turn up the volume, have a little fun, spice it up, make it loud, celebrate life, make a statement that means something, and no, it doesn't have to match, you don't have to like it tomorrow-
live in the beauty of today."
She/ her life showed me that today's gifts are not guaranteed tomorrow. This was the only pregnancy that I learned to thank God for the inconvenience, the challenges, and the discomforts. There was beauty in all of them because Emily was there, her strong heart was beating, and she was kicking and growing and reminding me to capture every moment.
Today is Wednesday, and for the past 20 weeks I've been calling Wednesdays her she would have turned 38 weeks. I miss her so much. Today I've been hanging onto Psalm 145:13 "God is faithful to all His promises and loving toward all he has made." He loves us, and this is part of his love... sometimes love says "no". I don't understand why He said "no" to us keeping Emily with us, but I know that He sees the total picture and I trust His love. I am so thankful that I know exactly where Emily is, and because God watched His own Son die on a cross for me and instead of me I know that I will see her again and that He will continue to be faithful to His promises of being my Healer, Comforter, and one who restores.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Mother's Goodbye: August 31, 2009

We asked to see Emily one last time. God kept whispering to my heart, "It's time"- a time to hang on and a time to let go. It was time to let go. I had experienced her during pregnancy, pre-labor, her birth and death, but I now had her sweet body to hold- and I only had a couple days- but now I had to let go of that.

I checked out her precious hands, knees, and feet for the longest time and then when I went to put the delivery blanket over her, my hand was on top of hers (with a blanket in between) and my heart could not move it away. The floodgates of my heart burst open and I cried so hard to have to say goodbye to her precious hand that I will never get to hold again; to those little feet that will never kick me again; to that precious body that reminded me of the power of a lightening storm. It was goodbye to our precious daughter that I've loved before conception- that I prayed for constantly- that I pleaded with God for, that I so feared losing even after she was gone.

With one call of the nurse, a final wrap of the blanket, your dad and I prayed and thanked God for you and the gift you are to us. The nurse came in and I nodded my head that we were ready- even though we would never be- and we stood as if to honor you, Emily, as the nurse wheeled you out of the room and closed the door.

It was the first time I felt like I was completely shattered and was going to crumble to the floor. You deserved a trumpet fanfare, or salutes, bouquets of flowers, and a huge angelic exit... I am proud of what a strong fighter you were: only 1 in 1,000 odds that you would have anencephaly, only 1 in 10,000 odds you would survive to the 16th week of pregnancy. But you made it past the predicted 32 week marker and went to full-term. You kept hanging on; you kept kicking. I will miss you everyday for the rest of my life.

Goodbye, Emily Jean.

The Next Day, The Next Hurdle: August 30, 2009

The morning light woke us at 6 am. We couldn't have taken in more than a few hours of sleep between nurse interruptions and memories of the previous 24 hours racing through our minds. As Laura drifted back to sleep I went to the room window and flatly stared at the parking lot below. I noticed the flags were at half-mast (in respect to Sen. Edward Kennedy) which I took the freedom to assign the honor to my daughter.

"The unfailing love of the Lord never ends! By his mercies we have been kept from complete destruction. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each day. I say to myself, 'The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!' The Lord is wonderfully good to those who wait quietly for salvation from the Lord. And it is good for the young to submit to the yoke of his discipline... Can anything happen without the Lord's permission?"

Lamentations 3:22-27, 37

Emily's Day: August 29, 2009

August 29th was an unforgettable day in our lives marked by God’s incredible provision and abundant love.

Laura checked into University Hospital for an 8 am induction still mulling questions if this was the right decision; we did not want to get ahead of the Lord and His timing for Emily's birth. To our shock Laura was already 6 cm dilated! This was such a gracious gift and encouragement to our hearts to know that this day was exactly the time God wanted Emily to be born.

A little after 9 am our doctor arrived to do an ultrasound. Humorously, Emily was swimming around the womb; she would not stay put in the appropriate birthing position. It was fun to see her again on the ultrasound screen. A few hours later Laura's new best friend, the anesthesiologist, arrived and soon Laura was feeling much more comfortable. Without the need to breathe through contractions we grabbed our Bible and began to read underlined verses throughout the Psalms. It was so encouraging to be reminded of God’s character and love. After the 150th Psalm Laura gently closed her eyes and fell asleep.

Not long after 1 pm Laura’s brother, Tim, surprised us by flying in from Chattanooga, TN. It was so good to see him. Our visit was short as the medical team jumped in at 1:30 with another ultrasound and the breaking of Laura's water. Emily shared her disapproval with some swift kicks to Laura's side; her swimming days were over. Within an hour Laura reached 10 cm dilation (all without induction) and was ready to push. God was so gracious to us throughout the day, guarding and guiding Laura at each step.

We waited a good 30 minutes before Laura began the process of pushing. During this time the kids arrived in the room for a quick "hi" to Mom. Finally, a few minutes past 3 pm it was time for Emily’s birth so the room was emptied except for 3 doctors, our nurse Christine, the Neonatologist, and myself. With our hearts focused and anticipating meeting our daughter (every parent knows this feeling) unbeknownst to us Emily gave Laura one last soft kick goodbye only a minutes before her birth. A few pushes later Emily was born (3:16 pm).

When I (Ryan) first saw her I knew she was gone; she was silent and limp. Emily was placed on Laura and, following a heart check by the Neonatologist, she was declared dead. These words and the reality of the situation hurt more than we could have ever imagined. After catching our breath we began to study her little face and body: a bruise on the left shoulder, a thick, stout frame, and the cutest little mouth. They quickly provided a hat to cover her head wound but we didn’t care when it was exposed- we loved every part of who she was.

After a few minutes I (Ryan) was able to hold Emily for the first time. All I remember is that we danced and I told her how much she is loved. After awhile we brought Sean, Megan, and Alayna in to meet their sister (as well as the photographer from Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep- D.L. & K.R. you were amazing!). They each took a turn holding Emily. The kids also brought out the birthday presents for Emily and gave them to her: a duck from Sean, a tiger from Megan, and a doll from Alayna.

After a few hours we were moved to another room in the hospital. I only mention this as it was a sweet highlight for me (Ryan) to be able to bring Emily to the new room. For a brief time I had Emily away from the medical environment of the birthing room and we were able to have a father-daughter stroll. I walked slow. This was one of my moments and I took it in as a priceless treasure.

"And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness- secret riches. I will do this so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name." Isaiah 45:3

Monday, August 31, 2009

Well Done, Emily: August 29,2009

Today our precious daughter, on her birthday, went home to be with the Lord.

Emily Jean was born at 3:16 pm (she weighed 3 lbs, 13 oz., 15"). Although we prayed for months for a live birth our Lord had other plans. She gave one last goodbye kick to Laura only minutes before her birth.

With anencephaly Emily couldn't think or reason
yet she was the one on that afternoon who understood.
Emily was blind but in that moment she beheld the face of Jesus.
Our daughter was deaf yet at that time she heard the voice of our Lord...

"Well done, Emily, my good and faithful servant."

Well done, Emily. Mommy and Daddy are proud of you, too.
We love you so much.

“Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vine; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation. The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He will make me as surefooted as a deer and bring me safely over the mountains.”

Habakkuk 3:17-19

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Time is Getting Closer: July 15, 2009

It has been several weeks since we have updated you on our beautiful daughter, Emily, and our journey with anencephaly. In many ways day-to-day life has felt routine, yet it is the quiet pockets of the day or those moments before we sleep that our minds drift and dream of Emily and our heart’s hurt. There are other times we are simply in disbelief any of this is actually happening, especially when everything with Laura’s pregnancy appears normal… until recently.

Over these past two weeks Laura has been experiencing contractions and rapidly increasing in size, a sign that the end is coming near. The size increase is due to Emily not being able to swallow and, as a result, the amniotic fluid quickly builds at the end of the pregnancy. The consequence is premature labor; although Emily is not due until September 18 all signs point to her arrival being in only 2-4 weeks.

So, Laura and I are quickly making arrangements for Emily’s arrival. Laura finished a knitted a hat and blanket and Ryan’s mom made a beautiful burial dress for Emily. We are working on burial arrangements as well as setting up details for organ donation. Friends rented a Doppler for us to hear Emily’s heartbeat at home; the kids love to “play doctor” and hunt for her heartbeat. We are filming everything we can, reading books, journaling, praying, crying at times, and overall doing our best to honor God through this experience.

We continue to be so thankful to you for your prayers and encouragement during this time. We will continue to keep you posted. Much love from us all,

Our Journey Continues: May 11, 2009

Laura and I want to thank you for the tremendous outpouring of love and encouragement over this past week. It has been more meaningful than you will ever know and we can tell there are many that are interceding on our behalf. Thank you.

As an update, last Friday (May 8) was Laura’s first appointment at University Hospital. Laura’s appointment began with another ultrasound. Once again it was clear that our baby has anencephaly. What is a blessing is that we learned that we are having a little girl! She is beautiful. We have decided to name her Emily Jean, which means “Excelling in Grace from God” (Jean is also Laura’s middle name). She is our gift from the Lord, one we do not deserve and are so thankful for. It was so special to watch her move during the ultrasound; she had both arms up above her eyebrows, almost as if to block from view what was missing. The tech was kind as she printed off several pictures for us to take home.

After the ultrasound we met with a doctor. This time was such an answer to prayer as she was very supportive of our desire to continue the pregnancy. We also found out that either the baby moved or the previous diagnosis of placenta previa was wrong; Laura is no longer required to have a C-Section. Also our little girl has no deformities (aside from the anencephaly), which indicates that organ donation could be a possibility. We took time to ask the doctor lots of questions, which was helpful.

Finally, we met with a very kind lady named Nancy English in a nearby consulting room. It is her role to walk with us through these next several months as a coach. She provided Laura a journal and lots of information about grief and how to get through this experience.

So, what is next in this process? From a medical standpoint, not too much is ahead. Laura will have a routine pre-natal check-up in four weeks and then another ultrasound four weeks after that. What will be more difficult is beginning the process of putting together a birth plan (assuming Emily is born alive how we would like the time we get with her to go), funeral arrangements, and any other preparations that will help us make this time as meaningful and memorable as possible.

As I close this letter and reflect on these past 11 days (and it has been a whirlwind!) what is clear is that even though I haven’t seen my daughter (except by ultrasound), held her, or heard even a peep from her lips yet, she has changed my life. It has been amazing how this burning experience has made so amazingly clear what is really important.

I sometimes wonder when things will get back to “normal” again (I think what I’m really asking is “When will this not hurt anymore?”), but I can’t help but think this experience will redefine “normal” for us. And, if normal means going back to being the person I was, even two weeks ago, and tossing out the beautiful lessons the Lord has shown me, then I don’t want “normal.” I want to live above normal with passion and focus on what really matters: loving Christ with everything I have, loving my family, and serving where God allows.

The Lord has used my little Emily to change my life and I pray He would give me the opportunity, even for just a few moments to tell her. She is our excellent gift and we are so thankful for her. Thanks to my sweet daughter I will never be the same person.

Thank you again for your encouragement. We will keep you posted as this journey continues to unfold. We love you all,


1. Laura’s health in this process.

2. Strength for the day, especially in moving forward with making decisions and arrangements.

3. That Emily would make it full-term and have a live birth so we could spend time with her.

When We First Heard: May 6, 2009

I hope each of you are well and enjoying these beautiful spring days filled with new life. Today Laura and I celebrate our 9th anniversary- where has the time gone? I am so thankful for her and the gift that she is to me, as well as to Sean, Megan, and Alayna.

Many of you know about the new journey the Lord has brought us to and we want to take a moment to give you an update (some of you may not be aware of the situation with our unborn baby that was recently diagnosed with anencephaly; at the end of this email is a bit of the back story to fill you in).

On Monday (May 4) Laura spoke with her doctor and learned more details from the ultrasound. It was confirmed that our baby has a severe case of anencephaly; there is no trace of a brain (other than the brain stem). In addition, we learned that Laura has placenta previa, which means that our baby implanted over the cervix. If the baby does not move (which sometimes happens) then Laura will have no choice but to have a C-Section at some point in the future. The good news is that that our baby has a well developed heart, which may be a blessing as we explore the possibility organ donation.

Laura and I have firmly decided against terminating this pregnancy and intend to continue to whatever ending the Lord chooses. We know God always honors those who choose life and, as long as Laura is not in danger, we intend to allow the Lord to decide when to take this precious child home to be with Him. Laura’s care has been moved to a new team of doctors at University Hospital (which we will meet with this Friday). Please pray with us that they are supportive of our decision and that we can avoid any need to be graciously stubborn with our desire.

We are hurting for our loss and often feel deep disappointment, but we are also experiencing the peace that passes understanding. Thank you for praying for us. We are eager to see how the Lord works in this situation now and in the weeks to come. We are so appreciative for the emails, calls, cards, gifts on the front porch, babysitting, meals, and most of all prayers from so many of you- you are amazing!

So, what is next? As I mentioned Laura has a doctor’s appointment on Friday, May 8. We expect they will do another ultrasound and we have several questions to ask. It is also important to us to find out the gender and name our baby. Laura has plans to make the baby a hat and a blanket. I want to begin to collect as many ultrasound pictures as I can. We also hope to meet with a group at the hospital called Fetal Care who will help us through the process of setting up of funeral arrangements.

Thank you so much for your prayers and encouragement; you are a gift to us. We will keep you posted as we continue this journey. We love you all.

The Back Story…

Some of you may be unaware that we are even expecting another baby! We are excited and so thankful to the Lord for this addition to our family, especially after losing baby “Charlie” (named by the kids) to a miscarriage in the second trimester a year ago. When we found out Laura was pregnant we were a bit gun-shy to announce the news to the world; we needed to hear that little heartbeat first. Sometime around the 14th week of Laura’s pregnancy she was relieved to hear a strong racing heartbeat for the first time and we began to share the news. Please forgive us if we have not been able to share any of this with you until now.

Last Friday (May 1) Laura had her 20-week ultrasound appointment. In our excitement we pulled Sean out of school so all the kids could be in the room to see their new brother or sister. The ultrasound seemed routine as the tech pointed out various parts of our baby and took measurements. Then, to our surprise she excused herself from the room and minutes later returned with a doctor. We asked if something was wrong, but they were silent. After a few minutes of looking around the doctor turned the monitor away and flipped on the lights- our hearts sank as we new something was horribly wrong.

The doctor shared that our baby has a very rare condition called anencephaly. He explained that our baby has a brain stem (which explains the beating heart), but does not have a brain or a major portion of the skull. This condition is 100% fatal. These words stunned us, and our kids, still in the room, sat there confused at what was going on. Immediately, Laura was sent to her doctor across town, who outlined our two basic options: terminate the pregnancy immediately (stats indicate 95% of women choose this option) or continue the pregnancy. They gave us the weekend to think things over and try to come to some decision.

We spent the weekend in shock trying to come to grips with what we just learned. We talked, prayed, cried, read our Bibles, and walked around the house in a fog. Finally, by Sunday evening we were able to begin to get out Laura’s old medical books and get on the Internet to study anencephaly to learn more about this condition.

One passage that has been a tremendous encouragement to us these past few days is from Luke 1:38. After Gabriel announced the plan of the birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, to Mary (which must have been quite the shock) her response was simply, “I am the Lord’s servant… may it be to me as you have said.” Her beautiful expression of surrender to the Lord and His plan has been our encouragement: it is our desire to trust Christ throughout this new journey and worship Him through surrender. This morning (May 6) I (Ryan) was able to feel a kick from our baby for the first time- clearly he or she is not quitting and neither are we. This situation is not what we want or what we would choose but we surrender it to the Lord and look forward to seeing how He works in this difficult time.