We had put up a few sparse Christmas decorations, excitedly anticipating the arrival of our baby girl soon after Christmas. I had made a couple of freezer meals, and I had bought diapers, and I had washed pink clothes hanging in the closet.
I am a completely different person now than the mother standing in this picture, who had visions of so many things dancing in her head about having a daughter…so many things that weren’t important.
It’s hard for me to even look at these photos sometimes – all that I didn’t know then, and all that I thought I knew then.
When we were being interviewed on air last month for the Children’s Miracle Network Radiothon, the radio host enthusiastically asked us if Christmas was such a time of celebration and excitement for us, after such an emotional Christmas three years ago when she was critically ill.
I carefully said that it is, but I also think that Christmas time does, and perhaps always will, take hold of our hearts with a reminder of the intense grief and pain of preparing to say goodbye to our child. It’s not all cheer and joy at Christmas anymore for me, because every year this pain boils up deep within me – as I drive on the same streets of the route to the children’s hospital or see the hospital building with its hanging wreaths, that pain can feel as raw and as present as it was three Christmases ago when we were watching Brenna’s little body struggle to breathe.
When people say “hearts heavy with grief,” that is not figurative. It is literal. Praying and crying for each minute of your child’s life will leave you clutching your chest, as your heart becomes its own being, so weighted and so aching that your body shifts its focus on that heaviness and forgets how to breathe and to think.
This time of year is truly a celebration, but it adds a little extra weight to my heart, as I vividly remember the overwhelming grief three Christmases ago.
Three years ago this week, I didn’t really even know what grief was. Not in this way, anyway.
Three years ago, I had never heard the word “ichthyosis.”
Three years ago, my life was simpler, more selfish, more naive. Uninterrupted.
I have a difficult time even remembering the person I was three years ago.
And that’s a good thing. Because God finds us when we are at our lowest and our worst. Broken. Desperate for him.
I can say with complete honesty that I am changed for the better – much, much better – but that doesn’t mean it’s been pretty. It’s been a lot of tears, a whole lot of tears, and the kind of stress at certain points that affected my body to the point that my hair was falling out.
But my heart?
Today, it’s still heavier, though not with grief. It’s heavier from being so full. Full of unconditional love, of passion and drive, of fear and hope for my children’s lives, of respect for my husband, of admiration, of gratitude. Especially gratitude.
God popped my little bubble and gave me the opportunity to think and to feel and to see with new perspective – with all the mess and tears along the way that comes with gaining that new perspective. Our world was shaken up, and because of that, the strongest and best pieces of our lives remained and grew even stronger.
I’m so glad I’m not that person I was 3 years ago.
That young mother in those photos had a lot of expectations about adding a second child to her family.
Instead, she has learned that our expectations should lie, in all circumstances and situations, in the beautiful love and strength and purpose found in our awesome God.