Walking on Faith

My mother told me that being a Christian woman is one of the hardest life paths one can choose. This is because being truly Christian means that you walk this path on faith and faith alone. You must trust your life to something you can not see or hear. Something that is invisible, intangible, and unprovable. You must hand your body and your soul over to the Lord and HAVE FAITH that he will carry us.

I committed my life to the Lord a long time ago. 14 years ago, to be exact. I was confirmed by the Arch-Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles when I was just 13 years old. I knew then what faith was and that I trusted the Lord to lead my life and to use me as a vessel to spread His word in this world. I was ready for whatever He asked of me. And I was ready to have faith in Him.

14 years ago, I could have never imagined the task He had for me. But the Lord works in mysterious ways, and I have found that leading my life with blind faith has lifted me up, scared me to death, and rocked me to my core. But it has NEVER steered me wrong.

When Abigail came so early, I prayed that she would be alright. But I remember all to well the moments I had those first few days when I didn’t trust God and His plan. I thought that I must have done something wrong. I thought that I was being punished for something. One morning, while still in the hospital, I looked over at Anthony asleep in the other bed, and I started to talk to God. And I asked that one question we aren’t supposed to ask…”Why Me?”

I got angry. I threw in His face that I’d been a loyal servant for so long and that I could not think of ONE thing that I had done to deserve this. And I got even more angry when I reminded him that Abigail was innocent. What had SHE done to deserve this kind of suffering? I sobbed in my bed and I asked Him hard question after hard question, with none of His peaceful calm coming over me the way it always does when I pray. I got even more angry. “Why aren’t you comforting me???”

I had actually uttered those words out loud. I gasped for air as I realized that I was not praying, like I thought I was. I was fighting. I was screaming inside my head and my heart and I realized that I could not hear whatever it was the Lord had to say to me. I apologized. I prayed for peace and it swept over me like a ray of sunshine. I prayed for guidance and I knew I would have it. I prayed for good news from the doctors and I knew I would have that too. And then, I prayed for answers. I prayed that He would show me the “why” of it all and give meaning to our suffering. And, just as I can’t explain faith, I can’t explain how I knew – but I knew that all of this craziness had a purpose and that He would show it to me, in time, if I just trusted in Him and walked on faith.

I will tell you now, most fervently, that God answers EVERY prayer. But I also must remind you that it may not always be the answer we are looking for.

I must stop here and tell you all that I have the worst kind of news one can bear. Dear friends, our prayers for little Taryn were answered, but not in the way we had hoped. The Lord took her home and made her one of his angels yesterday morning.

Again my faith was tested yesterday. I grieved for my friends and their loss. I mourned my own loss in the love I had shared for this little baby girl. I was saddened for the friend that Abigail will never know. And I wanted to know “why”?

But as I prayed for peace for my friends, I found a peace and a clarity come over me. I realized that all of my prayers had been (or were being) answered. I prayed for Taryn daily. But I didn’t pray for her to live. I prayed for her to feel better and called for the end of her suffering. And in then end, God granted that. While I asked for prayers from all of you for a miracle, I was praying for the things Janelle had specifically asked me to pray for – like answers. Movement. And for God to show us His will. Janelle said it over and over and over, “His will be done.” We finally got answers – that there was nothing more the doctors could do, and so Ben and Janelle didn’t have to “make a call” or “give up” because we had come as far as we could. There was movement – a last attempt to heal her would give us an answer one way or another: she would either get better, or leave us all behind. And His will was done. He obviously needed another angel in heaven and He made Taryn especially for the job.

I know now what my Mother meant all those years ago. It is so hard to walk on blind faith. I’ve heard it asked so many times, “If there is a God, why doesn’t he end all suffering?” And today, I have to laugh and say that He does – it just isn’t always joyous. He ended Taryn’s suffering, and in time he will calm Ben and Janelle and take away their suffering too. But it is hard to believe that. It is hard not to get angry and ask, “Why me?” It is hard for me to believe in a merciful God when my heart is breaking for my friends. And it is so hard to deal with the guilt that comes with being the mom of the one who survived.

I know Janelle well enough to know that she would never want me to feel guilty. She would want me to rejoice and praise God for the gift. And believe me, I do. But as I held Abigail in my arms last night, I was reminded about how fragile she was and how easily the roles could have been reversed. But then, I was reminded of a promise that God made to me that morning in the hospital – that this has purpose, and in time He would show me.

Abigail has purpose in this world. I know that, beyond a shadow of a doubt. That is why she is here. Taryn has purpose, both in Ben and Janelle’s life and in heaven. That is why she has come and gone. And I found purpose in the connection I’ve made with Janelle. The Lord knew that we would need each other in times of trial on this journey. He placed the “when” so specifically, it hurts! Did you know that Abigail’s and Taryn’s due dates were in sync? Abigail was due on the 18th of Sept, and Taryn’s was the 17th of October. Almost exactly one month apart. And their births? Abigail was born on June 2nd. Taryn was born on July 3rd. Again, only one day off from a month apart. They were both 24 weekers. I don’t believe in coincidences. It was like God painted two GIANT arrows over our heads saying, “Ladies – get to know one another. I have plans for you.”

I don’t know what tomorrow brings. I just know that God gave me jobs to do. He gave me the job of raising Abigail so she can fulfill His promise. And He gave me (and Anthony)  the job of being the one friend Janelle(and Ben) can lean on in a way that no one else understands. I’m happy to say that Ben and Janelle have an army as big as ours to care for them, comfort them, and lift them up. But on the days when she feels like she has no one to turn to because they just “don’t get it,” she will remember that she has someone on her side that has walked a very similar path, and that she is not alone.

Ben and Janelle, I am praying that the Lord’s peace swallows you whole. I am praying that He gives you the kind of understanding that he has given me. And I am praying that this is just step one on your journey to becoming a family. Anthony and I are here for you whenever you need us. Peace be with you. Amen.

-Jen

Humbled and Blessed

If you follow me on Facebook, you’ve already seen my plea for prayers for some dear friends.

On June 1 when I was admitted to Los Robles, there was a woman residing just down the hall. Her name is Janelle and she had already been there for over a week when Abby was born. For the first 4 weeks of Abby’s life, I knew nothing of Janelle and her husband, Ben. Our little world concerned only Abby and her nurses and doctors. But on one Sunday afternoon at the end of June, one of our nurses asked if we would entertain a guest. A man, who’s wife was on bed rest down the hall, wanted to see the NICU and prepare himself for what could very possibly lie ahead for his precious little family. We were happy to meet Ben and show him what we could about the NICU.

You could tell that no amount of research prepared him for what he saw in Abby. He couldn’t believe her size. We told him her story and we could see how overwhelmed he was with it all. All the wires, all the alarms, all the rules. But through it all, you could see the relief in his face that a 24 weeker could make it. You see, it turned out that THAT DAY was the 24 week mark for his wife’s pregnancy. They were having a party in her room to celebrate reaching what the hospital calls “the point of viability.” (This is where I remind you just how early Abby was born – 1 week prior and we wouldn’t have been talking about “survival rates.” It would have been a “terminated pregnancy.”) We continued to talk about Abby’s conditions and benchmarks with Ben. Scratch that – Anthony talked. I was proud. It was obvious that he and Ben clicked. They understood each other as men. As husbands. As concerned fathers. We told him to hang in there. Ben thanked us for letting him visit, and asked us to stop by his wife’s room to talk to her, too.

We stopped by on our way out, introduced ourselves, and offered our contact information if they wanted to talk to us about our journey. Janelle asked me to please visit her the following week if I could. I visited the following Tuesday. While I simply intended to stop by and re-introduce myself, it turned into so much more. We talked for 2 whole hours! We simply clicked. Without even realizing it, I’d made a new friend. I told her I would visit her often. I planned on visiting her again the following week but I never got the chance. On Saturday afternoon, Janelle gave birth to a beautiful baby girl they named Taryn. While she had 2 days on Abigail (born at 24 and 6, where as Abby was 24 and 4), she weighed 4 ounces less and was about an inch shorter. But overall, she was at almost exactly the same place Abigail was, which was a good sign.

I’d only met Janelle twice. I’d only ever spoken to her for one afternoon. I’d never had any contact with her other than vocal communication. But when I saw her sitting next to Taryn’s Isolette that night, I ran right up to her and hugged her. She hugged me back. She told me all about her little girl. Such a proud Mama. I was so happy for her and happy that Taryn’s prognosis was good.

Taryn was almost exactly one month behind Abby. Janelle and Ben had a wonderful example of what was to come down the bend by watching Abby – both good and bad. They prayed for us. We prayed for them. We stood together as a NICU family when the twins passed away. Janelle and I were THOSE Moms…the ones that had to know everything about everyone. We made friends with the staff. We collected information about the other babies and compared notes so we could pray for them better. We were so obviously friends that the nurses were asking one of us when the other would be in next. They would come up to me and be DYING to share information on Taryn because they knew I’d want to know, but couldn’t because of HIPA rules. I can’t count how many times a nurse would ask, “Did you talk to Janelle today?” And if it was yes, I would divulge what I knew so they knew what we could talk about. And if the answer was no, they would pout and wander away. I would call or text Janelle from my Pod so we were always on the same page. She did the same with news of Abby. We joked that even though they never actually met, Abigail and Taryn were (and are) best friends.

Our bond was and is so strong. We were there for each other on a journey that so few understand, in a way that no one else could be. But as time went on, our paths started to stray from each other. As you know, Abigail was “The Amazing Abby” setting the bar and the example for the other babies. Taryn turned in the miracle fighter that beat every odd stacked against her. The obstacles came at Taryn like angry ocean waves. Infections, breathing problems, progressed ROP, the works! I prayed for my friend and her tiny angel daily, crying for their pain and worry, knowing all to well how it felt.

When it was time for Abby to come home, it was Janelle who was among the first to reach out to us, right along with our family. She brought us dinner that first week and still offers to help me if ever I need it. We are in constant contact (thank the Lord for things like text and facebook!!!). But Taryn’s rollercoaster ride is far from over. Over a month later and I am sad to report that she has to leave our little NICU family, but she needs more specialized attention. Taryn was transferred to UCLA today for more specialized care.

I am worried for my friend and her little girl. I am praying daily (still) that this all ends quickly and Taryn can go home to her loving parents and wonderful home. And as I try my best to be there for a woman, friend, and fellow Mom-of-a-micro-preemie I have to…HAVE TO… stop and thank God for Abigail. I talk to Janelle and hear the strain in her voice. I know that strain. And I can’t help but think, “That could have been us.” Abigail and Taryn had the same start. The same odds. And somehow, we’ve ended up and two different planets!

I am humbled by Ben and Janelle’s strength. I am proud of their perseverance and amazed at their faith. It is unwavering. And I am so blessed, both to have them in our lives, and to have Abigail by my side as I write these words.

I am calling out to all those who pray: Please join me and keep Taryn, Janelle, and Ben in your thoughts and prayers as they fight the good fight and wait with strength, faith, and baited breath for the day they get to bring Taryn home.

Ben and Janelle – hang in there. You are stronger than you know and God has you in his hands. This, too, shall pass and we will cheer Taryn and Abby on at their first ballet recital in a few years. Can’t wait!

-Jen