Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Three years later

Written April 7, 2015

Today two years ago I was in labor with my sweet, tender-hearted Baker Samuel. He will be 2 years-old tomorrow. We have not yet worked out just the right way to spend his and Mia's birthday. Two years ago I was in labor with him, and three years ago I was in labor with Mia. "What are you thinking, God??" is what I thought two years ago as Baker held out until just after midnight to be born on April 8th. Tomorrow we will have a joyful party for Baker and Mia, talking about meeting both new babies for the first time. Celebrating both on the same day has been ironic and bittersweet. What is God thinking?

Surprisingly, this year I am excited that the joy might finally be eclipsing the pain. You can understand that I think of my missing daughter daily. She has left a hole in our family.

But is it possible to be sad and excited at the same time? Of course, I still try hard to recall memories of her. I imagine a place and time that I was close to her, and at the same time, try not to bring back scenes of losing her. I still wonder how big she would be now. What kind of personality she would have had? I still wonder if we would have had two more children or if we would have stuck with three as we had intended.  

For the first year after her death, most thoughts were of the past. For quite awhile my future felt bleak. Having Baker soon after her death forced me in a very good way to rapidly deal with her loss.

Three years later, though, I feel hopeful

How can that be, and what has changed?

God has pruned. What has felt chaotic and treacherous has pointed me steadfastly in His direction. He has shown me His love in ways that were important to me. He has given me another son and another daughter. He has increased my love for my husband. He has shown me overwhelming support from friends and the church.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me." (John 15:1-2, 4 ESV)

He has revealed the sufficiency of His grace and has delivered me from the longings I was trying to fill with human comforts. I can trust His help. He has thoroughly proven that to me. I had felt overwhelmed by grief and the many tasks on my plate. Having emotions overloaded with pain has at times left me paralyzed. And yet, I have gone to bed every night and have awoken the next morning with new mercies(Lam.3:22). I know where to find help. And I want to share that with others.

“I am certain that I never did grow in grace one-half so much anywhere as I have upon the bed of pain.” ~ Charles Spurgeon

Suffering has tarnished my idols. Why do I want to chase wealth, prestige, or comfort if God will always strengthen me? In my reactions during deep sadness, I saw my sinfulness. I had become ugly at times because I was in pain. I am sensitive and I had a hard time overlooking offenses. I struggled to forgive. And if I was so flawed, I knew I didn't have the answers. The only place I could get reliable answers was in the Bible(Ps. 19).

God gave me a thirst for the Bible. No, Jesus could not be perceived mainly through emotions. Prior to God's pruning, I had felt closeness to God when I was singing worship songs. Some nights I would wake up and wonder, do I really know You as well as I think I do, LORD? I had been holding onto some ideas of God that were false. Being led by emotions without discernment left me discouraged- I needed more.

God opened my eyes to this truth: that the Bible tells us what God wants us to know- everything for life(!) and salvation. The enemy had effectively twisted some deep truths that had sapped my strength. When pain squeezed me into a tight spot, those lies surfaced. Thank God that He showed me His objective truth. He planned friends for me that have helped point me to His Word. Early on, several friends had shown me how to grieve. More recently, other friends have helped me to build up my discernment muscles.

And as my discernment becomes stronger. As my focus on God's truth gets sharper. And as my awareness of my sinfulness and my dependency on God grow, I am hopeful that the next storm that comes will be met with more of God's strength. He is making me stronger. He is cutting away the parts of me that need to go. He will do the same for you if you belong to Him. All honor and glory to His holy name.

Baker Samuel is two years-old!

April 8, 2015

Precious Mia with Gavin (this shirt has lasted three boys!)

April 8, 2012

"Oh, bless our God, you peoples! And make the voice of His praise to be heard, 
Who keeps our soul among the living, And does not allow our feet to be moved. 
For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined. 
You brought us into the net; You laid affliction on our backs. 
You have caused men to ride over our heads; We went through fire and through water; But You brought us out to rich fulfillment. 
I will go into Your house with burnt offerings; I will pay You my vows, 
Which my lips have uttered And my mouth has spoken when I was in trouble. 
I will offer You burnt sacrifices of fat animals, With the sweet aroma of rams; I will offer bulls with goats. Selah 
Come and hear, all you who fear God, And I will declare what He has done for my soul. 
I cried to Him with my mouth, And He was extolled with my tongue. If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear. 
But certainly God has heard me; He has attended to the voice of my prayer. 
Blessed be God, Who has not turned away my prayer, Nor His mercy from me! (Psalms 66:8-20 NKJV)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

What Now?

October 15th is remembered by many as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. And as a reluctant part of the child loss community, I spent the evening reading friends' messages and posts remembering their children; and I allowed myself extra time to sit with Mia's things and to remember the beautiful moments when we were so connected.

I also took a moment to ponder how we are doing in this Great After as life continues each new day. At one point, life seemed to stretch on impossibly far, and I felt so weary. Now I wake up everyday and am given strength for that new set of issues.

On one hand, I am so very grateful for God's new mercies every morning. I remember what it was like to feel weighted down with grief, stuck in the heavy sadness that was hard work. Contrasted with the deep days of walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death(as I call it), every new morning feels victorious.

I feel new joy and freedom that I had never before felt. When it's time to laugh or enjoy a moment walking with my dear husband, I think I choose to value joy for itself. "Let's not worry about anything else right now. Right now I just want to enjoy laughing with my family."

On the other hand, I continue to live separate from my dear child. I won't be reunited with her until I die or when Jesus returns. Missing her is part of my life now.

I recently sprained my ankle. I now remember that I can't do everything I used to: I think again before bounding up steps or when I am playing soccer with the boys. Although my ankle will probably grow stronger over time, I need to purposefully slow down and care for the part of me that has been compromised.

I am forever changed. I am realizing that this vulnerability of missing Mia means that I need to nurture my relationship with my Savior more than ever. Instead of turning to previous sources of finding meaning or distraction, God is the One for whom I really long(even though I still forget often). And I am so thankful that He is faithful, tenderly counseling me and providing what I need.

Dear Lord,
You are my Great Reward through the disappointments of life.  I am beginning to realize more and more that enjoying Your grace and truth is enough. Forgive my tendency to look to other things to satisfy my longing for You. Forgive me for my tendency towards selfishness, self-pity, and self-reliance. Thank You for Your faithfulness to me- You have promised Your children sure hope and comfort in Your Word. Please bind my heart to Yours. Direct my thoughts to You daily as my only source of fulfillment. Please comfort this hurting world with the hope of salvation through Your Son's death on the cross. You alone will satisfy. More love to You, Sweet Savior.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Not fair

This morning I had a rare quiet moment with Baker and went to Mia's grave. I feel pulled there at times; it feels good to tend to something for her. I smiled at the pretty yellow flowers someone had left in a mason jar. I tried to guess who had chosen flowers, had carefully wrapped their stems, and had neatly arranged them before visiting her grave. 
I stood and looked around at what a beautiful day it was. What a contrast the cool, fresh breeze was to the thoughts of missing my little girl. I would much rather be taming her wayward brown hair than her grave. I traced the etched letters of her name in the dark stone of her marker and healing tears sprung to my eyes. I wish I didn't have to contemplate what color bow to place on her grave in place of picking out bows and gems for a giggling little girl.
"How is this fair?" I sighed. Deep disappointment brought up anger for a moment. As I looked up at the sky to ask God for some kind of justice, the sun peaked out from behind the straightest and tallest evergreen tree that stretched impossibly high before me, directing my eyes far upward. 
Every time I feel that feeling that makes me want to pound the earth, I'm reminded of the unfairness of the Gospel. I don't deserve any of this. I am able to enjoy true joy with my children and share stories of what Mia is possibly doing with Jesus right now because God bought us at a high and miserable price. 
No, thoughts of unfairness don't last long in the view of my sweet Savior. A friend gave me a rugged and beautiful sign for my living room that reminds me to "Bless The Lord, O my soul", because by either a tree or a sign... I need to remember.

I don't understand, Lord. I wish You would just bring her back to me. It hurts too much sometimes. And yet, I trust You even down to the smallest detail. You have ironically filled emptiness in me through aching pain in ways I could never have imagined. Help me to love You with my entire heart, soul, mind, and strength, precious Jesus. My heart is not satisfied with less.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Honoring Mia

Dear Family and Friends,

At the anniversary of her passing, we thank God for Mia Caroline, a precious girl we were blessed to hold for a brief time.  In honor of Mia, we invite you to participate with us in one or two ways:

First, I will wear pink on Tuesday, June 4, to remember our daughter.  Please join me in doing so as well.

Second, some of you may want to honor her by giving.  This year, many of you stepped in to help us in our crisis.  Thank you for your faithfulness. We feel strongly that the people most in need of our help are women and babies. 

Therefore, we invite you to give in her name, Mia Caroline Stel, to your local crisis pregnancy center.  Mia lived a brief life, but many mothers and babies are still in need of our help.  Pregnancy centers give mothers loving treatment to provide them the opportunities they and their child need to thrive.

By donating to a pregnancy center, we feel that you are helping to spread Mia’s message:  No matter how brief a life, each one is profoundly important.

Thank you deeply in advance for honoring her with your support.  Your love has helped breathe renewed life into our hearts.


Derrick and Ruth

PS- Our local pregnancy center is Modesto Pregnancy Center.  If you are curious about the services they offer or would like to give to this center, you can visit Modesto Pregnancy Center.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Introducing: Baker Samuel Stel

"The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 1:21
 We are pleased to announce the birth of our fourth child, Baker Samuel Stel.
He was meant to enter this big world the same birthday as his older sister, Mia.  And so it was that on April 8th, 2013 at 1:19 AM he made his debut at 22 inches long and 8 pounds 6 ounces.

 We are in love.  It is sheer joy to care for his needs and to watch him respond and grow.  He reminds me of his siblings but he is distinctively himself.  What a joy it is to be his mom!

 There has been new grief that has surfaced, and caring for him has brought clarity about my connection to his sister.  Baker has helped keep memories realistic and brought certain things full circle.  Caring for him has made me long for his sister more intensely than ever.  But, and I never thought I would say this, being with him has brought a measure of healing to my heart.

 It doesn't hurt that this guy is gorgeous and pure sweetness.  I have so many stories to share IF I ever seem to find the time or the focus.

Special thanks to friend Carole Buwalda for taking these beautiful pictures.  She was exceptional.  And when faced with the choice of taking her expensive camera out of sprinklers and let the nearby mom carry her own baby OR the other way around, she dropped that camera without a thought and scooped up my precious boy.  I love her even more for that(by the way, I did grab the camera for her!).
Thank you also to Amy Wohlgemuth of Buttons Diaper Co. for the beautiful diapers(can you call diapers "beautiful"?).

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Pregnant and Grieving

Taken 2-27-13.
My Mia Wreath.

As the days dwindle before Mia's 1st Birthday on Monday and before my due date on Tuesday, I feel the need to get one last post in during what has been a unique season of my life- being pregnant and grieving.

My husband now mocks me for frequently telling people, "I have been pregnant for 18 of the last 20 months!" Please don't give him more material by telling him that I just learned that elephants have the longest gestation of any land animal at about 19-22 months.  Not quite the same, I know; I just never thought I could be pregnant so long and still feel alright.  I have to laugh and be thankful at the blessing of having had two babies grow within my stretchy abdomen over the past two years.  And for a woman who once thought children would never enter the picture, I am so very thankful.

Although these two back-to-back pregnancies have taken me by surprise, Mia and this boy have been part of God's plan.  I wonder if some people get tired of me referring to God- His plan, His goodness, His grace... but I've come to see so clearly how every day, every little occurrence is under His tender control.  When I'm more aware of His merciful control over life, I can relax and feel peaceful.  He already sees the entire picture of my life, and I get to find out along the way.

I feel like I need to let you in on some of the really honest truth of what it's like to be pregnant and grieving.  It has been very good, but it has not been easy.

I feel like I've made it through this pregnancy by the skin of my teeth at times.  I wandered around in a fog for much of it.  It's all been too much for me.  Did pregnancy hormones make my pain feel deeper?  Grieving a child has felt a lot like my life was ending- like I could hardly continue living.  I'm not sure it would have been easier if I had not been pregnant, and it may have been even harder.  I'll never know for sure.

Many strong emotions have surfaced lately, and I haven't slept much for the past few weeks.  I have felt like this baby is going to be Mia.  I have felt like the same thing is going to happen again to this child.  I have not felt the sheer joy and excitement of having a new baby that can carry you through a lot of the sleeplessness.  I have felt a lot of dread.  I fight anxiety.  I have been actively battling lies that my mind tries to entertain.

With that being said, God has been extremely good.  When I feel like I'm overwhelmed, it forces me to be quiet before the Lord.  I can fall apart when I'm alone and plead with the Lord.  I have no choice but to fall headlong into His strength.  It's a very hard and very sweet place to reside- in dependence upon God.  I'm falling short in many areas and I trust Him that He'll make my efforts right somehow.

Loved ones have been extremely good.  Family and friends continue to show us their love and support in personal ways.  I can't wait to have this new little guy in my arms.  I imagine that I'm going to fall deeply in love with him.

It will be hard, and he won't take away missing Mia.

For now, I'm humbly thanking God for His goodness through it all.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

New Life

We celebrated Easter today by going to church this morning, surrounded by the people who have supported us with their kindness this year.  Our church has a special praise service, followed by a breakfast, followed by a traditional Easter service.  People can order flowers to remember someone who has passed away; these flowers decorate the front of the sanctuary and surround the cross in the front.  Being with our church family is exactly how I love to spend Easter morning.

I had to swallow hard as we passed the Ripon Cemetery on the way to church.  I wanted to remember that last year on Easter morning, we met little Mia for the first time.  Last year, I was induced into labor with Mia early on Easter morning.  We were relieved when none of the complications for which we had been prepared occurred.  The doctor quickly slipped her cord from around her neck and delivered our slightly over eight pound baby.  We had her around 9:30 AM, and a friend delivered the news to be announced during the Easter service at church.  After lunch, Noah and Gavin came with my parents to meet their baby sister for the first time.

As we drove past her grave on the way to church, I had to push away the sadness for a few hours to celebrate the hope that we have for new life.  On Easter, Jesus rose again.  And on Easter last year, we began our eight sweet weeks with our daughter.

Today special friends bought flowers for the front of the church, wore Mia's pink funeral ribbon, mentioned her name while remembering her with us, talked about how she affected their families, wrote Mia a letter... and my mom and I both wore her pink crocheted flower.  Loved ones e-mailed and texted to let us know that they were remembering Mia and praying for us this last week before our son's due date.

Derrick's cousin attended our church service with us today and had lunch with the four of us at my parents' house- it was sweet to have her company.  When she helped us load Mia's flowers into our car she asked Noah where we should put the flowers.  Instead of answering with "the trunk" or "the back seat", he said, "On Mia's grave."  So we went together to place Easter lilies from a dear friend by her memorial stone.

These sweet gifts from friends and family that help remember our daughter are healing for us.  God has enriched our lives with kind people and He has blessed us with deeper friendships as a result of Mia's death.  He has given new life to Mia, who is worshiping the risen Savior like the women at the tomb.

Jesus died on Friday to pay our penalty and rose on Sunday to conquer death.  He also experienced Saturday, when He was forsaken by God and was grieved by those dear to Him.  He understands sorrow.  I am so happy that we don't have to live everyday in mourning.  Today I remember that new life that He gave to Mia and that He gives to me.  One day, I will see my daughter in the presence of my dear, sweet Jesus.  Until then, I cherish the smaller miracles and kindnesses hidden within the sadness.