North – Day 9 & 10

August 3 & 4

It is no easy task separating myself from the warm clutches of my cozy bed at such an early hour on vacation, but I do. My Mom and I head off to the 8:30 mass at Our Lady of the Snows. It is exactly two months since Nora has been gone, although that hasn’t quite registered with me yet. It is early.

I remember coming to this church on vacations when I was little with my cousins. The same cousins seated a few pews back with families of their own. We’re the adults now; a whole new cast of children.

As the service wraps up the priest invites all August anniversaries and birthdays forward for a special blessing. My tear switch is flipped to the ON position as the congregation, the choir and the pipe organ join together in a cheerful arrangement of Happy Birthday. Happy birthday to the assembly of parishioners in front of the altar and *nod*wink*wink* to my breakable broken heart. Happy Birthday in unlikely places. My Aunt Elaine noticed too!

I am anxious to get back home to tell William about the Happy Birthday, as that would have been PLENTY! BUT WAIT! There’s MORE!

The service concludes and we gather outside into the beautiful day to chat with the aunts, uncles and cousins. As I am edging over to the coffee and doughnuts my Mom and another woman exchange enthusiastic hellos with one another. She introduces me to Mimi.

Rewind back to our 9th day in the hospital with Nora at the end of May. I wrote about the woman my Mom had met while she was up in Michigan then, and we were back home 560 miles away. The woman whose daughter had been THERE IN THE EMERGENCY ROOM working on Nora in those intensely critical minutes, hours–this is the mother of that nurse!!! I am beside myself to actually meet her! BUT WAIT! There’s MORE!

As I express my gratitude to Mimi for her amazing daughter, she points to a young lady with beautiful curly blonde hair talking with another group of people, “She’s here!”

This is Katie.

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This is Katie who helped to save Nora’s precious life that day! She helped to give us an extra 15 days with Nora! How in the world do you even thank someone for that?!?!?! How in the world are we meeting up hundreds of miles from home in this remote little part of the world? {I ask as if I don’t know… } WOW. Just tears!

In the afternoon I watch the kids play in the sand from the dock. We all notice a couple of little white butterflies. They flutter around us, especially the kids. My little niece Keira matter-of-factly informs the others, “Nornor and Max are playing dress-up. Today they’re butterflies!”

You can see either “Nornor” or “Max” just above the orange bucket ~

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And because you are wondering who Max is, he is my little nephew who lives in heaven; Grace, Keira and Parker’s brother. Max was born sleeping at 19 weeks gestation back in January of 2009. The doctors had been unable to find his heartbeat on a routine OB visit. This was obviously a very sad time. Max’s memory lives on and we will never forget his short but precious little life either. Back in June it was decided to have Max’s ashes buried with Nora in a pretty satchel that she held in her chubby dimpled hand. Sweet little cousins, playmates in heaven, dressed up as butterflies for the day. Such a sweet thought! :)

I glance up at the subtle cross in the sky ~

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And the bold heart-shaped stump in the yard ~

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“Dats me above my name! I just stop by to say hello! I love you!”

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We wish the sun a good night and sweet dreams!

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It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he causes me to stand on the heights. He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
(‭2 Samuel‬ ‭22‬:‭33-35‬ NIV)

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On Monday William and I are again drawn back to “Narnia”. The bold cross in the sky, “…And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (‭Matthew‬ ‭28‬:‭20‬ NIV)

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The 3G Network is with us (Gavin, Greta and Gracie), and our Kellkell.

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Another freighter passes by in the distance ~

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We take trips on the jet ski back and forth to Uncle Dan’s boat waiting just outside the cove. It gets a little dicey trying to maneuver a larger watercraft through and around the big boulders.

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Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.
(‭Psalm‬ ‭31‬:‭24‬ NIV)

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In the afternoon I’m feeling creative. I inscribe Nora’s name on a piece of birch bark and place it by the family photo. Her precious physical presence is so missed.

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I also paint their names on big rocks in the yard. Their memory is always right there with us!

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Sisters 3

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Cousins 3

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And one beautiful sunset!

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The nights around the campfire are the greatest! The roaring fire competing with the roars of laughter. How wonderfully blessed I am to have some of the funniest people I know as members of my family, by blood and by marriage. Thank you for your gift of laughter!

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
(‭Proverbs‬ ‭17‬:‭22‬ NIV)

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Uncle Josh teaching Gavin important life lessons — how to make an ice and Coke! Someone (ahem) getting into mischief in the background!

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How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!
(‭Psalm‬ ‭133‬:‭1‬ NIV)

North – Day 7 & 8

August 1 & 2

This morning my Mom, sister Emily and I visited a garage sale. I discovered a couple of reasonably priced treasures, one of which was a bit of a Nora wink. Nora absolutely LOVED her music boxes. She had a green music box, much like the one pictured below that played Happy Birthday. These little Fisher Price music boxes are reminiscent of my childhood and are hard to come by. We used to joke that Nora was a little hipster baby. There were really no other baby toys at this garage sale – just this lone special music box, and I almost missed it. “I kinda liked doze tings!”

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I also found this Art Deco-ish box camera. I have no idea how to use it or if it even works, but I thought it would look cool in my art space. I’m going to try to hook it up to Instagram later.

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I am accustomed to fog in the early mornings back home. It is strange and beautiful to see a mysterious shroud of low clouds rolling into the channel in the middle of an unsuspecting sunny afternoon.

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My sister, Sarah wondering, “What the fog?” ~

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The air gets cooler and I can physically reach out and touch the wisps of vapor. I can no longer see the land across the water; the sun’s warmth cuts through the chill that suddenly surrounds me. I recall the uncountable interludes of worry that would creep into my thoughts much like this fog, much less beautiful. My skin would grow cold, clarity obstructed, yet God’s warmth permeated my short-sighted uneasiness. The worry would eventually burn away reminding me not “what” but “WHO.”

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
(‭John‬ ‭14‬:‭27‬ NIV)

The fog of worry is gone for now. A heavy boulder of sorrow has instead been dropped into the lake of my soul. I can see the flecks of gold through the shimmering water, the veins of precious minerals. There is indeed beauty marbled throughout this immense sorrow.

On the smaller rocks I paint beautiful pictures. The smaller of life’s burdens can remain as rocks to weigh me down or they can become my canvas.

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As night time falls upon us, we decorate Chinese lanterns to set off into the starry sky. We write messages to Nora and to Ali who “Godwinkcidentally” is one of Nora’s neighbors at the cemetery, among many other wonderful things.

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It would appear that Gavin is wearing his corresponding ROCK PINK ROCK LOVE t-shirt from Ali’s fabulous Rock Pink Par-tay for this purpose. However, it has become his new favorite shirt. I have to wash it almost daily or he will just wear it again out of the stinky hamper.

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The three glowing lanterns rise high above the earth. I can’t see them clearly through the tears that have pooled up in my eyes, my Dad’s arm around me. We remember through teary smiles as they drift off out of sight.

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After a lazy Saturday morning William and I head off on the jet ski. The heart smiles from the horizon.

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In my only attempt to capture a flock of seagulls (not the band), only THREE of them wind up in the picture. Totally unintentional!

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We are towing the 2 red kayaks behind us and are moving along at a slower pace. As we pass the dolomite mines we are disappointed that there isn’t a huge freighter to admire.

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I jokingly ask Siri if there are any freighters in the area. I would have flipped my wig if she was like, “Look to your right,” because basically that’s all we had to do!

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We drop the kayaks off at our intended destination and then continue on to investigate the freighter. I am amused, but not surprised to note that the aerial view of Narnia’s gorgeous cove is somewhat heart shaped!

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The freighter is the Wilfred Sykes. We watch in awe as this monstrosity of steel turns around and then backs into port over the course of about twenty minutes. Several of the crew repel down to shore once the steel cables are roped into place. Fascinating.

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We gawk and stare for a good while at this huge curiosity and then head off back to our awaiting kayaks.

This water! These rocks! The pine trees growing right OUT of these rocks! And the perfect sky! As stunning as these pictures are, they still can’t do it justice!

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My eyes happen upon a ladybug struggling in the ripples of the water. Her fate seemingly sealed, when along comes the yellow paddle of my oar. I carefully extricate her from her peril and set her on my sleeve to dry off. How much she and I have in common, I think to myself. I too have been plucked out of the deadly water, currently basking in the warm sunshine from the comforts of God’s sleeve. I am never quite free from the chill of the water, perhaps never will be, but I have survived. I am warmed. I am loved.

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I watch as she flies off into the forever of the bold blue sky. Someday I reckon will join her.

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I am in love with the Pure Michigan ads, commercials and billboards alike. We were quite surprised to see a billboard in Cincinnati advertising “OUR” Michigan, Les Cheneaux Islands (in bottom left corner)!

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These are our best DRAMATIC re-enactments ~

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We explore the shoreline for a couple of hours before heading back. I stand in awed silence memorizing the sight, sounds and smells of this unparalleled treasure as William secures the kayaks to the jet ski. A heart winks back.

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The rest of the day unfolds with lots to do, or not, if you so choose!

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The day draws to a close, our extended family and friends among us watching the crazy cold water skiers.

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Emily und Josh spielt Tischtennis!

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The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.
(‭Psalm‬ ‭65‬:‭8‬ NIV)

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North – Days 5 & 6

July 30 & 31

The grief and desiderium have become a familiar part of my very being — a throbbing wound that I can’t escape, but don’t necessarily want to. It is the evidence of my great love for her, the indelible mark that she has left on my heart that I will carry with me until I breathe my own last breath. The initial stab wound and remembering that moment is one of the biggest things that hurt. She rubbed her poor sweet IV bandaged wrist across her itchy little nose one last time and then she was gone. I glanced up and saw her monitors turn off. She was really gone. It’s so easy for me to hate that moment from this side of heaven, but oh, the ecstasy that she must have coalesced into. Much like a butterfly leaving the chrysalis, suddenly cognizant of its ability to fly! We are all still stuck in the darkness of this cocoon waiting for our wings to develop, humanly oblivious to what just happened on the other side of the silk.

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Gavin and I take a late morning walk along the road. I cherish how he still reaches for my hand as we amble along side by side. Love. We marvel at the beauty of the butterfly, the morphing wisps of cirrus clouds overhead.

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A woodpecker in the pines catches our attention. We are awestruck to discover that it is not one, but THREE pileated woodpeckers!!!!!!! I have never encountered these giant woodpeckers up here. Of COURSE there are three of them. They appear to be 2 adults with a juvenile.

Much later in the day they showed up IN our yard! Incase I didn’t quite feel God’s impassioned presence already?

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He leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.
(‭Psalm‬ ‭23‬:‭2-3‬ NIV)

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Greta and her Daddy are just back from an excursion of their own as I head out in the kayak.

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Being out in the water with the ability to navigate through the islets is incredibly curative. I look out to the never-ending expanse of the Great Lake Huron and breathe in the untainted air. This.

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I row past my great grandmother’s cottage on the mainland. This is where the pictures of me as an infant in the first vacation post were taken — where it all began.

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I remember.

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I imagine Nora in heaven sitting on a swing with her just like I did when I was little. A sideways heart on the horizon smiles back at me.

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I row onward thanking God for this incredible beauty, and for the absolute gift of being present in it.

The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. All your works praise you, Lord.
(‭Psalm‬ ‭145‬:‭9-10‬ NIV)

The mornings are characterized by the beloved aroma of goetta, bacon and coffee. The canned laughter of Leave it to Beaver or Addam’s Family on Netflix evokes nostalgia.

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As the sun climbs higher in the sky, the clear cold water and the lightly toasted sand beckon the castle builders.

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Or toad houses, as the case may be ~

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Today I am remembering Eleanor W. One year ago on this day of July 31st, sweet precious Ellie was born into heaven. Ellie and Nora brought their Mommies together as friends through their mutual extra 18th chromosome. Our friendship is a great bit of beauty from the ashes in each of our families’ lives. At sunset I wrote her name with pebbles in the sand. You are loved and treasured, Eleanor! Happy birthday to you!

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A heart smiles back.

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He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live.
(‭Ecclesiastes‬ ‭3‬:‭11-12‬ NIV)

North – Days 3 & 4

July 28 & 29

William, Gavin and I bike along the length of the island (1.1mile). It is a beautiful ride accompanied by the smell of pine and the hum of distant boat motors. The resplendent blue water is visible through the trees on both sides of the street. We stop at a spot I used to visit in days of yore when Nora was just a covert little zygote. I had been unaware then of her tiny presence, blissfully oblivious to a sweet extra chromosome and to what the next three years had in store for me — for my family.

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The thin narrow dock spans out through the reeds. It is quiet. Beautiful. Until the bees become threatened by our presence. One sting, two stings, Gavin is their target. And there went the serenity.

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Apparently there was a nest hidden under the dock that we had the audacity to walk over and the bees were none too happy about it. Neither William or I got stung. Gavin wasn’t crazy about extending our excursion down this dock in the first place, and of course he’s the one who got stung. Twice. Ah, poor buddy!!! This was his first encounter with a bee sting(s). Thanking God that there was no allergic reaction!

He shook it off and is back to playing as soon as we get back. There’s no sniffling in Wiffle ball with Uncle Josh!

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Kids just fall from the sky around here.
(My niece Keira the Rockstar and her Daddy)

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The weather has been exceedingly chillier than we are used to this time of year. Thank goodness for knee socks!!

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The previous day we were taken aback to learn that the house our families rented for 4 consecutive summers on the neighboring island was gone. In its place stood a newly constructed, very large and unfamiliar house. It is a beautiful home but is rudely oblivious to its imposure on our sacred ground. This place was the backdrop of so so many treasured memories that now exists only in pictures and in thought. We stopped by in the car Sunday to have a look around. We gathered a few rocks and left a few tears. William and I oared past again in the kayaks today. You can see the newly built house in the background of the picture below.
45° 58′ 51.949″ N 84° 18′ 47.208″ W

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Beneath the Kissing Bridge ~

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Temporarily distracted from my sadness, I row through the reeds and the heart-shaped lily pads. The warm sunshine on my face and the cool breeze in my hair are God’s soothing mercies.

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Feather ~

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The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.
(‭Psalm‬ ‭9‬:‭9-10‬ NIV)

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North – Days 1 & 2

July 26th & 27th

The flat expanse of farmland and orange barrels lay stretched out before us. No bottles to mix, no diapers to check, no cries to soothe. “Shouldn’t I be DOING something?” my routines, patterns and habits wonder in confusion. I miss her.

The reminders of God’s love are obvious and unimstakeable.

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The hearts and the countless trios of birds bear their reminder that everything is going to be alright.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.(‭John‬ ‭14‬:‭1‬ ESV)

The farms gradually fade into forests of tall Northern pines and we begin scanning the horizon for the majestic spires of the Mackinac Bridge. At long last, we see them. I feel the familiar tinge of excitement I felt as a little girl. The bridge signifies that we are almost there; the same sparkle now reflecting in the eyes of my children.

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Looking back at pictures from past Michigan vacations, this is my very first trip to Cedarville / Les Cheneaux Islands in 1973. I was about 2 or 3 months old here. :) I reportedly rode up in a portable bassinet in the backseat of an orange VW bug. The bassinet was tied down with clothesline though, so I was safe, not to worry.

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The crisp smell of cedar pine intermingled with boat fuel and a hint of fish, the quintessence of my very being. Home.

The sun is remiss and low clouds hover as we arrive at our destination. I look down and see the heart as soon as I step out of the car ~

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By late afternoon a break in the clouds indicate that it is time for swimming. If the air temperature is registering in at a brisk 61°, you can only imagine how cold the water must be. They don’t currrrr ~

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Although our grief is heavy, we are excited to be in this special corner of the world. It had become increasingly difficult to find rental properties up here to comfortably accommodate our ever growing family. This past December my parents announced to us that they had finally found and purchased a beautiful place to house all 17 of us, which then included Nora. Nora’s needs and comforts were taken into careful consideration and we couldn’t wait to bring her up here for her third vacation up North, her place of origin. There is even a fancy baff tub with jets in the downstairs bathroom. We were tearfully joyful at this awesome news.

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So here we are. It is our first summer in this house of our own–even more beautiful than the pictures we had seen. What we had intended as respite from the daily grind, has now become a sanctuary to cushion our broken hearts together as a family. How incredibly blessed and thankful we are for all of the time and hard work that has gone in to making it all that it is.

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Last year we were split up into different accommodations. It worked out, but it would have been nice to all be together. I haven’t yet had the strength to drive down the gravel driveway that leads to last year’s little cabin where we stayed with Nora. It would be exceedingly painful to be staying there or in the house where the rest of the family stayed. We spent a lot of time in the big house during the day with Nora. It would be so hard to sit in the same rooms, in the same chair that I rocked her in this same time last year. This new place is a fresh slate to create new memories, and a soothing refuge to reflect on the treasured memories of the past.

I watch in contemplative silence as a lazy mist rolls across the channels. She is with me in my heart.

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Several generations of cousins, second-cousins, once, twice, thrice removed, aunts, uncles — greats and grand, etc. convene for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres at a relative’s lake house. Despite a couple of raindrops, it is a beautiful evening!

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Heart-shaped puddle ~

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Heading back to the house across the Kissing Bridge, the sun courts the horizon for their evening promenade.

For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.
(‭Psalm‬ ‭91‬:‭11‬ ESV)

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We huddle around the campfire to seek protection from the boreal winds. We laugh. We love.

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Happy Birthday, S!

Twenty-one years ago at 1:30 in the morning a precious baby girl breathed air into her lungs for the first time. The sound of her newborn cry would remain etched in my mind for years and years to come. I held her in my arms, her big blue eyes looking back at me. The Mommy I had chosen for her was there too–looking on in wonder at her beautiful new baby daughter, her Daddy waiting anxiously just outside the door. Their joy became my strength.

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A few days later under a little gazebo in the park I held that tiny bundle for the last time. I tearfully placed her in their arms, somehow able to admit at 20-years-old that I wasn’t what was best for her. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, God and his legion of angels carried my wounded heart away from the gazebo that day. I’m not strong enough to do something like that on my own. There were probably trios of birds and hearts all over the place, but I hadn’t bothered to notice. For the next 18 years her Mommy devotedly sent me pictures and letters as she had promised. And then it came – THE letter. S. wanted to meet me!!!!! There is nothing on this earth that I can possibly compare what it’s like to embrace someone you’ve thought about, loved, and missed every single day for eighteen years. The only correlation I can make is that of a birth, but even that is only a matter of 8+ months of eager anticipation. Perhaps it would be like being pregnant for 18 years, but way better because you aren’t actually pregnant? It’s hard to believe that 21 years have now elapsed. I have always been so thankful for the God given discernment to realize the sanctity of a tiny embryo. The embryo that was my birth daughter. The embryo that the world that was quick to dismiss as an “inconvenience.” A “choice.” I’ve given thanks for the courage to admit that I wasn’t what was best for this baby who would someday grow up into a little girl, a teenager, a young lady.

Almost twenty-one years later, also at 1:30 in the morning, another precious baby girl breathed air into her lungs, but it was for the last time. As I’m faced with this painful season of my life, I am thankful for the perspective that S.’s story has invested. Because of S. I know that I will survive having said goodbye to Nora. I know I will take each day as it comes. Rain or shine, I will get through it. The Lord’s joy is and will be my strength. He will continue to carry me through the darkest days, but this time I KNOW He’s there.

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I know that I will think of Nora every single day for the rest of my life, sometimes with painful yearning, sometimes with resolute joy. I know that God will write me letters and send me pictures of Nora in the form of a beautiful sunrise, hearts in the clouds and in the songs of the birds. Because of S. I know that the years will fly by quickly. I know that someday–some incredible, euphoric day that I won’t be able to put into words again–I will have another such moment as I had with my first born. I’ll get that “letter” from God that Nora wants to meet me. And I will go. I will go with such fervid excitement as I watch her nearing closer, tears in my eyes, about to jump out of my skin. And then I’ll have it – the treasured and longed for embrace.

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Thank you, S. for the hope that the story of your life has bestowed upon my broken heart. I couldn’t do this without you. Thank you and HAPPY, HAPPY BIRTHDAY. I LOVE you. I know that your sweet little birth sister is up there singing her favorite song to you! I hope your day was wonderful!

Independence Day

A month has slipped by without her. Sometimes my heart hurts so badly I wonder if it’s possible to die of a broken heart. Bins of memories are stacked up in what was supposed to have been her bedroom. Plants and flowers from her funeral fill the void of the toys, chairs, and medical equipment. They’re beautiful and they’re something to occupy my unemployed hands. How horrible it was to take that little red white and blue dress down off of the hanger. I had it waiting for her – for today. Assuming that of course she would be here for her third Fourth of July — assuming there would always be tons of pictures to take.

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These are the thoughts that try to stir up my bitterness and rage evoking such sentiments as, “Why me?” “It’s not fair.” “I can’t do this.” My wounded soul, intimately connected with my God hears, “Yes, you! Give thanks!” “It might not seem fair, but someday you’ll see.” “No, you can’t do this. That’s why I’m going to carry you through it.” I lay my head down and breathe it in, so thankful, so blessed.

The days, the months and the years will continue on without her. I will continue to miss her terribly, but death has no power over true and eternal life. Today I not only celebrate our nation’s freedom, but the freedoms that Nora experienced directly because of it.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

“All men” includes babies endowed by their Creator with a precious extra chromosome. Nora had a right to her amazing but short little LIFE. She didn’t have to go through any great lengths to pursue her HAPPINESS. As for LIBERTY? She finally has her true liberty. She is liberated from everything that restricted her health and development. It might not say it in the Declaration of Independence but it says in the Bible:

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
(Revelation 21:5 ESV)

“All things new” is the greatest liberating promise of all. I’m in pursuit of THAT kind of happiness and blessed with the FREEDOM to do it.

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