Archive | June 2012

Amazing Grace

Our Beautiful Angel, Sephora Angeline, has changed our lives as well as the lives of many others through her very short life’s story.  At the middle of her story, when we received the Trisomy 13 diagnosis, our world was turned upside down.  We cried.  We screamed.  I was a complete wreck and didn’t leave the house that entire weekend except to go to church.  Sephora has helped to stretch me.  I feel like I have more compassion for other people around me.  My patience could still use some work, however.

When we went to see “The Centurion The Musical,” a bagpiper played Amazing Grace in Act 2.  I remember sitting in my seat listening to the music and singing the words in my head.  It was there, that the comprehension and understanding of “Amazing Grace” hit me.  Up until that day, I’d never tried to figure out its meaning.  Finally, I understand.  Amazing Grace, in it’s very simple form, is about more than just grace.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.  I once was lost, but now I’m found.  Was blind but now I see.  –Who am I, that this verse brings me back to God’s eternal upper story versus our human lower story we have been examining at our church recently.  How does my husband, Chris, my angel baby, Sephora, and my life fit into God’s unchanging upper story? Maybe, part of the answer is found in that old Hymn I heard last week at that powerful biblical musical my husband and I saw.

Through many dangers toils and snares I have already come.  Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home!  –Our journey with Sephora has taken us through many emotions.  Those who hear her story and have graciously contacted us through visits, emails, blog responses, etc.–some have shared that they have been inspired by our courage and strength to overcome the loss of our precious baby.  “Grace” has kept us safe.  Grace has certainly kept us sane.  Through grace, we have been able to understand Sephora’s purpose.  Grace let us love our precious baby unconditionally.  Grace has shaped our life’s story by putting Sephora in it.  My husband and my faith assures us that God’s grace will lead us home to Heaven to finally be with our Sephora.  As the bagpiper played, and this verse sang in my head, I remember crying, however, a feeling of relief came over me.  Through meeting my husband 7 years ago, finishing college, getting married last year, finding out we were expecting, learning our first baby had a severe chromosomal abnormality, carrying her to the end of pregnancy, getting extremely sick because of high blood pressure, preeclampsia, and HELLP Syndrome, having an emergency c-section to save my life, giving birth to our beautiful little Sephora, and having her transition home to be with Jesus and all of the Saints who have preceded her in Heaven while she was in my arms, we certainly have been through a lot.  However, through His grace, we came through it all in one piece. This, I believe is the best answer I can offer those friends and family members who have asked…”How have you and your husband been able to make it through?”

Ephesians 2:8  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God (NIV 1984)

Butterflies

Our little Sephora’s life has taken up so many different types of symbols, meanings, and truths.  My husband feels closest to her while he’s working in the garden.  I have to say, I’m still sort of searching for that feeling of closeness to her.  Her ashes are sitting next to me as I write this.  The teddy bear that plays the sound of her heart beat is across the room.  When I became pregnant, I never imagined my first baby would not come home from the hospital.  I’d never heard of babies dying after they were born.  My ignorance told me that some women miscarry very early in pregnancy.  Some miscarry in the first trimester.  Some miscarry later.  Some even give birth to babies that are stillborn.  One thing I do notice, is some women choose to talk about their losses, other women choose not to talk about it.  I can’t stop talking about our precious little Sephora.  So many questions run through my head these days…  How did my body not recognize that the precious little person we created was sick?  Why did she have to have Trisomy 13, one of the most rare and most severe chromosomal abnormalities that exists?  Why did God choose me to carry such a beautiful baby only to call her home to Heaven a short time later?  When she was born, she looked just like my husband.  She was perfect!  Why did she have to die?  Why didn’t God choose to heal her and to fix all of her internal defects?  We prayed every day!  What did we do wrong?!  Did we not pray enough?  Were we praying for the wrong things?  Why?

When we came home from the hospital 4 weeks ago without our precious Sephora, I visited a small area under the tree in our back yard that my husband titled, “Sephora’s Garden.”  Her small little garden is shaped like a heart, and the plants in her garden have symbolic meaning.  The White (grief) and Pink (love) Bleeding Hearts have finished blooming for the season, but the Blue Angel Hosta and the Angel’s Wing Begonia continue to grow.  I feel close to Sephora when I stand over her garden.  I imagine her laying with me under the big tree, cooing while I sing to her.  Like my husband finds closeness with Sephora through gardening, the one symbol that has taken meaning for me, is the Butterfly.  The day we came home, I stood and overlooked  Sephora’s Garden, cried over top of it, and walked to the front door of the house to go inside to lay down.  Before I walked in, I stopped and admired the rest of the flowers my husband and friend Jodi had planted while I was in the hospital.  As I stood under the trellis,  a small yellow butterfly landed on the Purple Sage next to me and stayed for a while.  When I tried to get a picture, it flew away.  That was my sign, my symbol.  A simple butterfly.

I find butterflies surround me almost everywhere.  I have a butterfly charm bracelet with Sephora’s name and birthday on it, cards, books, pictures, and jewelry box with butterflies too!  Yesterday, I took my husband to a beautiful garden as a surprise, and a reason to be with each other outside of our home.  He marveled at the different types of plants, trees, and ground coverings.  We visited the Butterfly House, and were amazed!  Butterflies were gliding through the air everywhere we looked!  They were peaceful.  Beautiful.  Perfect.  Sephora is my butterfly house!  Who knew a creature so small, fragile, crush-able, colorful, and light as air, could have such a short beautiful life and a story to tell?  Yes.  The sweetness, amazement, beauty, perfection, and simplicity of a butterfly is my Sephora.

2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.


Redeemer

Chris and Don Braswell II after ‘The Centurion The Musical”

After losing Sephora 5 weeks ago to Trisomy 13, a night out was just the thing that Chris and I needed!  Last night, an old friend of my husband’s from his days at Juilliard, Donald Braswell (finalist in “America’s Got Talent” 2008), was in town performing at a theater in our town.  When we arrived, the writer of the musical, Debbie Orloff, walked us to our complementary center stage seats in the orchestra part of the auditorium.  “The Centurion The Musical,” is a tale of Cornelius, one of the first converts to Christianity set in 64 A.D.  As the spiritual head of his household, Cornelius leads his family and community to walk hand in hand with God, while also dealing with the grief given to these Christians by the opposition of the Roman Empire.  Cornelius also sets free one of the senator’s female slaves, Carpasia, whose character really touched my heart.  Despite the senator’s disbelief and hatred for the Christians, Carpasia’s faith stands firm in God, and she uses her gift of song to share her faith.  At the end of Act 1, she sang a very powerful and humble piece with the ensemble that I hadn’t heard in quite some time.  “Redeemer.”  It was an absolutely incredible rendition of this song that brought me to tears, as the accompaniment eventually dropped out and the ensemble sang A Capella.  The Christians eventually were accused of burning down Rome, and were held in a prison where they all were expected to die.  Most of the Christians who stood firm in their faith were either executed or left to starve to death, including small children and newborn babies, but the final scene shows all of them being reunited in Heaven.  Of course the writer had to tug at our hearts once more by having a little girl run and jump into her mother’s arms after being reunited again in Heaven!  Don had told us about this before we arrived at the theater, since he and his wife had been praying for us and following our blog.  Even though we were prepared for it and knew it was coming, neither Chris or I could hold back our tears.

God continues to walk with us as we choose to walk hand in hand with him.  The bravery, courage, and strength it took to keep going after our baby girl’s Trisomy 13 diagnosis came from nowhere but God.  He wrapped his arms around me as I cried into his chest when Sephora very peacefully passed away in my arms.  When the bad days come, He surrounds us with people who love us.  On great days, the sun shines brighter than ever.  As much as we miss our Beautiful Angel, our Sephora Angeline, we are at peace knowing that she is wrapped in the arms of all of our loved ones and friends who have left this Earth.  It’s also comforting to think about her playing in Heaven with all of the other Angel Babies in Heaven.

“The very same God who spins things in orbit runs to the weary, the worn, and the weak.  The same gentle hands that hold me when I’m broken, they conquer death to bring me victory!  I know my Redeemer lives!  I know my Redeemer lives!  Let all creation testify!  Let this life within me cry!  I know my Redeemer lives.  Because He lives I can face tomorrow!” -“Redeemer”

Romans 5:2-5 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

The Summer Heat

Sephora’s due date was supposed to be in 3 short weeks from now.  The amount of swelling and fluid I’d been retaining 5 weeks ago when Sephora was born due to the preeclampsia and HELLP Syndrome was awful!  I don’t even want to imagine how swollen my whole body would be if I actually made it to my due date!

Summer certainly has made itself known in my town!  My husband, Chris and I stayed in the house for most of the day today because the temperature was close to 100 degrees!  He went outside to water all of our beautiful plants this morning before the sun got too hot.  We contemplated going on our “daily date” to the grocery store, but because the air conditioning in our car doesn’t work, we decided to hang in for the day.  I’m hoping summer doesn’t stay this hot, because I don’t foresee the air conditioning being fixed until possibly next year.  The idea entertaining a bill for labor, for a mechanic having to rip apart the entire front console in the cab of the car, just to figure out where the freon is leaking into the cab, then fixing the hole and putting everything back together makes me a little dizzy.

Last night, we met with our Life Group from church as we do every Tuesday.  The new series we started discussing is called “Beautiful Things.”  How do you find beauty in tragedy and death around you?  When we first started attending our church last fall, I’d been waiting to start to “feel” an emotional tug at my heart.  It only took a few short weeks for this emotional tug to take place.  Although I didn’t know this at that time, I firmly believe this was the way God was trying to reach me.  He was trying to tell me to hold on tight, because you’re going to need me.  A few months later, we’d received the horrible news that our little Sephora had Trisomy 13, an awful chromosomal abnormality that would likely take Sephora away from us too soon.  I also believe, had we not found this church and called it home, and heard the sermons and lessons every Sunday when we attended, I’m not sure emotionally where I would be.  Chris and I have each other.  We have our family and friends.  If we didn’t have God…if we didn’t have a firm understanding that this life on Earth is not going to be our final resting place…if we didn’t learn that Sephora ws given to us to teach others about love and humility, and also to shape and strengthen our story…I would envision a never ending rain cloud following over my head.  Instead, I have hope of a brighter day.  My Little Ray of Sunshine is always with me, her beautiful garden grows, and her incredible story continues.

Isaiah 55:11:  The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.

Our Angel in Heaven…1 month today

1 month ago today, I was being closely monitored in the hospital because I had been diagnosed with severe preeclampsia and HELLP Syndrome.  I remember my doctor coming into my room to tell me I needed to have an emergency c-section, because my health was getting worse.  The c-section was the only thing that would help to make my body get better.  Sephora was born at 10:25pm.  3 pounds 9 ounces.  16 inches long.  12 fingers.  10 toes.  Curly dark brown hair.  Her daddy’s nose.  The tiniest little whimper.  She was absolutely perfect!  Unfortunately, the Trisomy 13 that she was diagnosed with 3 months before she was born, took her away from us 4 1/2 hours later.  Her extra chromosome and extra pinkies made her extra special in our eyes.

Despite today marking 1 month from Sephora’s birth, it has been a good day.  I looked at our flowers in Sephora’s Garden, cleaned up around the house, and I even sang a little bit…(which felt incredible might I add).  Even though I sang to Sephora every day, I haven’t rehearsed any of my operatic arias since before we got married last September.  I forgot how great it feels to be in good voice, and to be able to belt out these dramatic songs like I was on stage again.  I think it’s definitely time I brushed up on some new pieces and started looking into auditions again.

Shortly after we received the Trisomy 13 diagnosis, I was given the information of another mother who lives about an hour from me.  Her precious little Violet passed away last November from Trisomy 13 as well.  At this point, we have only spoken through email and over the phone.  Today, she came to my house to finally meet for the first time, exchange photos of our precious babies, share our stories, and she even brought a homemade dinner for Chris and I tonight!  It’s so nice to be able to get together with women who have experienced similar situations as your own.  It was also refreshing to meet a woman who experienced the exact same situation as us.  I’m reminded yet again, that God puts people in your life to help you to walk through challenges, tragedies, and celebrations!

1 Peter 5:9-10   Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

Happy Father’s Day

This weekend has definitely been an emotional challenge. Yesterday, my husband spent 12 hours outside doing yard work and gardening. Literally! Our beautiful flower beds are his therapy. These flowers are his way of coping with the loss of our precious little Sephora 4 weeks ago, due to her Trisomy 13 diagnosis and premature birth at 32 weeks. I’m thankful he is able to find some peace in gardening. Thankfully, we both are not sad or depressed on the same day or at the same time. We each find something we can do to keep our minds occupied and deal with our own grief during the day, and we sit together on our deck by the tiki torches and try to pick apart and piece together our grief collectively.

Today is Father’s Day. I thought for sure Chris would be extremely sad today. Instead, today is my turn to apparently be miserable! Oh grief…how I loathe you! I handed Chris his gift, “The Notebook” on dvd. I slightly shrugged my shoulders and started to cry in his arms. He’s so great with children, and people in general–I just wish our baby Sephora could be here to spend this Father’s Day with us. She is the missing piece to our puzzle. Today, it really hurts to know she physically isn’t here to cuddle and cry and sing to. I decided to give him “The Notebook,” because my husband is quite the “hopeless romantic.” I love that about him. When we met, he was telling me about this author that had written so many best sellers. His romance novels would just tug at your heart as you read them…Nicholas Sparks. “The Notebook” is one book and movie that you can watch over and over again, and never tire of. Even though the movie ends differently than the book, the story of Ally and Noah is a love story that we absolutely love.

Noah: “Would you just stay with me?
Allie: Stay with you? What for? Look at us! We’re already fighting!
Noah: Well that’s what we do! We fight! You tell me when I’m being an arrogant son of a bitch and I tell you when you’re being a pain in the ass! Which you are, 99% of the time. I’m not afraid to hurt your feelings, you have like a two-second rebound rate and you’re back doing the next pain in the ass thing.
Allie: So, what?
Noah: So it’s not gonna be easy, it’s gonna be really hard. And we’re gonna have to work at this everyday, but I wanna do that because I want you. I want all of you, forever. You and me. Everyday.”

This scene from the movie makes me laugh out loud because these days this passage really embodies us. Because of our grief, I feel our communication is very lacking some days. I do know our love springs eternal, and when we come together at the end of a very long day, our love for each other is obvious.

My husband is incredible. He is my life supporter, my encourager, my motivator, my cheerleader, my coach, my gardener, my housekeeper, my personal chef, my editor, the love of my life, my soul mate, my best friend. He’s everything I’ve ever wanted, and he embodies everything I want to be…give or take a few things (insert laugh here!) I’m thankful God brought us together when we were ready to embrace each other. I’m thankful for where we’ve come from, where we’ve been, and where we are headed. I couldn’t walk through Sephora’s Journey without him, nor would I want to ever be without him. Like “The Notebook,” I pray our love is strong enough to take us home together. Happy Father’s Day Babe. I Love You with all of my heart.

1 Thessalonians 2:11-12 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

My Little Ray of Sunshine Forever

When I was 32 weeks pregnant, I developed a severe case of preeclampsia and HELLP Syndrome which forced the doctors of the hospital to rush me to have an emergency c-section.  Knowing that our precious little Sephora was diagnosed with Trisomy 13 and likely wouldn’t survive, these final hours with her were surreal.  She was about to be born 8 weeks earlier than planned.  Yesterday, I spoke with my aunt, Jackie, on the phone.  She’s only 8 years older than I am, so when we do get to see or talk to each other, sometimes I feel like she’s more of an older sister than my aunt.  When I was sent to the hospital to be monitored in triage (for the preeclampsia), before Jackie found out we were even admitted to the hospital, she immediately left work early, got in her car, and drove the long 5 hour drive from her home in Virginia to be with us at the hospital.  Jackie is the person in our family who usually provides a positive attitude and sometimes comic relief, and she’s always got a camera in her hand to document every single day of our family’s lives.  My husband (her “big brother” she affectionately calls him) told her it wasn’t necessary for her to drive up to see us because he didn’t think I was really as sick as I ended up being.  I am, however, glad she made the trip.

One of the hardest things to deal with these days is the fact that I feel like I’m beginning to forget aspects of Sephora already.  She stayed 5 days with us in her bassinet in the hospital, but I can’t smell her anymore.  I don’t remember how she wrapped her tiny hand around my finger.  I don’t remember ever inspecting her feet or what she even looked like sometimes.  Thankfully we have pictures, and I wish we had so many more.  On the phone, Jackie and I talked a little about Sephora and I told her I felt like I was beginning to forget things about her.  She then said to me, “Do you have the video of you singing that I recorded?”  She had recorded another video?!  “NO!  Send it to me!!!”  I screamed!  We finished our conversation, I opened the video clip on my phone, and watched it.  The tears poured down my cheeks!  How didn’t I know she had this?!  I’m so happy I now have it to watch whenever I feel like I’m starting to forget.  It’s a video clip of me singing “You Are My Sunshine” while Sephora was laying on my belly and crying.  Any time she would whimper, I would start to sing, and Sephora would stop to listen.  We told Jackie not to drive up here, but I’m so thankful she didn’t listen.  We have this precious little clip to cherish and remember Sephora forever and ever.

Mat 6:8 — …for your Father knows what things you have need of, before you even ask him.