Here’s to 27!

This was intended to be a short social media post, but I’m a writer at heart and just can’t keep it all in. So, here’s to reflecting on the past year of my life in what I thought was a ‘brief’ manner.

I spent my morning reading, watching the clouds gradually pass by and reflecting on how things seem to keep moving even when I’m standing still. When birthdays hit, it feels as if an account needs to be given of all the highs and lows of the following year and that from it all, self-actualization has been reached. Maybe we do this because we feel we need to show the world that we’re evolving for the better. I don’t really know, but aren’t we always doing something to prove we’re worthy of love and affirmation?

Looking at the past year of my own life, I haven’t shared much publicly these days. The words that I am so used to writing still manage to buzz around my head in the form of anxious thoughts. Sometimes I feel too deeply that I don’t even know how to formulate words around it. Both aspects have certainly been triggered by my own losses within the year and only amplified from the weighty grief of heartbreaking news after news that fills the world and our feeds. Who even knows where to begin? I don’t. All I’ve been trying to do is be honest with God and honest with others, albeit imperfectly, but it’s all I can really encourage others to do… though if honesty looks like despair and bitterness, it’s never really a good place to stay — trust me.

There are so many things I want to say, and maybe if I’m moved enough, I’ll make another post for all the thoughts and feelings, but in the meantime… I am grieved by a world shaking their fists at God and anything/anyone attached to him — not out of judgment ’cause I’m right there with them. I’ve been stuck for a while shaking my fist, too, although because I have the knowledge of who he actually is and I’m surrounded by people who know it too, mine tends to be stuck in my pocket, while I smile through gritted teeth, hidden by shame.

Is it fair to say (at one point or another) we’ve all had a thought that we aren’t/weren’t enough, we haven’t been given enough, or lastly that God himself is not enough? I’ll speak for myself and confess I’ve had all three thoughts of insufficiency. My earnest prayer for my birthday was, at its core, the truth that shatters all of that. He so graciously reminded me of the abundant life he sent his son Jesus to give.

Freedom looks like living fully known and fully loved… it is knowing we’re forgiven, accepted, cared and provided for all in abundance.

Abundance does not equate to materialism necessarily, but rather I’d say synonymous with freedom. Freedom, as we celebrate (or mourn) this Fourth of July, to me looks like no more: striving; living for the approval of others; disappointment and shame from unmet expectations; falling under the weight of this world; second guessing our worth or identity; questioning our standing with God or even his intentions in a cruel and broken world, etc. Freedom looks like living fully known and fully loved in submission to the One who created me, you, and the universe (yes, He is above even that for those new age folks). Freedom is knowing we’re forgiven, accepted, cared and provided for all in abundance. Even when we face sorrow, misunderstanding and heart aching pain, there is supernatural joy and peace that is available, my friend, and that is the abundant life that Jesus so gave his very own for you and me to live.

That doesn’t mean we don’t grieve, face hard things, or even encounter depression… it just means there is so much more to experience and it’s the heart of God for you — it’s relationship, not religion. Anyways, I told you there was a lot on my mind, and this hasn’t even begun to scratch the surface. It might not even make sense stuffed up for a “quick” post. Nonetheless, what a wonderful thing to celebrate on another year of life. Here’s to 27!

"He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" Romans 8:32

Let the Light in.

There have been far fewer moments these days to just be still. Even in my writing, while I have so many thoughts to express, I haven’t had a clue where to begin. Perhaps there’s been a pressure to have the next “thing” to write about, but really I’m still in the mud of grief some days. In between the ‘there’ and ‘not yet,’ I’m still processing emotions and circumstances and not knowing what to do with all of it.

So while I don’t have much to say, I wanted to check in and say, I’m still here.

Still hanging on, still desiring to share my story with those willing to read.

Fall seemed to sneak up on me quicker than my dog sneaks up on food. One moment, I was outside sweating on my walk, and the next I was cozied up under a knit throw watching the sun fall over the leaves until finally it turned in early for the night. There’s something about this time of year when the darkness lingers just a bit longer than I would like, and the days feel long to endure. Personally, I’m not a fan and after the year we’ve had, I’m not ready for more darkness. I long for the warmth of the light.

It’s been three weeks since I’ve been back at work after being off for three months [since giving birth]. It’s been a little draining, honestly… but I can’t lie that it felt good to have a much needed paycheck come in after so long ha! It’s a huge adjustment to go from having free time to read, write, walk, cook, clean, rest, sleep, socialize, even go to therapy (basically having no one and nothing to answer to), to barely having time to throw on a clean pair of clothes… when I work at home. I know, sad, right? Time management and I aren’t exactly the best of friends.

I will say though, God has been so faithful… even in allowing me to have time off. There was a point when I was set to return back to my job six weeks postpartum. I had to go through the grueling process of filling out paperwork for FMLA just to be met with the following phone call: “Oh, so in the event of losing your baby… you won’t be able to use the remaining six weeks for bonding leave.” That was a blow… boy, what a great system we have.

However, I do thank God that my employers were kind enough to grant me an extended personal leave. Even after our loss, God was the one to provide a full twelve weeks of leave and even though it was largely unpaid, He sustained us every step of the way. He surrounded us with precious friends and family that took care of us in many ways, so thank you for those of you, too.

It’s been easy to get lost in the darkness of this season, to fumble around aimlessly or be weighed down by the burdens of life. But it’s also easy to appreciate the light when the sun is still shining. I think of the shorter days within this season: how much more do I appreciate the sun when the days grow colder and darker? I certainly try to anyways! This season feels like that… though I might be angry, confused or heavy laden at times, I know the sun is still shining down, leaving slivers of beaming light that warms the soul.

So… I am trying to grasp onto the Son as much as I can. For it is Jesus Christ that said, “I am the light of the world.” He also extended the invitation, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened… and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) Even when the days feel long and the darkness surrounds me, I am fighting to be honest. I am fighting to see the beauty in every season and to appreciate all that God has given me right where I’m at.

For those who may be struggling to do the same, I invite you to look up the lovely author Ann Voskamp. A woman well versed in gratitude, she writes books, blogs and social media posts, encouraging the weary to give thanks in all. Whether it’s the mundane, the celebratory, or even the darkness… it’s all grace. I read her book One Thousand Gifts this year and honestly hope to read it again soon. It really is like soup for the soul. For now though, she’s encouraged her readers to follow her on a November Joy Dare. Even if we are in the middle of the month, I invite you to join too. I’ll post it below.

It helps my heart to look for the glimmers of light even when it feels dark out. May we learn to still our hearts and minds in the winter season ahead and lean into even the darkest of days by letting the Son shine in our hearts.

Encouraging songs and Psalms below:
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105

LORD, You light my lamp; my God illuminates my darkness. Psalm 18:28
I'll be your lighthouse
When you're lost at sea
And I will illuminate everything - Out of Hiding | Steffany Gretzinger
If you’re stumbling in the dark, run your hands against the walls
Find every window, every door, throw them open, throw them open
In will flood a blinding light, and it will chase away the night
Even if you shield your eyes, let it pour in, let it pour in - Gallows | Jess Ray

Our birth story (part two)

I was reluctant to post this because honestly, it’s not my favorite work. I wanted this to sound much more poetic than it actually is — but I guess it makes sense because this is my least favorite part. All I could do is retell it and invite you to join along.

So here is the continuation of our birth story. If you’re just jumping in, check out part one here. For those who have been following, I’ll continue…

Things were stalling out, but I had just switched positions in the effort to help Joshua down the birth canal. Around 2:30-3ish the doctor informed me he would be breaking my water soon if it didn’t happen naturally. My mom and husband excitedly started getting into their surgical gear. I thought, ‘how weird to see this boy who had been held at a distance at one point, to see him grafted into the family, getting ready for the arrival of the newest family member with his mother-in-law.’ What a weird yet beautiful scene — it made my heart so happy.

The nurses (who are the real heroes let me just say) switched shifts and the newest nurse went to check Joshua’s heartbeat before they’d break my water. She was not finding it as easily and I thought to myself, ‘Don’t panic Bri. She is new and she’s just getting used to where Joshua is positioned now.’ Enough silence went by before a doctor was brought into the room with an ultrasound machine.

Joshua at 26 weeks

All I could do was pray that my nurse had been wrong. I didn’t know whether to watch the doctor’s face or the scan. What would give it away more? The stillness of the monitor, or the creased lines in my doctor’s face?

“So here is where his heart is… as you can see, his heart is not beating anymore.” Who knows what was actually said? I felt like I was in a different realm, watching this happen to a different family. That couldn’t be me who just lost her baby.

I don’t know if the squeeze from my husband’s hand woke me up, or the doctor’s empathetic, “I’m so sorry.” As my husband let out a guttural cry and choked on his tears, I realized, ‘Oh this us. If Michael’s crying, this is happening. This is real.’ My mom held him.

The thing is… I knew this was a possibility. I had heard the doctors’ vague speeches over and over. I had read the Trisomy 18 testimonies on support group pages. I knew the potential outcomes. And even then, I knew Joshua was already in a better place… but nothing ever really prepares you for a tragic reality.

There was a muted acceptance. A morbid sense of peace. God you heard our prayers, and this was your answer. It just wasn’t your will. I had the slightest of smiles, if you could call it that, because surely, we couldn’t both be breaking down. Eventually I said to my husband, “Hey. We know God can do anything, even now. If he wants to confound us all, he can raise Joshua up just like he rose up Lazarus and the little girl. But if he doesn’t… we know he is in the presence of Jesus right now.” I squeezed him and probably cried too.

The doctor gave us at least 30 minutes alone and then came in to break my water because even though my womb was now lifeless, it wasn’t yet empty. I began to push, and Joshua came out within the next 15 or so mins. And with a room of people, what should have been noise and life buzzing about, there was mostly silence. Who knew what to say?

Our first child, a son, Joshua Jeremiah Ulasi was born at 4:02 pm on July 22nd 3 lbs and 6 oz, 14 inches long.. No heartbeat.

The first words that came out of my mouth as the doctor pulled him out was, “Birth is so weird.” It is and yet it makes you feel like you’re on top of the world. Like, “I just did that!” Honestly, I wanted to do it all over right then and there. If only this time I’d get to hold my son alive. My husband was a champ too for standing right by my side and watching it all up close.

The nurses swaddled little Joshua and put a hat on his head before they handed him to me. His eyes were slightly open which was a little weird, but also what I grieve even now: he was so close. My heart nearly stopped when I saw him. His face looked exactly how my husband’s does when he gets his serious look going. He had my head shape with my husband’s specific features. I originally had no idea how our baby would look with Trisomy. When I saw Joshua though, my heart was glad to see him look just like his mommy & daddy.

We took turns holding him. I can’t even say my heart was full in these moments because it was too conflicting. How joyous to see my husband holding our first child, or my mom now a grandmother. While these things were true, they were incomplete. He would have to cover his son’s casket with dirt a week later. She wouldn’t get to spoil her grandson for years to come.

I remember feeling devastated for everyone else… how would they all feel when they were expecting a new title, too? A grandfather or great-grandmother. Our siblings now uncles and aunts. Michael and I now parents. My heart weighed heavy. I remember calling Michael’s grandmother who was so happy to hear our voices. When we broke the news to her, that all turned to sobbing.

Why Lord did it have to look this way?

Joshua stayed with us for a little while until the nurses silently whisked him away. We took pictures with him. I cried on and off. We laughed on and off. We tried. I almost didn’t want to fall asleep because I knew I wouldn’t wake to see his sweet face. The next morning, I arose and sat at the window until it hit me like a ton of bricks. We just had a baby… he should be here.

The delivering doctor came in not too long after and had confirmed some of the findings he shared with me the previous day. He had said my placenta came out right after Joshua which was a little unusual. There was a blood clot on the back of it and he explained to me that it had abrupted which was likely why I went into early labor. There is no known cause for why these things happen… it wouldn’t be unlikely if something traumatic like a severe fall or accident occurred, but that wasn’t the case.

Our parents wondered, what went wrong? Why didn’t the doctors do something sooner? I think my mom went out into the hall demanding answers. I get it. When something heartbreaking occurs that we truly don’t have the words for, we try our best to find some sort of explanation. If we can find some answer, or a scapegoat to blame, then perhaps we won’t have to face this sort of pain the future. We try to gain some sort of control.

Trust me, we considered an autopsy. We saw our son get healed from seven abnormalities to just one—we wanted to know what happened, too. We wondered if it was our fault. Should we have just gotten the c-section? What would happen if we had continuously monitored him? But it honestly doesn’t matter what these answers are. Because remember? Control is not peace.  

The only thing that could take away the guilt and anger from potentially gnawing at us was trusting God’s sovereignty, albeit as weakly as we could. That and the reality that our son was now fully healed and whole in the arms of our Savior.

Though he bawled like a baby at first, my husband has seemed to be at peace ever since. He shared with me how that day in the hospital room, he saw this image burning into his heart: Joshua walking with Jesus. He was at peace knowing that.

People may think Christianity is a crutch, a distorted perception we blind ourselves with to explain away hard things like this. ‘God had to have a plan to allow this hellish thing to happen…’ right? I for one don’t see that plan in action right now and frankly I don’t know if I ever will on this side of eternity. But I’m learning to be honest with God as much as I can, and cling to him in the gap between the now and not yet.

There is a lot I don’t know or that I even still question… but there is an absolute assurance that for those who trust in God, they will meet him face to face. Death is not just the end for them, but it is a doorway. Jesus, through the cross, has built a bridge for us to enter into eternity with him. Not everyone will go to heaven because not everyone knows Jesus; they cannot get there on their own.

It’s not about how good you are on earth – or even bad. You can be Mr. Rogers, the Dalai Lama, heck Ted Bundy… but unless you know Jesus and believe that He died for your sins on the cross in order to bring forgiveness and relationship between you and God, then you will be eternally separated from God and let’s just say heaven ain’t your home.

“And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)

There is good news though for those who have lost an infant like myself because I too wondered, how could Joshua be in heaven if he didn’t have the chance to know Jesus? For someone emotionally and intellectually incompetent, like an infant, it is believed that they, too, will go to heaven because they haven’t even had the chance yet to learn of who Jesus is and what he has done for them. But we know that on the cross, Jesus was looking at every unborn child and dying for their sins too, making a way for them to enter into eternal security.

Though I may not fully be able to grasp it myself yet, there is no wishful thinking or doubt that Joshua is safe, healed and whole in the presence of Love himself. There is full assurance. But I want you to know that the pain of it is still real. I mourn the loss of every moment I haven’t gotten to have with Joshua while my friends move on with their babies. It’s still heavy from time to time — thankfully my Savior carries the weight for me.

I ask God to give me the faith to believe in the following truth and hope for it with all my heart… and I want to invite those who have experienced the brokenness of this world, but don’t know the hope there is in Jesus Christ to join me:

I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:4)

As we wait for the fulfillment of this promise, we still experience the loss and pain here on this side of eternity. We wait in between the tension of the now and not yet. We wait with God’s loving heart comforting us in our affliction, so that we may comfort others in their affliction (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

Perhaps this is the part of my story where I’m not quite on the other side, yet I write my way through. I pray for you who may be feeling the weight of this broken world, that our story would remind you: You’re not alone. And there is a greater hope. Let’s (not so) patiently await Him together.

 "If we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently." Romans 8:25