Monthly Archives: December 2013

Immanuel

It’s late Christmas Eve morning. Both babies are sleeping and I’m contemplating a cup of coffee. I still need to wrap a few gifts and whip the topping for dessert tonight, but my mind wanders. Baby girl woke uncharacteristically early to nurse—around 4ish, I think. Although she fell asleep at my breast, my eyes struggled to find peace even amidst the quiet house. As I nursed her, I prayed for Jecoah. When I checked on my own baby boy, I prayed for Jecoah. But when I logged onto Facebook to check for our Christmas miracle, the tears for Jecoah starting falling. I plodded defeatedly into the kitchen where I started cooking Christmas Eve dinner to distract my thoughts, my tears adding a salty bitterness to the meal.

This morning I confessed my disappointment to God: I don’t have words for how my heart hurts for Shellie and Brad and Jecoah. And their entire family. I can’t stop thinking about Shellie having to hand her baby over, Brad’s feeling of helplessness, and Jecoah’s confusion. Lord, my heart hurts so very much and I barely know this family. I don’t understand why it was okay for this to happen. I am struggling to believe that you have something redeeming up your sleeve. Please give me the faith to trust you, to trust your love for this beautiful family, to have hope in your holiness.

As I poured my heart out, I kept thinking what a shitty Christmas this is for the Costains. How bittersweet their reunion with their daughters will be, together at last but without that little boy they’re all madly in love with. I wondered if I should try reading something profound in the Bible—like Romans 8:28. Then my mind wandered to the time I walked out in the middle of a sermon on that passage. Reminding myself that God has something Good and Lovely that will ultimately play out is right, but my heart couldn’t hear those truths yet.

What my heart could hear was, “I am with you. I am with Shellie and Brad. I am with Jecoah. And I’m not going anywhere. His earthly parents had to leave him, but it’s okay because I am with him and I will hold him in my arms and not let him go.”

Immanuel. God with us.

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

This is why Jesus came—so that we would not be alone, either in eternity or here in this broken world. He came to make a way for God to have a relationship with us. For God to outstretch his arms to us in our hurt, messiness, and despair.

And yet I sit in my chair, crying, acting as though we are all alone. Father, forgive my unbelief. And thank you for your gift of Immanuel to sweet Jecoah this Christmas. Speak to his heart in the language only he can understand. Breathe Heaven on him so he is comforted. Give him your peace, which surpasses his confusion. And bring him home soon.

Christmas prayer request

One thing I always appreciate seeing around the holidays is reminders to remember those who are not happy—lonely people, sad people, people who are struggling. My parents set a lovely example of opening their home to others, and we’ve adopted that practice as well. I remember the first Christmas after they died. Everybody was meeting up in Texas where my little brother and sister had moved to live with our aunt and uncle. Everybody except me; I had to have surgery for a common genetic condition that usually presents itself at birth. I had always been so healthy no doctor had ever caught it…until my heart and body were completely worn out. One of my sisters came out to be with me.

That Christmas morning, we each opened our gift and then binged-watched “X Files” on vhs tapes we rented from Blockbuster. Yes, Blockbuster. We felt very sorry for ourselves until we heard how tough our family’s day was. Then we were glad that we had the freedom to do whatever we wanted to grieve and didn’t have to witness our loved ones trying to comfort each other that Christmas.

But I digress. My point is that I understand lonely, sad Christmases. This Christmas my above-mentioned uncle will be celebrating his first Christmas without his wife, our beloved aunt who died this past spring. He and my cousin are on my heart. A single friend recently mentioned to me how lonely the holidays have been. I think of her fighting for joy. Ill people wonder if this will be their last Christmas on earth. Empty-nesters long for days of a full house. Children of divorce nurse hearts hopeful for restoration.

Finding yourself without loved ones on Christmas morning is enough to bring you to your knees in desperation.

Personally I can’t believe how happy I am this year. I didn’t believe it was possible to be happier than I was last year! This is a precious season in my life, and I thank Jesus multiple times a day for his benevolence. Yet there is something nagging at my heart. It bothers my brain throughout my days this Advent. It’s being without a loved one, a son.

I mentioned my friend Shellie’s journey to bring her baby home on a prior blog post. Well, she and her husband have been in DRC for five weeks now. Five weeks. Five weeks of cuddling, snuggling, kissing their baby boy. Finally! But five weeks of uncertainty in not knowing when they can come home, five weeks of dealing with a government that seems to take pleasure in denying parents their right to take their children home.

And they have been forced to make the impossible decision to leave their sweet boy in DRC and come home tomorrow.

The uncertainty is too great. Their children here need them. Funds are not bottomless. We have all written letters pleading with our own government officials to step in, but at the end of the day, no American can make the decision to allow Shellie to step on a plane with her baby. They purchased the tickets a couple of weeks ago with the hope they would leave with Jecoah in their arms, but it looks like they’ll have to leave him temporarily.

Can you imagine having to leave your baby when you don’t even know when you’ll see him again? A dire situation indeed. I truly cannot imagine the heartbreak and heartache Shellie is experiencing. They have done everything they can, but they are not in charge and can’t control the situation.

And yet, their hope is in One who is in charge and who can change the circumstances and perform a miracle. We have 12 hours before Shellie and Brad step on that plane—please join me in prayer that God will grant them this mercy of allowing them to bring their baby home now and not later, sparing them from having to say goodbye to their son.

Lord, in your goodness and grace for your children, please have mercy on Shellie and Brad and provide a change in the DRC government, allowing Jecoah to come home. Please intervene and prevent Shellie from having to hand her beloved baby back to caretakers. God, you who designed the family unit and created Jecoah as a member of the Costain family are the only one who can make this happen. We beg you in the name of your own son, Jesus Christ.

Motherless Christmas

On Thanksgiving Day, I was picking the turkey in the kitchen while our gracious host washed dishes. I was full of good food and was enjoying an Irish coffee while watching my baby boy flirt with our hostess and hearing my husband laugh from the other room. My host’s question startled me out of my turkey daze and my mind scrambled to answer, “Are the holidays difficult without your parents?”

You’d think that would be easy to answer if for no other reason than it’s a yes or no question that people have been asking me for 15 years; yet in just saying yes, I’m afraid of coming off as a self-pitying woman ungrateful for the family she has now, wishing for the family she had years ago. I picture the question-asker imagining me crying as we set up our Christmas tree, fingering ornaments that remind me of days gone by. Crying tears into the dough as I make my mother’s favorite Christmas cookies. Calling my siblings to recall wonderful Christmases from our childhood.

But if I say no, I’ll look like a jerk—a person who is callous about her parents being dead. Who, when people ask where her parents are, answers, “They’re six feet under.” Who has actually formed a club called the SFU club for friends who have also lost both parents. Who jokes with her sister about putting the fun in funeral.

Actually, those things are all true, except I am not callous.

In that moment, like in many moments, I mumbled a clumsy, confused answer. Something about how the holidays aren’t difficult, but of course they are, but not really.

I guess I don’t know what I’m missing.  Do I miss Christmas with my parents? Well, yes, but only in the same way you miss your Christmas with your parents when you were 20. You see, that’s the only kind of Christmas I know with my parents. I don’t know what it would be like if my parents were alive and we spent Christmas with them. I never had a grownup relationship with them.

When my parents died, my mother and I hadn’t even had very many grown-up conversations yet.

I do remember one we had that last Christmas break together.  I told her I was beginning to feel like myself again—after an adolescence of trying to figure out who I was and forgetting what it was like to be the carefree, free-spirited Blythe of my childhood, I was finally remembering. Mother seemed to understand. She uncharacteristically hugged me and told me she was so glad. I was affirmed in that moment and knew that she knew exactly what I was trying to communicate to her.

love child blythe

That Christmas, my crazy sister stole my makeup when she went out of town for a weekend, and Mother played peacemaker. My little sister and I watched “Little Women” a million times while eating microwave popcorn, listening to Mother sew or type in her office off the family room. My oldest sister–pregnant with her first baby–was visiting from the east coast, and we stayed up late talking and watching tv and playing cards, often with Mother. Mother baked all her traditional treats and decorated elaborately with two trees and garlands and ribbon everywhere. Every Christmas detail was perfect. I can hear her laugh on Christmas morning while we opened gifts.

When I think of my mother, I miss her. She was spectacular.

When I had my babies, it was tough to be motherless. I’ve watched my friends’ mothers step in for them, coming out to stay for weeks or bringing meals if they’re already in town, spoiling the babies, babysitting the older children, cleaning houses, reassuring their daughters about their abilities to be mothers themselves. I could list 783 reasons life would be better, easier, more lovely, funner, more complicated if I had my mamma. It would be so worth whatever relational drama might come with it. I would love a home to go home to. An example of motherhood, a keeper of memories, a champion of my children, a soft place to land. Having my mother around would tell me where I come from and who I am. She could answer my sewing questions, help me make Christmas mints, spoil my children, adore my husband, teach me how to be a woman.

Sometimes a motherless woman flails around, unsure of what she is doing, depending on substitutes to guide her.

And yet, I still maintain that all is not lost. I don’t know exactly what I’m missing. I do know what I will gain in Heaven, though, and what I know is just a fraction of the joy of that relationship reunited and restored. As a Christian, I believe that there are far worse things than death. Death is the end of a season. It’s not easy, it’s not painless. But it opens the door for us to be one step closer to having the relationships God designed the way He intended—when I see my mamma again, our relationship will be perfectly perfect. It won’t be tainted by selfishness, self-doubt, bitterness, anger. It will be full of pursuit, joy, laughter, intention, unashamed love. Thinking about that eases the missyness a bit. Quite a bit, actually.

I have hope that I will see my mother again, that our relationship will be amazing. But my hope does not rest there. It rests in a God who lovingly designed relationships to be eternal. A God who created the role of mamma and knows how precious her love for her children is and who treasures the child’s desperation for her mother. A God who does not leave us in despair but walks the sadness with us—who sent His own son to earth so that His other children would not be alone. Immanuel, God with us. My hope is in a God who bridged every gap to hold my hand and cradle my heart.

Are the holidays hard without my parents? Is a motherless Christmas heartbreaking? Well, yes, but it’s not overwhelming. What is overwhelming is the hope I have in Immanuel, the promise of a love never broken.