The Yellow Balloon Returns

yellow balloon

Almost exactly two months ago, on Oct. 15th, 2015, I lay in my bed crying.  It was the annual “Wave of Light”, a world-wide day of remembrance for babies who have passed away.  My angel candle was softly flickering next to me as I thought about our sweet Callie and how much I missed her.  She would be three now.  Whenever I meet a three year old, I can’t help but wonder to myself what it would be like.  How tall would she be?  What would she like to do?  What would her voice sound like???  I looked across the room to a photo of her, to the little bronze statue of her hand, and to our Callie Bear and longed to be able to know her more.

As my questions started to fade away (they’re always there), I was eventually able to bring myself to pick up my phone to check my email as a distraction.  There, in my inbox, was an email with the subject line “My Yellow Balloon”.  (If you are new here, please read this first!).  I smiled through the tears as I opened the email, knowing before I even read it that Callie was somehow, someway saying hello.  Here’s how it began:

Hello Kristin,

My name is Tiffany Papageorge.  I am the author of a children’s book called My Yellow Balloon that is about the dimension and transformation that comes to us all from living and feeling our way through the process of loss.  I originally wrote it in the 9th grade for an English assignment.  It has been quite a journey over many long years but I was finally able to publish it last October.  I had no idea when I published it how it would affect not only children but teens, adults, and seniors.  It has been such a beautiful, touching, humbling experience.

The reason I am writing to you is that I am in the midst of answering questions for an interview article and the author of the article shared your blog about the yellow balloon.  I read it and had chills.  I just had to make contact with you and ask if there is a way I could send you a copy of my book for you and your family?  The only thing I would like to ask (and it isn’t conditional based upon this request) is that I might be able to speak with you on the phone and be able to give you, from my heart, the director’s cut, if you will.  Either way though, I would love to send you my book.
You have touched my heart with your story.  I am so sorry about the loss of your beautiful baby Callie Marie.  I am also so very happy for the birth of your beautiful Charlotte Grace.  God bless you and your beautiful family.
Warmly,
Tiffany
One part of me could not believe it.  How could it be possible that today, of all days, I should receive an email from an author about a story about a yellow balloon that is a metaphor for loss and grief?  But the other part of me was not surprised at all.  Not one bit.  I wasted no time calling Tiffany and we talked for over an hour and a half about the many connections we shared and the paths that led us to each other.  It was like talking to someone I’ve known my whole life!  We both agree that our paths have crossed for a purpose that is greater than us and I truly consider her an amazing new friend.
Fast forward a few weeks… I received my own copy of My Yellow Balloon in the mail from Tiffany.  Holding it in my hands, I felt like a kid on Christmas.  The illustrations are breathtakingly beautiful and the story of Joey and his yellow balloon touched a part of my heart that no other book has done before.  I received many beautiful, wonderful books after Callie passed away and each of them gave me some small dose of comfort that I held onto.  But this book…  This book!! It was like it was written for me and only me.  I heard my voice in Joey’s voice and my story jumped up from the pages.  If I could have written a book about coping with loss, this would have been it.  Tiffany perfectly captured my own thoughts and feelings about grief in a simple children’s book.  Leave it to children’s literature to strip something so complicated down to its core and to allow the reader the opportunity to connect on so many different levels.
Tiffany was so gracious as to talk on the phone with me for another few hours giving me her ‘director’s cut’ of the book.  She told me all the hidden secrets and symbolism that stretched across its pages.  I was amazed at how much thought she put into each and every word and illustration.  When we spoke, she mentioned that everyone has some sort of ‘yellow balloon’.  We have all lost something at some point in our lives.  Maybe it was something physical, like a lost toy.  Maybe it was a death of a beloved pet.  Perhaps, we have lost a family member, a child has gone away to college, a marriage has broken apart.  We have all lost.  We all have a yellow balloon like Joey.
The most important part of the author’s message is that loss transforms you.  On the other side of a loss, you are different.  Not necessarily better or worse.  Just different.  In my opinion, it is this transformation that helps give meaning to the loss when there is none.  I would give ANYTHING to have Callie back, even if only for a day, but I do know that losing her kicked into motion this journey of mine and I treasure it.  I see the world with new eyes now and I’m not sure that I would like to see it with my old eyes again.  What things did I care about then that seem trivial now?  What priorities did I have?  What precious time did I waste?
I’m certainly not perfect and I have felt myself slipping back into attitudes or behaviors that I had before Callie, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  But all it takes is one glimpse of something yellow or one gorgeous sunset to bring me right back to my new realizations, the new life, the new me- the reminder that life is so dear and precious and should be lived in such a way as to be a part of the celebration. 
Although the yellow balloon symbolizes loss in the book, I have always viewed our yellow balloon as a symbol for hope.  When thinking more about the book, I realized how much the two symbols in fact go hand-in-hand.  When you experience a loss, you must cling desperately to hope.  Hope is the North Star in the night sky for the lost sailor.  It is what you put your sights on and navigate towards to get through to the other side.  Losing hope would be the most devastating loss of all.
It’s 12:01 a.m. and this story was burning inside me so badly that I had to get out of bed to finally write it down.  It’s taken a few months to burst out of me, but I knew the words would come when I least expected it…  When I get these feelings, I know it is a little nudge from my angel above to share whatever nugget of a thought I have nagging in my brain and I believe that there is always a reason for that.  That someone, somewhere is reading this and really needed to hear these words today.
It’s Christmas.  For most, it is a time for celebration, but for anyone who has lost their ‘yellow balloon’ it is an extremely painful time of year.  I hope that sharing our story with you will help you see that, although you may have suffered a terrible loss, you can still have hope and that God is always with you.  And that is enough.  I promise.  Even if it feels like you are barely hanging on.  Cling to it and hold on for dear life.
“Hope is like the sun, which, as we journey towards it, casts the shadow of our burden behind us.” ~Samuel Smiles

 

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38 weeks!

*This post is dedicated to a special friend (and her amazing family) who is brave and strong and is totally owning every second.  Love you.*

Pshew!  We are here at last friends.  38 weeks!!

When I woke up on St. Patrick’s Day, I felt so happy and positive for our measurement check later that day.  I just *knew* it was going to be a good one.  And sure enough, little ‘Wilburta’ shocked the doctor by having a huge growth spurt!  Not only did she catch back up to the 28th% overall, but her little bitty belly got back into the 20th% for the first time since 20 weeks back in December!!  Just to put that in perspective, at our last appointment it was <2%!

She is now considered a normal/average sized baby!  Can you believe it?!?  The doctor was so stunned and said he never expected us to get this far or for her to grow so much.  There are a few little things they are continuing to monitor so I’ve gone ahead and started my maternity leave now, but, you guys, I’m not even worried about it.  She will arrive later this week and we can’t be more thrilled to meet this little wonder- this little girl who has given us such a roller coaster and tested our faith.

I have to admit something.  Despite hearing for months and months that our baby was going to be born early and small, I refused to buy any preemie clothing.  I felt like if I did, I would just be giving up on the hope that the doctors would be wrong.  And I just couldn’t do that- give up hope, that is.  But then, after our last appointment at 36 weeks when her growth had slowed so much, I caved into the fear and bought some just in case.  I told myself that we would just donate them to the NICU if we didn’t need them.  It was just a precaution, just to be prepared for anything.  Those thoughts helped a bit, but I couldn’t help but feel this tremendous guilt for buying those outfits.  I felt like I was letting myself and my baby down by allowing that doubt to creep into my heart.

I did.  It got to me.

But I’ve learned now.  This little girl is following her own path, her own growth curve, and my goodness gracious have we overanalyzed her every move along the way.  I won’t be doing that anymore-  I have no control over any of it anyway.  God has taken me to some pretty scary and awful places so turning over the wheel is not easy, but I think that this journey to baby #3 has taught me to stop asking “Why?” so much.  To just trust.  That is faith.  That is believing.

I think I may just keep those little onesies as a reminder of what NOT to do.  Never, ever, ever give up.

***

When I was pregnant with Charlotte, we had a theme song.  This time along, we have found one too.  Every time I hear One Republic’s “I Lived” it just resonates with me.  The lyrics always stopped me in my tracks and reminded me of those lessons our sweet Callie taught us about life- the same lessons I want to teach Charlotte and Baby #3.  When I listen to it, I remember to not give in to my fears, my worries, and my doubts.

Instead, I remember to own every second that this world can give.

When I went to research the song origins and music video to include in this post, I was blown away.  One Republic’s lead singer, Ryan Tedder, originally wrote the song for his son as a message for him about how he wanted his son to live his life, living it to the fullest. I couldn’t have said it any better.  And the video…

Well, just watch.  Dare you not to cry.

Now, go.

Go crank this song up in your car and drive around with your windows down.  Feel the sunshine and be glad.

I’ll see you on the flipside with news about this little rebel!!

Hope when you take that jump, you don’t fear the fall
Hope when the water rises, you built a wall
Hope when the crowd screams out, they’re screaming your name
Hope if everybody runs, you choose to stay

Hope that you fall in love, and it hurts so bad
The only way you can know is give it all you have
And I hope that you don’t suffer but take the pain
Hope when the moment comes, you’ll say…

I, I did it all
I, I did it all
I owned every second that this world could give
I saw so many places, the things that I did
With every broken bone, I swear I lived

Hope that you spend your days, but they all add up
And when that sun goes down, hope you raise your cup
Oh, I wish that I could witness all your joy and all your pain
But until my moment comes, I’ll say…

I, I did it all
I, I did it all
I owned every second that this world could give
I saw so many places, the things that I did
With every broken bone, I swear I lived

32 Weeks: An Update

32 weeks!  Little Wilbur (or maybe we should say Wilburta to be more gender-appropriate?) is doing great!  We have been making weekly visits to the maternal-fetal specialists, having weekly biophysical profiles (BPP’s) and bi-weekly measurement checks.  So far, Wilburta has continued to grow and in my non-medical, very educated opinion I think she has gained some ground (although the doctors will never give me the satisfaction of saying that).  She is in the 27th percentile overall!!!  Woot woot!  Even though some of her individual measurements remain on the small side, 27th percentile overall is not bad at all if you ask me.

When I taped Wilburta’s ultrasound photo on our mirror after our first scary visit, I wrote the word “believe” underneath of it in lipstick.  It was a physical reminder to believe that anything is possible.  But I have to admit, it was really hard to believe in believing.  Make sense?

Hope was easier for me.  I hoped.  I wished.  I prayed.  But in the back of my mind, all I could hear were the doctor’s words:  She will be born early.  She will be born small.  I couldn’t quite get past that fear to allow myself to believe that he really could be wrong, to believe the best case scenario…I guess, because he didn’t really give us one at the time.

However, as more time has gone on, Wilburta has made “adequate” growth each time…nothing tremendous, but she’s slowly growing and growing.  The doctors say she could go the whole way if I keep doing what I’m doing, but with every visit they have always left me with that little kernel of fear.  Seriously, there has always been something every single visit to worry about.  After they measure her and she’s grown, I’ll say “That’s good!  I think?” and then they will say something like “Yes, but the blah blah measurement is still blah blah”  followed by at least one other worry-inducing statement such as “Change your appointments to Wednesdays or Thursdays so we know your doctor will be on call if we have to send you straight to delivery at your next appointment.” or “The baby made adequate growth, but your fluid levels are borderline low.  Come back in 2 days and let’s check on that.”  I go in to these appointments just bracing myself for bad news, trying to not let my hopes get to high.

I had a revelation this weekend though.  I realized that there is a HUGE difference between “hope” and “believing”.  Although I’ve been scared and worried about little Wilburta, I haven’t lost hope that she will be ok.  Never once.  The hope has always been there.  But believing it- well that’s another story.  That deep down knowledge that everything will be ok has escaped me.  I guess it has ever since we lost Callie.  It’s kind of difficult to have faith and believe again after something like that because your fear of being wrong has been justified in the most horrible way.

It’s so hard to believe in something that you have no control over.  It’s even harder when the experts give you reasons not to believe.  It’s scary because it’s not in your hands.  I think the hardest part is just handing it over to God and saying “Here is the deepest desire of my heart- please transform my hope into faith.”  What a battle that is!

Somehow, though, I’ve crossed over.  Despite all the worrisome visits, the good but never-quite-perfect reports, I have decided that everything will be ok.  In fact, here is what I truly believe:

  • “Wilburta” is FINE and because of our history and her little lag in growth back in December they have decided to watch us like a hawk to make sure she doesn’t become NOT FINE.  Which she won’t, because she is FINE!
  • “Wilburta” will be born on her scheduled C-section date.
  • She will be between 6-7 pounds.
  • She will be healthy and perfect in every way.

You know what?  I don’t even think she needs to be called Wilburta anymore.  She’s not a runt in my opinion. She’s just doing things her own way and when she comes out she will be like “Um, what was all the big fuss about?”

I’m not sure when or how I turned the corner, but I have.  Yesterday, I saw a rainbow in the clouds and it just cemented all those hopes I mentioned above into firm beliefs.  What is the good really of believing anything else?  I could be wrong, but why stress over that?  It does me absolutely no good and it robs me of all the joy and excitement that we should be having over this little one.

So, I’m done.  I’m done letting fear break my spirit.  I’m done stressing over what could be.  It is not for me to decide.  It is not for the doctors decide.

Nope, it’s between our baby and God now.

And, I believe in them.

Angels Among Us: Our Christmas Prayers Answered!

xmastree-1

We were a bundle of nerves going to our appointment today to check on “Wilbur‘s” progress.  You name the scenario, I had envisioned it.  I had thought of the best case scenarios and the worst case scenarios and the in-between scenarios.  Every time I had a negative thought, I told myself, “NO!” and replaced it with a positive one…but I’ll tell ya, I had to do that a lot.  I even yelled “NO!” at myself so loudly in my dreams that I woke myself and John up!

Today, driving to the appointment the song “Angels Among Us” came on the radio and I made John stop our conversation so I could listen.  It’s a little cheesy, but I’ve always loved it because it was a song we sang in our sorority and after losing Callie, it had a different meaning for me.  The lyrics talk about how angels walk amongst us, in you and in me, and I connected it to my feelings of having ‘Earth angels’ who help you in your times of need.

Suddenly, in the middle of the song, a large shuttle bus swerved into our lane to avoid another car.  John slammed on his brakes and I shouted, “Lord, please protect us!!!”  I could see us heading straight for the back-corner of that bus- right into my side of the car.

I’m not sure how, but we stopped a few feet shy of that bus and luckily no one rear-ended us.  As my heart slowed down to a normal beat, I heard the  song continuing like there had never been an interruption, “Ohhh, I believe there are angels among us, sent down to us from somewhere up above, they come to you and me, in our darkest hours…”

Later at the doctor’s office, we were taken back for ultrasounds and met an upbeat technician with beautiful dark skin and a gorgeous Nigerian accent.  Entering the room, we could hear Christian worship songs playing softly in the background (there’s never music!) from the tech’s Pandora Station.  She was bubbly and talked to us about her kids humorously but with so much love behind every word.  With every breath she told us how she asked God for patience with this or prayed to him to help her with that and it became clear that she was a deeply faithful woman.

I was listening, but also kind of tuning her out as I hyper-analyzed every measurement she made on the baby.  Is she growing?  What does that number mean?  Is her foot turned funny?  Questions zipped through my mind at a rapid speed.  At some point, she asked us how old our first was.  We told her about Callie and then told her Charlotte was 20 months old and that her favorite word is “No”.  She laughed and said, “After ‘no’ comes ‘why’.”

And then she told us a story that left me with chills.  She said once she was listening to her pastor’s sermon.  It was a story of a young boy who was racing to greet his father who was returning home from work after a long day.  The boy, joyfully distracted, ran right over top of some railroad tracks in the path of an oncoming train.  The father screamed out to his son and told him to GET DOWN!  The boy listened right away and his life was spared because the train rolled right over top of him, leaving him unharmed.

The tech looked us in the eyes as she told us, “You see, if he had stop to ask, “Why?”, he would have been killed instantly by the train.  It is the same way with God.  You have to trust Him and not stop and ask, “Why?”.”

My eyes filled up with tears as she finished the story, lovingly telling us that she reminds her son of that story every time he bugs her with a “Why?” question…”because I said so!”  she laughed.  But my heart was still back on the parable of the boy, his father, and the train.  I sat there thinking, here is another Earth Angel, right in front of us– just like my Maggiano Angel from that Valentine’s Day so long ago.  It was no accident that she was our technician today, when out of all of our bajillions of visits we’ve never seen her.  We were meant to cross paths and meant to hear that message.

She left me with a feeling of peace that was soon followed up with joy- because, GREAT NEWS!  ‘Wilbur’ grew!  She made great progress and even caught up a few days!  She’s still small, but the fact that she didn’t fall any further behind and actually made further progress than expected was OUTSTANDING news.

The doctor told me to keep doing whatever it is that we are doing and that he will check up on us again in two more weeks.  That means more rest, eating enough protein to qualify me for an NFL linebacker, and keep praying and staying positive.

We have no doubt that the love, support, and prayers from all of you played a part in today’s outcome.

We also know that there were angels among us today.

Especially one dressed in yellow with sunshine glistening off of her wings.

Merry Christmas everyone!  We feel so blessed to have our Christmas prayers answered this day.

xoxo

PPL<3

“I was walking home from school, on a cold winter day
Took a shortcut through the woods, and I lost my way
It was getting late, and I was scared and alone
But then a kind old man, took my hand, and led me home
Mama couldn’t see him, oh but he was standing there
And I knew in my heart, he was the answer to my prayers

Oh I believe there are, angels among us
Sent down to us, from somewhere up above
They come to you and me, in our darkest hours
To show us how to live, to teach us how to give
To guide us with the light of love

When life held troubled times, and had me down on my knees
There’s always been someone, to come along, and comfort me
A kind word from a stranger, to lend a helping hand
A phone call from a friend, just to say, I understand
But ain’t it kind of funny, at the dark end of the road
That someone lights the way, with just a single ray of hope

Oh I believe there are, angels among us
Sent down to us, from somewhere up above
They come to you and me, in our darkest hours
To show us how to live, to teach us how to give
To guide us with the light of love

They wear so many faces, show up in the strangest places
To grace us with their mercy, in our time of need

Oh I believe there are, angels among us
Sent down to us, from somewhere up above
They come to you and me, in our darkest hours
To show us how to live, to teach us how to give
To guide us with the light of love
To guide us with a light of love”

Signs

I’ve been thinking about Callie a lot lately.  Last night, after Charlotte went down for the night, I sat in a bubble bath and cried until I was a complete prune.  I’m not sure what brought it on, but I just had to cry and let it out.  I thought about Callie’s short life, her birth, her death, the aftermath.  I thought about how unfair it is.  I asked God the golden question Why?  Why do some people receive more than their fair share?  Why us?  I rehashed all of those things that I have been at peace with and had found acceptance with.  I was having a grief bubble.  A wave of sadness popping up in the middle of nowhere.  Actually, I was having a grief bubble bath to be more exact.

As I got out of the tub, I heard Charlotte down the hall with John.  She had woken up and he was putting her back to sleep.  I needed that grief bubble burster right at that moment.  To bring me back to the moment, instead of dwelling on the past.  A friend of mine wrote John and I a card after Callie passed that always stuck with me.  She said in a nutshell that there was nothing more painful than losing her daughter, but if that had not happened, her son would never have come into this world and she could never imagine her life without him.  When I ask myself Why??, I always think back to that card.  I don’t think having Charlotte was the reason Callie passed away, but I truly cannot imagine my life without her, so I cannot wish away this path that we have traveled down, no matter how painful it is at times.

I’ve seen signs of Callie lately.  Maybe she knows that I’ve been missing her.  Although I have prepared for it, I still feel like someone punched me in the gut every time a stranger sees Charlotte and asks, “Is she your first?”  I have tried every response…yes, no, a non-answer like “She’s our little sweetie pie!”, and even what I thought was bullet-proof, “She’s our oldest!”  When I used that one, a lady at church said incredulously, “Well, that means she’s your first!” in the same tone as, “Like, duh!” as if I was a total idiot.  I felt rage course through me as I envied a life where someone did not know the pain of losing a baby and how the first does not always mean the oldest.  When we went to the garden later, I said a silent prayer to Callie, hoping that she was having fun in heaven and living a full and happy life up there without feeling one ounce of heartache ever.  Because heartache sucks.  Big time.

But back to the signs of Callie…  There are many, but I’ll share my favorites.

First, the owl.  If you could hear me reading this aloud, when I come to the words “the owl” I would be saying them in a deep and dark mysterious and dubious voice.  Because, the owl freaked me out.

It all started back in the fall, when I was pregnant with Charlotte.  One night, I stayed reallllly late at school trying to catch up on some projects I had been falling behind in.  As I left the school building, I saw an owl, perched atop a road sign incredibly close to my car.  As I drove past, the owl watched me and I rolled down the window to take her picture.  At the time, I thought it was SO cool.  I mean, I’d never seen an owl up close before.  I was thinking of the children’s book Owl Moon and how it would be so neat to tell my students about my encounter.  I drove away, my mind already filled with other things and I did not think much more of it.

The Owl

The Owl

Until, that is, I pulled into my neighborhood, several miles away from school.  There on top of a light post was another owl.  I couldn’t see it up close, but I could tell by it’s silhouette that it was most definitely an owl.  Was it the same one?  It couldn’t be.  I thought to myself, That’s weird, and went inside to tell John about it.  How odd that I would have two owl sightings in one night!  Being a big believer in omens and signs, I broke the great commandment of Charlotte’s pregnancy:  Thou shalt not Google.  I searched:  Symbolism of an owl.  I was shocked to see that some cultures viewed owls as a bad omen and as harbingers of death.  If you will remember, I was just a teensy bit on edge with anxiety while pregnant with Charlotte (understatement of the year!) so I was freaked out that something bad was going to happen to her and I let my mind go to all kinds of awful places.  After much coaxing, John soothed me back into a semi-calm state and I was able to put it (kind of) behind me.

Later that night, as I was drifting off to sleep, I heard hoooo hoooo.  Hooo hoooo.  An owl hooting from our rooftop.

What the (bleep)?!?!?

John heard it too and I had both of us thoroughly freaked out by this owl.  Weeks and months passed.  We didn’t hear from the owl again and Charlotte made it safely into our arms so I had kind of forgotten about the owl and its freakiness.

Fastforward to a few weeks ago when I had the brilliant idea that it was time to move Charlotte out of our room and into her own crib.  She was getting too big for her bassinet and was sleeping through the night so it felt like she was telling us it was time to let go and move her out.  Being slightly on the paranoid side, we went out and bought an AngelCare motion sensor monitoring system to help us sleep a little easier at night.  As I shut the door to her nursery that night, I wept…WEPT…and called my friend, Barrett, because I was so emotional about this next step for Charlotte, who by the way could have cared less.  She was fine, but I was distraught over her becoming more of a baby and less of a newborn.  It was all going so fast!

After a few hours of watching Charlotte sleep on the monitor, analyzing every breath, and two false alarms from the AngelCare that gave us heart attacks…we heard it.

Hooo hooo.

Me:  “Did you hear that???” 

John:  “Yes, I did.” 

Me (frantically):  “Go get her!!!” 

And that is how Charlotte’s first night in her crib went.  The next night, we were so exhausted that we put her back in her room and we all had a great night of sleep…owl-free.

Looking back, I think that owl might not have been a bad omen at all…I think it was Callie, trying to reassure me that everything was going to be ok.  I mean, owls are nice in Harry Potter, right?  So, now me and owls…we’re cool.

Charlotte eyeing her owl toy suspiciously

Charlotte eyeing her owl toy suspiciously

As for other signs, yesterday, I absolutely know for a fact that Callie was trying to say hello.  It all started when I was talking to Barrett on the phone again in the parking lot outside of John’s school as I waited for him to come out to meet me for lunch.  All of a sudden, out of nowhere, a HUGE yellow butterfly landed right in front of me on the windshield.  It stayed just long enough to flap it’s wings once and then it flitted away.  Later on, as I was walking the dogs, I literally had to jump out of the way of another HUGE yellow butterfly that was hellbent on trying to land on me I think.  I should’ve let her, but things with wings freak me out when they get too close.  Weird phobia of mine.  Anyway, later yesterday evening, John and I left the restaurant where we were having a late dinner only to find ANOTHER butterfly on the driver’s side door of our car.

I don’t think any of these things were a coincidence at all.  Callie was with us yesterday, as she has been all along.

Have you ever received a sign?  I’d really love to hear your story if you have.  I’m always looking for the little things that prove our connection with something greater.  If you have your heart and mind open, you can find them everywhere.

xoxo

Praying in Pictures

Is anyone else ADD when it comes to praying?  Maybe it’s just me, but every time I go to say prayers it starts off great, but very quickly I get derailed.

Dramatization of me praying:  Thanks God for all the many blessings in my life…Thank you for John, thank you for my family and friends, thank you for the dogs,…oh man, Daisy really needs a bath, I think I’ll take her to the groomer,…maybe I’ll swing by the grocery store afterwards since it’s right next door…I could get ingredients to make guacamole….mmmm, guacamole….oh, wait, I was supposed to be praying…where was I??  Sorry God, my bad!

That is pretty much how it goes every night.  I’ve tried saying them out loud, which helps, but it is awkward for me and makes me feel uncomfortable.  I’ve tried praying at different times of the day to see if that helps, but alas, my poor little brain is just not wired to stay focused for very long.  I saw this on Facebook the other night and it reminded me of myself:

womens brains

Yep, that pretty much sums it up.

A few months after Callie passed away, I was trying to talk to God and found my mind wandering.  I apologized to him for not being able to focus and asked him to forgive me and help me.  I actually got an answer.  I mean, he didn’t literally speak to me, but an idea popped in my harried little brain and I think it was inspired by him and my sweet angel.  I woke up in the middle of the night with a burning thought:  What if I pray in pictures?  Being a teacher, I use picture cues all the time to help my students focus on the tasks at hand.  Why not use the same strategy on myself?  I wrote it down and there the idea stayed….for a year.  I think about my idea all the time.  It’s been on my “to write about” list forever.  Let’s just say, it’s been marinating.

I woke up today and felt like this was the day I was meant to take this idea out of the marinade and put it onto the grill.  Maybe you will feel like it’s your day to grill it too!

So here we go, here are a few ways I’ve come up with to do Praying in Pictures:

Step One

First, give yourself a ‘prayer outline’.  there is no right or wrong way to pray, right?  But for me, I like to have a structure for myself:

1) Gratitude-  think of all the things you are grateful for, some ideas…your spouse, your family, friends, dogs, home, health, job, answered prayers, sunshine, things that are yellow, Diet Dr. Pepper…  there is always something to be thankful for.

2) Forgiveness-  ‘fess up that you are not perfect and feel the peace wash over you that it’s ok, God’s cool with that… stay humble.

3) Lay down your troubles-  take whatever is bothering you and tell God about it…  I’m scared.  I’m stressed.  I’m tired.  Imagine yourself dragging a heavy load of bricks in a backpack.  Each brick=a trouble.  Every time you list a trouble, take it out of your backpack and give it over to God.  Feel lighter.

4)  Ask for help-  ask God to help you with all the things that are troubling you.  Ask for strength, for courage, for laughter, for healing, for world peace…  Just ask.  You may or may not have your prayer answered, but I think God’s there to help and to listen.  When I was little, I used to ask to win the lottery…that hasn’t worked out….YET!  😉  Be patient!

Step Two

After making an outline, it’s time to add the pictures:

-For #1) gratitude, gather images of all the people or things that you are grateful for.

-For for #2-4) find images that will help remind you of what you want to say… picture cues!  For example, take a picture of a heavy backpack to remind you to lay down your troubles.  Find a Google image of the cross for forgiveness.  Save an image or quote from Pinterest that touches on a theme you want to ask for help with.  Write down a Bible verse or inspirational quote on an index card.  It’s up to you!

Step Three

Put it all together!  Here are some ways you can compile your pictures:

1)  Make a Shutterfly book.

I love Shutterfly!  Make a small book out of your images to keep by your bedside and take it out when you want to pray.  Shutterfly allows you to add text if there are special prayers or thoughts that you would like to include alongside your images.  You could also make one for your kids and include it into their nightly reading routine.  (You are reading to your kids every night, right???  Teacher Kristin says get on it!)

2)  Scrapbook/Journal

If you are a scrapbooker, you may wish to use your creative juices to put together a scrapbook full of the things you want to pray about.  Make it as fancy or as simple as you would like.  Or, glue your images into the first few pages of a journal.  Use the back of your journal to write about your feelings, document your day, keep track of answered prayers, doodle, whatever!  It’s yours!

3)  Create a photo album

example photo album

Use one of these cheapy albums to put your images in.  Same idea as the Shutterfly book, but less expensive.  And maybe more baby-friendly because the pages won’t get ruined if it winds up with a little drool on it.  Bonus-  you can take out the pictures and exchange them for new ones as time goes on!

4)  Use your iPhone

So, this is the one I do…because I am simply too lazy to do the other versions.  Create an album in your phone for pictures and then-voila!- swipe through the album as you pray.  This is the easiest way for me and you can easily delete pictures and add new ones as needed to keep it fresh and current.

iphone how to

Here is a small sample of the images in my Praying for Pictures album….I get a lot of the quotes from Pinterest:

iphone collage

afce542ac3203c55436fc09281be297bworries

It takes just a few minutes to swipe through my pictures and pray without getting sidetracked by my ping-pong mind!

So there you have it…Praying in Pictures!

I’ve created a few images for you to download and save so that you can get started making your own Praying in Pictures project too!  The only thing I ask in return is that if you like this idea, that you share it with a friend.  Pin it.  Facebook it.  It is my Kindness for Callie today and I would love to be able to help others who have the same trouble as me.  Maybe you don’t share the same faith or beliefs, but I know that spending a little quiet time each day in reflection of what we are grateful for, what we can do better with, what we need help with, etc. is good for the soul.  I hope it helps you like I know it will help me 🙂

Freebies:

*To download, click on the picture to open it in a separate page.  Next, right-click on the image and click save.  If you’re going to make a book, print them at your local printing place or upload them to Shutterfly.  I put a link at the end to a pdf of an 8×8 and 12×12 version of the Praying in Pictures cover if you want to upload it to Shutterfly or print at Costco for your scrapbooks…you may have to reconvert to .jpg.

4 x 6"

4 x 6″

Forgiveness Card

Forgiveness Card

Troubles Card

Troubles Card

Help Me Card

Help Me Card

Cover pages in different sizes:

8 x 8

12 x 12

Believe.  Float.  Keep your head up.  Hope.

38 Weeks: Faith vs. Doubt

Today, we are 38 weeks in, 1 week left!!!  The excitement is out of control…and so is my nesting.  Like my new blog layout?  Nesting, blame the nesting.  With the excitement comes some fear however.  And so that brings me to some thoughts I’ve been having on faith vs. doubt…

 

Faith, or as Wiki puts it…

Faith /fāTH/
Noun
  1. Complete trust or confidence in someone or something.
  2. Strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof

I started writing this post a week ago when I was feeling particularly vulnerable about faith.  Back then, I was feeling quite down on myself about my faith.  I was feeling guilty and ashamed.  I was tired and my share of burdens felt particularly heavy then.  You see, I had told myself that faith was black or white.  You either have faith, or you have doubt.  They could not exist together in my mind.  If I was having doubts, I felt like those were moments of weakness in faith.  Dark clouds that I could combat with extra sunshine that would lead me back to the right path.

I mean look at what Wiki says…  Faith is to have complete trust or confidence in someone or something.  Well, shoot.  According to that definition, apparently the only thing I have real faith in is the knowledge that the sun will rise and the sun will set each and every day.  Because that is really the only thing I believe in with complete trust and confidence.  And if we are going down this road, I might as well add an asterisk to say that, though I believe with faith that the sun will rise and set each day during my lifetime,  that I can concede that there might be the possibility one day in a few millennia that the Big Bang theory sucks our universe back up and spits it out and …oops, there goes the sun.  But I have faith, according to Wiki’s definition, that won’t happen during my lifetime at least.  I’m 99.9% sure.

Yeah, you could say that I’m a bit of a doubting Thomas.  And so I felt guilty.  I felt bad for having doubts that everything will be ok with this baby.  For questioning doctors when they say, “Everything looks normal.”  For asking, “What if?”

If you remember back, I have talked about faith and doubt many times during this journey I’ve been on.  Allow me to quote myself:

My only hope is to ask God for a life jacket.  Trusting God right now is difficult and I’m not sure how.  I have felt tremendous guilt for doubting him and I know that I have not been able to fully surrender and give him my trust and faith.  But I’m trying. I want to.  My hope is that if I ask God for a life jacket he will help me float on top of the doubts and fears rather than drowning in them.

It’s amazing how many times I can look back upon myself and recognize guilt as a such a powerful emotion during my grief.  Feeling not good enough or like I did something wrong.  Even the Bible has made me feel bad.  Look:  “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer”-  Matthew 21:22.  Well, I know this is going to sound downright sacrilegious but… that is a bunch of B.S. Matthew!  According to that verse, one of two things happened when Callie died after nine months of my diligent prayers.  Either, 1) he lied or 2) I didn’t believe enough.  Out of those options, what am I left to think?  I must not be a good enough believer.

No wonder I felt guilty with that line of thinking.  After clinging to my life jacket and floating for a while, I have decided to redefine faith.  It just so happens that at church this past Sunday, the message was about doubting Thomas and about faith.  Talk about divine intervention!  I came to realize after the sermon that maybe there was a third option above….allow me to let Matthew off the hook with choice #3) …maybe I didn’t understand faith.  My definition was all wrong and it needed to change.  And, while I was at it, I also decided I needed to redefine doubt to reflect my new understanding.  So here you go…

Faith= hope

Doubt= fear

That’s it.  It’s simple.  To me, faith is being hopeful and optimistic.  It is believing in what can be possible.  It is a choice to accept our utter lack of control and to let go.  It is anticipating the best things.  Believing in things that cannot be seen and cannot be proven.  Silver linings!  That is faith.

And then there is doubt, a.k.a. fear.  It is being scared of faith.  It is being afraid of getting your hopes up, just to get let down.  It is trying to control the uncontrollable in a desperate attempt to prevent heartache.  It is hoping that you aren’t wrong about what you believe in to be true.  Doubts are not bad.  They are normal.

Instead of being opposites, faith and doubt really go hand-in-hand.  They are like peanut butter and jelly.  That is, as long as you don’t have a peanut-allergy.  😉  Whenever you put your hope in something, there lies a part of you that fears it.  It’s scary being an optimist sometimes.  Or at least, that’s my take on things.

Since coming to this new conclusion, I have not had one bit of guilt.  I have had loads of faith and loads of doubt…but no guilt.  And in the absence of guilt, comes peace.  I love peace.  It is the best feeling in the world.  I mean, listen to me…I’m all sunshine and rainbows and peace.  Just send me off to Woodstock and hide my razor blade, why don’t ya?  Ridding yourself of guilt is very freeing.  You should try it sometime 😉

And whenever you find yourself having big doubts about God, do what I do, remind yourself…no, stop and force yourself (because sometimes it really is hard!) to look for him in the smallest of places and the quietest of moments.  He’s there.  I have faith in that…according to my new definition of faith.  And if you’re still having trouble, maybe he will blow a yellow balloon your way, like he did for us.  Don’t feel bad for having your doubts, just keep the faith.

Believe.  Float.  Keep your head up.  Hope.

Wall Art from Joss & Main...wish I could find this again to buy it!

Wall Art from Joss & Main…wish I could find this again to buy it!

***

K4C  from Laura:

“We drove a lost family to their hotel last night –they had gotten off the Toll Road and were totally lost. We were happy to think of you on this beautiful day.”

Thanks Laura 🙂  These beautiful days are such a wonderful reminder of our sweet girl.  We appreciate your act of kindness in her memory!!