Thursday, November 02, 2006

Forest Through the Trees

I believe in the divine. I've experienced it a handful of times in my life, primarily in the more recent years. The most obvious of these encounters was the birth of my daughter. There is something about experiencing new life and death, beauty and tragedy, almost simultaneously that reminds you you're not the one pulling the strings.

Consequently, Elena has been the cornerstone of most of the other divine experiences I've had. Because of her short life, I have met and befriended some amazing, compassionate souls who enrich my life every day. The boldest example of her influence came upon meeting the grandparents of another angel baby named Elena. About three years ago, they had called me to get a bracelet for their daughter, who had just given birth to her own child, a stillborn baby girl. They arrived and entered my home very tentatively, unsure of what to expect, still overcome with grief themselves. After about an hour or so of sharing stories of loss, they rose to leave. I hugged them both goodbye, but my hug with Elena's grandfather was no ordinary embrace. It was a powerful experience and turning point for the both of us. From him I felt the release of anger, a return to hope. And for myself, a new understanding of purpose.

Divinity struck again recently, appropriately enough on Make a Difference Day this year. October 28th. It was the end of a very packed month for the Fund and for our family. I had been feeling like I was trudging through weekdays just to make it through each event-filled weekend. Each day that passed was another mark on my checklist. And then came the unexpected. We had packed everything up having had a great gathering of volunteers, family and friends. Jon even wrapped up the flowers that had adorned the tables. We decided we would take them to Elena's grave.

Arriving at Babyland in the cemetery, I saw several parked cars and then the distinct green tent came into view. A funeral was in process. From where I parked, it was clear the funeral was happening very near to Elena's gravesite. Not only that, it was set up facing her direction. My first instinct was to leave and not disturb the family. But the next thought I had was, "I want to know about that baby." Jon was having the same thoughts, so we elected to walk to the rear of the funeral and listen in. Immediately upon seeing that tiny white casket, I fell apart. It was Elena's funeral all over again. The pink flowers, the white satin, the looks of pain and confusion on every face.

It was a short service, everyone started to head back to their cars. Jon pointed out that the flowers we brought for Elena were in two bunches. I wanted to give one to the mother of this baby, but wasn't sure it would be good to approach. Instead I tracked down the minister who had performed the service. "Excuse me...I don't know this family. My husband and I just came to bring flowers to our own baby's grave. But I'd like to give them to the mother." The minister responded, "Come with me. She is my niece." He walked me right up to Sarah and introduced me. "This woman has lost a baby too." Sarah and I hugged immediately and wept openly. "I'm so sorry," I told her. "So, so sorry." She thanked me profusely, said she was overwhelmed to be approached by a stranger that way. I told her I didn't want to keep her but gave her the flowers for her baby, Rachel. And then I stepped back to Elena's grave where I had placed the second bunch of flowers.

It was in that instant that I realized how significant the placement of Elena's place was. Her headstone was immediately adjacent to the burial set up for Rachel. The green indoor/outdoor carpeting was laid so that it covered all of the headstones near Elena's, but her's was in plain view. It was as if she were sitting right there, watching over this new little one being ushered to heaven. I knelt and cried, felt a little like I was outside of my body for awhile.

Within a few minutes, someone walked up next to me. I turned to see Sarah there. She said, "I wanted to talk to you before you leave. I...don't know how to feel." I stood up and hugged her and we talked for quite awhile. She asked questions, I learned about her family. I found out Rachel was born at 26 weeks and lived for 5 days. Sarah had spent a good deal of the pregnancy on bedrest. She was feeling guilty that her body did this to her baby. She had this look of desperation, needing to reach out to something or someone. She introduced me to her husband and said she wanted to call me. I gave her my card and said, "Anytime." I hugged them both before they left to join the rest of the family. And then I stood there, in awe, still not totally in touch with what had happened.

This was clearly my reminder. It was God saying to me, "Remember I always have a plan. Remember I'm always working. Even when you feel exhausted, run down...I'm there. And I love you." It was exactly the message I needed. It was a crystal clear view of what the whole month was about. It was divine.

I think divine opportunities come up at different times for everyone. The sad thing is that when we're focused on the wrong things, we miss them. I'm still overwhelmed when I think about this recent encounter. We could have arrived minutes later and everyone would have been gone. The funeral could have been set up completely covering Elena's gravesite. The minister could have been non-responsive to me. The flowers could have been in just one bunch. But we didn't, and it wasn't and he was and they were. And that's what it's all about.

Thanks for listening.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


October 15th
We Remember

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


A recent conversation and a visit to my daughter's grave with a really good friend prompted this entry. It's an attempt to answer some very common questions (both spoken and unspoken) that face the loved ones of families like ours who are missing a child.

What helps, what doesn't? What are the right things to say and the wrong things to do? How can you offer the support that your soul longs to give in a situation that your brain can't comprehend?

First, love us. Love us in an honest way, don't be afraid. Don't feel compelled to use words, sometimes we just need you to sit with us in silence. At the same time, don't be afraid to tell us you feel helpless, speechless, unsure of what to do. Your presence is often enough.

We don't expect anything, there are no obligations. Be confident that you know us. You've celebrated our victories and loved us through other types of hurts. If you look at us with sincerity and see the role that our missing child plays in our lives, you are likely to want to honor her life as well. Purely by the nature of who we are to you.

Ask questions. We want to tell you how tiny she was, what our time was like with her. How perfect her toes and eyebrows were. It is impossible for us to instill a remembrance in you, if you never met her. But we can share her with you and give you a sense of who she was and the meaningful purpose of her short life.

Remember that it's ok to laugh with us, as well as cry. We still have a full range of emotions, not just the sad ones. A little humor, a touch to our shoulders and a warm hug go a long way.

For those who try, thank you. It takes courage to step outside of yourself in such a desperate time. It's the simple things that mean the most. Thank you for reaching out to us. Give us time, we'll gather strength. We'll never get over it, we're not supposed to. But we'll get through. With you. If you'll just be there.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


Today makes four. Four years since my life was graced by the presence of a creation so small and wondeful, I was changed forever. Each year seems to go by a little faster now. As I mark the milestones of my miracle son, I breathe a sigh and shed a tear for the missed milestones of my miracle daughter.

Elena, you came to breathe life into me that wasn't there before. You submitted to the will of God and served a purpose so great, my human mind will never fully grasp the magnitude of it. You stole our hearts in a quick second but filled them for a lifetime.

I love you, beyond this world's definition of love.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


"Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, 'Where are you?' He answered, 'I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.'"
Genesis 3:8-10

This is going to sound really lame, but it's true - I've been hiding from my blog. Not for lack of something to say. On the contrary, for having too much on my mind, uncertain where to begin. When I started this journal-of-sorts last July, the intention was not so much for others to read as it was for me to process my own thoughts and feelings. And yet less than a year later, I found myself cowering from the light of my computer screen, hiding from the very core of who I am.

Being naked, in both the literal and figurative senses, is a scary thing. The word naked is defined as "having no covering; being without concealment, disguise or embellishment." An alternate definition cuts even deeper to our fears, "being exposed to harm; vulnerable." Sometimes we are so afraid to be naked that we hide under layers of covering as a preventative measure. If no one can touch you, then no one can hurt you. The only problem is that no one can love you, either.

The past few months have been a period of personal struggle and simultaneous growth. I've faced fears that I've hidden from for most of my life. I've battled wedges in my closest relationships. And I've gone toe to toe with the person who is most often my biggest critic and toughest challenge - myself. One of the most valuable lessons I've learned as a result is that I am a person in progress, I have by no means "made it." And that's okay.

I've spent too many years of my life covering up, concealing. I was afaid of the vulnerability that comes with admitting I am flawed. I don't always have the answers. I do make mistakes, I stumble, I get scared. I was foolish enough to believe that I'm the one who makes the rules, and that I had to follow them. And when it looked like things were not going according to MY plan, I found it so easy to wallow in self-pity and resentment.

The beauty of God's light is that it can find us in the darkest of dark places and gently lead us forth into warmth. That's where He found me, knowing I was disconnected, but afraid to make a move for fear of drifting even farther. Even when I was feeling bad, there was a twisted sense of comfort because it was familiar. I was hiding, but He found me. He carried me out into the light and removed the binding layers. He exposed my nakedness, not to embarrass or condemn me, but to liberate my soul. And once I felt His rays, I knew I was safe. I examined all of myself, the good and the bad, and found the me I'd been missing.

So here I am. I am a work in progress, and I'm not ashamed. I've rediscovered the people I love and experience them in a new way. Like a kid looking forward to a Disneyland trip or summer vacation, I have an excitement again. Oh, there are still weak moments, and there always will be. But they are no longer looming over me, overbearing, stifling. They are a part of the whole of me.

Here I am. Connected. Alive.


Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Weights and Measures

When I tell people we're blessed, it's not just something to say. I mean it, we are truly blessed with a capital "B." It has nothing to do with quantity of material possessions, and everything to do with quality of life.

Lately my mind has been full of numbers, mainly because it's the dreaded tax season. My mornings are spent at my day job, a CPA firm, watching clients stream in and out the door, hoping that in between they'll find out they can expect a hefty refund. At those very same moments, I'm sitting at my desk trying to figure out if the number of hours I'm putting in will cover the amount of household expenses going out. Usually, it's a pretty close call.

Then in the afternoon, I come home and attempt to find creative ways to help The Shining Light Fund spin a few dollars of cash into comfort for thousands. That's no easy task, either. Thankfully, life cannot be measured in numbers. It's measured in meaningful moments, hope and faith, laughter and love.

Our blessing is being surrounded by people that God has strategically placed in our lives, people who care and help get us through. People like our parents who always have a hug to spare and make sure we know that everything's ok. People like Margaret, our landlord, who lets us slide on paying the utilites for a whole year (literally) until we get our tax refund. People like friends who e-mail out of the blue to say "keep going, you're doing great things." Not everyone has this kind of overwhelming support, and it is for that reason I say we are blessed beyond measure.

Sometimes in my humanity I wonder out loud to myself, "What would we do?" if we didn't have help coming in from this way and that. But God reminds me that He's already figured it out, and that's why the help is there. He didn't just close the gap by accident. He placed a strong a sturdy bridge over it with the utmost in care, considering all outcomes, as He always does in His most fatherly way.

And because I can trust Him to guide my feet, my mind and heart can get back to where they belong. Those simply amazing, fulfilling moments. There's no ruler long enough to measure moments like these.
Thanks for listening.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Keeping true to "Thing's I've Heard"

"Although each of us can be defined by the brief physical time that we as individuals exist, we have the ability to make that time extend far beyond our physical existence."
Dr. Maya Lin, Architect &
Designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

A lamp unto my feet

Last Sunday, the first day of the new year, our pastor at church passed out a simple half-sheet of white paper on which to list our goals for the year and keep track of our progress. He mentioned that it was nothing fancy, but often times writing these things down for yourself to see can be helpful in achieving your goals. The visual reminder creates a personal challenge.

I'm usually the type that would fill this sort of thing out immediately, but for some reason I've been much more thoughtful this time. Probably because I'm also the type to tuck a paper like this away somewhere, only to find it years later and toss it out.

This past week, I've spent some time seriously thinking about real and achievable goals for 2006. I have come up with three, which I will not be listing here because these challenges are...well...personal. I will, however, share with you the scriptures that I was given after writing these goals down.

Psalm 121
I lift up my eyes to the hills - where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip - he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you - the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm - he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

Isaiah 41:10
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

I'm fully aware that come December, I may not be exactly where I had hoped to be. There will be twists in the road between here and there. But what the word promises is that I have nothing to fear, for the one who is in control loves me and is way more qualified than I to guide my path.

Thanks for listening.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Those Pesky Justs

How many times have you been out to dinner with a group when someone in your party asks you for a bite of whatever you're having. "I just want a taste." But you know what they're really thinking is, "I'm starving and I'd love to eat every last crumb on your plate because what you ordered looks way better than what I got."

This is the nature of "just." It's a funny little word meant to indicate that we're not as greedy as we truly are. "I'll just be a minute." "I just want one." "I'm just buzzed." When you hear people say these things, you've come to accept that you'll be waiting at least half an hour, they'd really like about a dozen and they are probably drunk outta their minds.

During this first week of the new year, I've had a recurring just of my own.

"I just want to see her."

It's no secret that I miss Elena, she's my daughter. In the three years since she died, I've struggled with many painful moments. But what I've been feeling this week has been very specific.

"I just want to see her."

I think it has a lot to do with Isaiah's development. He's Mommy's big boy now. I love to sit and run my fingers through his curly hair or watch with excitement as he takes steps toward me. And every time I look at him, my mind's eye can see a little girl with a face so similar to his holding my hand. She has long, bouncy curls and a big toothy smile behind her perfect pouty lips. And I want to see her, here.

This feeling has come over me several times a day at various times. It really overwhelmed after watching this week's episode of ER, which paralelled two seemingly unwanted pregnancies. At the end of the show, I found myself sobbing, hugging my husband and thinking one thing.

"I just want to see her."

As I've thought about this feeling, I know that seeing her is not all I want. If some strange miracle happened and I was granted the chance to see Elena as she would look now, once for a brief time, I'm sure I would think, "I just want to hold her." And if that wish came true, I'd be hugging her so tightly thinking, "I just want to push her on the swing," or "I just want to read her a story." And eventually, all thoughts would lead to, "I just want to keep her. Here. Forever."

Those justs are so misleading. I think we've all become accustomed to hiding behind them, hoping no one will see past them and find out what our true desires are. But I'm learning to deal with the justs that allow us to do all that we can, all that we're capable of. I'll continue to be proud of her, and yes, I'll miss her.

But mostly, I'll just love her.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Of Kings and Emperors (or, A funny thing happened on the way to my blog)

The secret's out...I get sidetracked. It happens all the time. Usually it's the unfortunate result of trying to do too many things at once. But occasionally, a nice little reminder will pop up and bring me back so that I can tie everything up in a package with a pretty bow. This is one of those times.

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Los Angeles County Museum of Art just before the King Tut exhibit left. I was thrilled, mainly because we were gifted free tickets by my boss, and these days anything free is a good deal. I think I had an idea what to expect in terms of the artifacts, and they did not disappoint. To see physical evidence of history, in amazing condition, right before your very eyes, there's really nothing like it.
What I didn't expect was to come out feeling like I'm the one living in an ancient culture.

One of the main rooms held two very small golden busts. They were not particularly noticeable, compared to many of the grander items. But a label on the side of the display indicated in one short sentence that these were only a small part of treasures that were crafted for the burial of two of King Tut's children, two stillborn baby girls. I was fascinated to learn that these babies were buried with jewels and treasures comparable to other notable Egyptians. This was way beyond acknowledgement, these little girls were honored and respected.

I was recently reminded of my fascination while watching March of the Penguins. Now, I have to point out that I was not particularly excited about seeing the film because I was so disgusted by the bandwaggoning that went on when this movie came out and "swept the country." (If you want to see the real documentary, with a truly amazing story, rent the DVD and watch Of Men and Penguins, the behind the scenes doc - there's the film that deserves critical acclaim. But I digress...).

As Morgan Freeman eloquently describes the suffering and sacrifice of both the male and female Emperor penguins to protect their eggs, I was struck by nature's example of honoring life. It is after the penguin parents travel the 70 mile distance to the breeding ground that the real challenge begins - transferring the egg from Mom to Dad without touching the frozen ground, and then keeping the egg warm enough to survive through months of unmerciful winter. Even then, those that hatch run the risk of being consumed by the cold. It's a true miracle that any of them survive the harsh conditions. And for 1/4 of the babies that don't survive, many of the parent penguins will lay down and literally let themselves wither away in despair. It's an example of a selfless creature acting solely on behalf of another creature - an example that's clearly lost on humans.

It never ceases to amaze me how blind we can be to the things that are right in front of our faces. Present nature and ancient history point to the value of one solitary life, but modern human beings will go to great lengths to dismiss it. Especially if it will make things easier, less awkward and more convenient for themselves.

I for one believe there are lessons to be learned in the smallest and simplest things all around us. I just hope I never get too sidetracked to notice.

Thanks for listening.