The Hardest Thing

 
10 years ago
, the heartache and tears following a break up was the hardest thing I had ever been through. I felt and mourned deep loss of romance and friendship. I cried and rarely felt like leaving my apartment. I became quite literally sick with grief.


5 years ago
, social and relational anxiety was the hardest thing I had ever been through. I was a newlywed navigating unknown territory of what it meant to be a wife, as well as what it meant to have and love a husband. I had just moved across the country and I was completely immersed in a new culture, climate, and circle of friends. My deep southern roots slowly adjusted to the fast paced diversity of the Silicon Valley. I cried nearly every single day for an entire year. I wasn’t sad and I wasn’t miserable. Rather, I was deeply unsure of myself, and my new role in this drastically differently life.

3 years ago, new motherhood, breastfeeding, and Post Partum Anxiety were the hardest things I had ever been through. They brought me to my knees and threatened my stability. I had entered motherhood expecting my transition to be natural and effortless. However, in the first year, I gulped equal amounts water and air, as I struggled to keep my head just above the surface. Intrusive thoughts petrified and immobilized me. In the first 3 months, my daughter screamed from 30 minutes to 5 hours every single time I attempted to feed her. I was guilt ridden, scared, and exhausted.

1 year ago, giving birth to my stillborn son, Keller NormanBartlett, was the hardest thing I had ever been through. My husband and I shattered as we labored to bring his lifeless body into this world. Words are insufficient to describe this type of pain and sudden, shocking loss. The days, weeks, and months to follow have often been battlefields – ridden with pain attacks, depression, and anger.

Comparison is an evil and deceptive enemy. It lies and tells us that our joy is insufficient and our pain is inconsequential. Even worse, it deceives us into thinking our friends and family’s joys are mediocre and their pain minute in comparison to whatever battle you yourself may be facing.

As mothers, I think we are especially susceptible to falling into the pit of comparison. We are bombarded with pictures, videos, and stories detailing the “highlight reel” of other family’s lives. Without much thought, we can trip into the darkness of believing we need more (clothing, housing, activities, romance, holiness) in order to achieve the “same level” of happiness, contentment, and joy. We rob ourselves of the abundance and goodness surrounding us. Comparison literally blinds us. We become incapable of realizing and accepting our own joy.

Equally, we are very often met with the darkest and most painful moments in other’s lives. Newsfeeds are filled with “case of the Mondays” hardships, personal confessions of struggle and depression, prayer requests for heartache, and the deep groaning’s of death. The corruption of comparison reaches to pain as well.

10 years ago, the hardest thing I had ever faced was – simply – a break up. The trials and hardships I have faced since, can and have caused me to scoff and mock my 20 year old self. I had “no idea what true pain was”. This is false and caustic comparison. 10 years ago – the heartache of that lost friendship brought me to my knees. I wept to God that He would mend that relationship. He didn’t. He knew the pain and growth were far more beneficial than a temporary patching of my heart. Many who had known far greater pain, could have grinned and said “there, there”. They didn’t. They hunkered down by my side, saw my pain for what it was – the hardest thing I had ever been through – and prayed, and loyally and patiently kept by my side.

As mothers, it is difficult to meet the pain of other mothers and not compare it to your own.

“At least their baby doesn’t have colic!”

“At least they have parents near to help out.” 

“At least their husband is home!”

“It’s just a stomach bug…”

“I wish my kid only woke up twice a night.”

We see the pain of others and almost instinctively compare it to our own struggle (or at least I do). We minimize the pain of others because poisonous comparison has entered into our hearts.

Conversely, we can see the pain of others and minimize our own pain and hardships.

“I only have one kid – this shouldn’t be so hard.”

“I know my baby only wakes up once – why am I so tired? Why is this so hard?”

“None of my kids are chronically ill – I shouldn’t be struggling so much just because they’ve had a cold for 2 weeks.”

“A miscarriage is common – so many women have had them – why do I feel so sad for so long?”

“My family is close by and so many people don’t have thatkind of help – I shouldn’t be having to fight depression so hard.”

Your battles are hard simply because they are the hardest thing you are going through.

God sees your pain and reaches out with perfect love and compassion. He isn’t sitting on high telling you to “get over it” because He’s seen and experienced “much worse”. He just sees brokenness and pain and meets it with love. He effortlessly understands that this trial is the hardest battle you have faced, and He is ready to carry you through the waves of any storm you may face. ANY STORM. He doesn’t see a small difficulty and think, “That’s nothing. Seriously, handle it yourself.” He just offers his hand. Every single time.

I pray that time, wisdom, experience and God’s mercy can scrub the stains of constant comparison from my heart. I want to see the heartache of others and meet it with compassion – not comparison. There is such power joining joy to joy and heartache to heartache. Seeing other’s battles as the hardest thing they are facing is empowering. It validates each other’s struggles and creates a network of love and trust that can move mountains.

Theodore Roosevelt famously said, “Comparison is the thief of joy”. Amen, right? Rather than defaulting to the thievery of comparison, let’s work towards the compassion of God.

“He’s the one who comforts us in all our trouble so that we can comfort other people who are in every kind of trouble. We offer the same comfort that we ourselves received from God.” –II Corinthians 1:4

The next part of our journey. 

So much of Keller’s story happens in the everyday. His story is learning to cope with strangers unknowingly saying “Is she your only child?”, “It is just SO MUCH harder when you have to juggle two.”, and “Do you have any other kids?”.

So much of Keller’s story is simply accepting the quiet simple days. My heart aches to have two children screaming in my ears. I would much rather cry with my hands full, than weep with empty arms. 

I am constantly convicted by Keller and the lessons the Lord has revealed through his death. My heart needs to share these lessons. 

I am ready to share the next part of our journey. 


God is creating new life for our family. Our third child is due June 6, 2017. 

Praise our ALMIGHTY GOD. 

We covet prayers. We are humbled and thankful by the incredible goodness God has given us. 

Mary is excited. She kisses baby often. She is PINING for a baby sister. 

“God will say ‘I gave them a brother already. Now I will give them a sister!'”

We wanted to take a moment to rejoice with all of you – a moment of unrestrained joy and happiness. 

I am ready to write again. I think I need to share the struggles and joys of creation following death. Thank you for blessing me with this platform. Thank you for your overflowing compassion and love. Thank you for your eager ears and tender hearts. You are doing a mighty work. 

Hey new baby – Mommy, Daddy, Mary, and Keller welcome you to our family. We love you a lot. Jesus loves you a lot. I hope you like hugs and kisses. 

Part Two.

Wow. I feel a bit ashamed to say that I have been SHOCKED at the mighty work God has done through Keller’s story. Only the Lord can use a story of death and waves of agony and pain to spread love and hope. I am seriously on my knees astounded at God. Glory to God in the highest.

When we set out to write this love song, this was our goal:

“Our story isn’t exceptional. We aren’t unique because we have met death. Loss fills the lives of most we meet. But if we can point those in the pit,  those in the darkness with no touchstone, to the Light – Praise the Lord -Hosanna.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.  If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. 

(2 Cor. 1:3-7 ESV)

Each day we will share a piece of Keller’s life. We want to mourn, laugh, worship, and celebrate with you – our dearest friends – and with you – the ones whom the Spirit led to this space because you needed to know you aren’t alone and there is indeed Good News.”

The Lord answered every part of this prayer, and then in true Creator-style, went above and beyond all we could ask or imagine.

Thank you. Thank you for sharing in our journey in such an intimate way. You have made yourselves vulnerable to our suffering and reached out with love. This is such a gift. We continue to be encouraged and strengthened by our community. You all have such a talent for active, compassion-filled love.

The Spirit has used this space and led me to amazing souls that I had not known before sitting down to write our Keller story. I am so thankful for each person I have been connected to and each opportunity that has been afforded. Again, it BLOWS me away.

I love you. You, the one reading this page right now, I love you. I love you a LOT. I wish I could hug and kiss you at this very moment and thank you for all you have meant in our lives. Thank you for keeping Keller “real” and giving him the ability to still be a mover and a shaker in so many ways.

There is a lot more I want and need to say. This is only Part 1 of our story. So much of losing a loved one is the daily and constant struggle to live with and adjust to that reality. In the coming months, I want to share moments and lessons this first year without Keller has taught us. There is a lot my heart still needs to put out there.

For now, I need a break. My heart is tired. My brain is tired. My body is pretty tired too. Writing has been good, important, and therapeutic, but not easy. I have always said I am a better writer than I am a speaker, so writing helps me sort out things my brain has all jumbled up inside. It’s quite draining essentially taking your heart and splattering it all over a computer screen. It has been a good, but difficult work. I still struggle many (most) days. Keller’s death is constantly in my line of vision. Sometimes I can function, and other times it clouds my view so much that I want to curl up into a ball and hide underneath the bed. A lot of days I want to curl up into a ball and hide underneath the bed.

Which leads into another message I need to share. Everyone grieves differently. I grieve through writing and reflection. However, I have only just now begun to grieve in this way. For the bulk of the first year, Keller’s death was still too raw and tender to approach in such a head on manner. If you are grieving, I pray you can grieve in just the way you need to grieve without any pressure to mourn in any sort of “right way”. I often put this pressure on myself whenever I experience emotions I believe are too unpleasant and unfit to experience. This kind of frustrates the process. Ride the waves and keep trusting. The Lord provides.

Nathan and I thank you all with every ounce of strength we can muster up. You are the hands and feet of Jesus and you are doing a good work. Thank you for loving Keller Feller. He’s a really awesome kid, and it brings us giant joy knowing so many people know his name. It brings us even more joy knowing that Keller’s life proclaims the name of Jesus.

Let them see Jesus today.

Happy 1st Birthday Keller!

Happy Birthday Keller!

Keller,

I told Mary about your birthday and she asked, “Are we going to go to Heaven for his birthday?” I told her we couldn’t until we died. She then responded with, “But how will he get his cake?” Our family clearly values food. Mary hopes you enjoy the vanilla cake with sprinkles that God made you. We are going to have a small family birthday party for you today. (Mary is going to eat some cake down here for you.) I wish you could be here. I know that you wish we could be with you and the Lord. I think you are right, that is the better option. One day Keller Feller. One day.

Your Mommy, Daddy, and sister love you so much. I am thankful you have only ever known love. I can only imagine how incredible it is to sit at the feet of Jesus. I long to sit with you in my lap and hold you tight as we sway and sing praises to our King. One day Keller Feller. One day. I know you never lived here on earth, but a lot of people know and love you. They all say, “Happy Birthday!” too. Your short life has done mighty things. It’s really incredible. People all over the world love you and praise and trust the Lord more fully because of the really awesome work God did through your life. I’m so proud of you. You are such a good boy. We really are over the top proud of you Keller. We’ll make sure to keep telling more and more people about Jesus the Overcomer. I know you know Jesus pretty well by now. That’s really cool. Tell God to give you extra hugs and kisses today. Mary hopes you enjoy the balloon.

Miss you so much,

Mommy, Daddy, and Mary

“Keller moments.”

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A lot of large and important decisions must be made relatively quickly following the death of a loved one. There are many practical aspects of death that must be addressed. It’s bizarre to make nearly “business-like” decisions after death has stopped your world from turning. But you have to. So you do.

We chose to have Keller’s perfect body cremated. My sister found a funeral home that offered this service as well as an official death certificate. Having a death certificate was important to me. I needed some official document proving that Keller Norman Bartlett lived, even if recording his death was the only way to legally do so.

Going to the funeral home was an interesting experience. I am thankful for those who dedicate their lives to helping others say goodbye to loved ones. It is a job that has great potential to reach out and hug all of humanity and love them in their darkest moments. It is an incredibly selfless and mighty work.

The funeral home itself was rather macabre. The building was musty and the floor creaked with each step. The lights were kept low and an eery ambiance was cast through purple and yellow stained glass windows. It was almost as if the home was trying to manufacture sadness and sobriety. It made both Nathan and I feel uneasy. In our hearts, death is not something that needs visual and artificial aids in order for the audience to realize the somber finality of it all.

Everyone we worked with was kind and professional. We were asked if we wanted to purchase an urn before leaving. Honestly, looking at the urns made us shudder a bit. None of them made sense for Keller. We declined, and it was then I decided we should paint pottery.

Aside from my parents, our families had gone home. My parents had been busy pouring all the love they had pent up for Keller out on Mary. She was loved up while Nathan and I took care of practicalities, and took advantage of the quiet to mourn and draw closer. Not long after Keller’s memorial service, Nathan and I took Mary out to paint pottery. Nathan and I chose a small lidded box for Keller. Nathan would paint the lid, and I would paint the box. We let Mary choose anything she wanted to paint. We told her it would be her special thing we would keep on her shelf to always remember baby brother. She chose a little boy playing baseball. I think that is just so darling. I was expecting her to choose something  bizarre like a lobster, but she thoughtfully picked a little boy. She has gifted us so many precious moments that I will for always treasure deep in my heart.

We were the only ones in the pottery studio. I think it was a Tuesday afternoon. We all sat and painted. There were no rules. There were no dim lights or mood lighting. It was a bright and cheery space. No one had any idea that the pieces we painted were heavy with significance and loss. We painted anything we wanted. Each little piece expressed a tiny bit of our love for Keller. Everything about that time and space was right. It was a “Keller moment”. It paid tribute to him in the best way we knew how.

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Tomorrow is Keller’s first birthday. We have been at a total loss in how best to honor and celebrate his life. Our love for him cannot be fully captured in any one event. It’s been difficult, but I have accepted this. We have decided to spend the day as a family. We will have a picnic, eat birthday cake, and let Mary release a balloon so Keller can have some party decorations up in Heaven. (Mary let me know that God is making him a vanilla cake with sprinkles.) We will spend the day singing the hymns so closely tied to Keller’s life. We will play at the park and watch Mary’s toddler joy and imagine Keller crawling up beside her and flashing her smiles of big sister admiration. It will be our “Keller moment” – the best way we know to pay tribute to our son. We (Nathan and I) will stay up till 11:57 p.m. and light a candle for our boy. A candle to represent the light his life has shown in the middle of total darkness. We will listen to his memorial service and weep with our community all over again. We will praise our Lord for the incredible things He has done through Keller’s life. We will petition to our God for continued comfort, trust, and healing. We will pour our hearts to our God because we deeply long to hold our son again.

I imagine throughout our lives we will have many “Keller moments”. Quiet moments focused in on showing our love for our boy. These moments will join up to a lifetime of “Keller moments”, and even though he was never with us, Keller will keep on living and shining the light of Heaven. That’s Jesus. And that’s awesome.

 

 

Surrounded on every side. 

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In the days following Keller’s death, Exodus 14 painted the perfect picture of the protection we felt from the Lord. In front and behind, the Isrealites saw only certain death. Threat of death was pressing in from every side, but Moses saw God. “Fear not. Stand firm…the Lord will fight for you. You need only be still.” The Lord made their pathway dry. Ominous waters towered above them on each side, but the Lord, He was in the dry ground. The Lord provided a light on an unknown and untraveled trail. The Lord created a barrier between His children and their enemies. The Lord surrounded His people on every side. They only needed to be still.

It is only by the power of the Almighty Creator that we were and are being carried through on dry ground. Any perceived strength is 1000% the Lord’s strength. The Lord rallied His troops and carried us through the storm. You are His troops. YOU were and are the hands and feet of Jesus in our lives.

Countless cards flooded our mailbox. Cards from people across the entire country. Cards from people we had never and maybe will never meet. 2 dozen bouquets of flowers were delivered to our door. Packages filled with tender and thoughtful gifts, as well as toys and stickers for Mary were received. I cannot capture the magnitude of love we recieved. It astounds me even now. I am left speechless.

I need to reinforce just how blessed I know my family to be. I am not writing a tragedy. I am not writing because our sorrow was unique or exceptional. I am writing because we love Keller and our God is bigger. I need to tell the world just how much bigger He is.

Love was piled and heaped on top of us. We were fed every single meal for 2 months. (As orchestrated by my incredible and forever friend Megan. Megan gets things done. You need a Megan.) When the meals stopped, (only after asking that they stop – as Megan put it, “This gravy train is only going to stop when you say stop.”) we had dozens of gift cards to provide easy, mess-free dinners out. Every single meal for two months. I am certain that is the actual definition of lavish.

I feared being alone. Alone meant being slammed back into a “new normal” that terrified me. The Lord heard this cry and provided. Nathan had 4 weeks of paternity leave. Nathan’s mom flew in and spent two weeks at my side. Next my bosom friends Kelly, Katie, and Stephanie stepped in to just sit and be with me. I will never be able to convey the fullness of my thanks. I was in the pit. I was riddled with anguish and panic. These friends flew across the country to simply sit and be everything I needed. My mom flew out last minute to hold me tight when panic gripped me.  If it is ever within your power to jump on a plane and be with a friend in the midst of grief – do it. This has profoundly and forever impacted me, and the way I will choose to give and receive love.

Word had circulated that my first full sentence after seeing Keller’s still heart was, “We are going to Hawaii.” We had every intention of happily financing the trip. It was a time we needed and we knew the benefits would far outweigh any costs. We began planning our trip. It was a welcomed and necessary mental break. Not long after the planning began, over-the-top insanely generous friends started a Gofund.me in order to finance our trip. We were and are so undeserving of this generosity. We wanted to say no. We wanted to kindly, but firmly refuse. However, right at the outset we had vowed to accept all the love. Our entire trip was funded in a matter of days.

I have trouble talking about this. I completely understand that people in our community  were searching for a way to express their love and sorrow. I fully process that this trip was a means to let our friends express the love and compassion tied up in their hearts. We are forever thankful for the almost absurd amount of loved ones we have in our life. We cannot begin to imagine facing the death of Keller without our Lord and His army. It is heartbreaking to imagine someone in the throes of the death of a loved one without the Lord to light the path.  I look at my life and see nearly literal mountains of blessings. So many others need copious and absurd amounts of lavish love as well.  So many do not have an army surrounding them  ready to answer their every need and desire. This twists up my heart in a really complicated and convicting way. We should freely give and receive love to all. I know that I am a part of that all, and I need the active love of God as much as anyone. I just long to freely and abundantly pour the love of Jesus to those huddled in a dark corner utterly alone. I struggle to know how this will play out in my life, but I’m ready. I want a love that showers blessings on everyone in my community and then goes out seeks to love those without community. It’s such a radical and big love. It’s an intimidating love. It’s God-sized love and I want it. I have been shown God-sized love over and over and over and over. Lord – lead us down a path delivers heaps of Your love to those without.

I have yet to send out a thank you card to everyone who showered life-giving love on us. (I hate myself for this. There is no excuse. I so desperately want to convey the full extent of my love and thanks to each person that has touched our lives, that I am often painfully slow in acknowledging and expressing thankfulness to our loved ones. From the very bottom of my heart, please forgive me.) I want to (and will) acknowledge each and every act of love offered up on our behalf. Not a single card was “lost amongst the shuffle”. Love and empathy was felt in each and every card. We will forever cherish your kind words and thoughtfulness. Your gift has shown a light on a period when only chaotic darkness surrounded me. If you have reached out and not yet recieved a thank you – Thank You. Thank you for surrounding us on every side with the mighty love of Jesus. Thank you for being Jesus.

I am very humbled writing this post. I have no words to express the thankfullness in our hearts. This is an incredibly feeble attempt to thank our people for loving us with a God-sized love in our darkest hour. I wish you all could use a telescope, peep inside my heart, and whatever picture you saw would some how accurately convey everything we are feeling. Until such a telescope is invented, please accept our feeble attempt at, “Thank you”. And now – let’s bring that Love to everyone.

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The house of mourning.

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It’s difficult to know the best way to honor and remember a stillborn child. Funerals and memorial services allow people a dedicated time to grieve and mourn the loss of a loved one. Friends and family take time to hug and reminisce the memories shared with the deceased. No one ever knew Keller. Aside from our medical team, my parents, Wendy, Nathan, and myself – no one even saw Keller’s perfect tiny body. We knew we wanted to set aside time to honor our son, but initially, we weren’t sure of the best way. It seemed strange to hold a memorial service for a little boy that no one in the room had ever known.

A couple days after returning home, I was laying next to Mary while she took her nap. In those quiet moments, I decided, strange or not, we needed to have memorial service for Keller. I think this was the first time I used the phrase “my love song to Keller”. We needed to have a memorial service precisely because no one in the room had ever known him. His arrival had been eagerly anticipated by everyone in our community. We all needed to gather up and mourn the little boy we would never know. We all needed to gather up and recognize and praise the great Overcomer. Nathan and I needed hugs. We needed to be loved on by those we loved the most. We needed to show the world our son.

Over the next few days, Nathan and I retreated to our room and worked out the details of the service. It would be held at our church in Sunnyvale on Sunday September 21 at 5:45 p.m.. We chose our fathers and our preacher to say any words the Lord had placed on their hearts. We chose my brother and brother-in-law to read scriptures that had been providing us divine comfort. We chose two of our dearest brothers in Christ to open and close the service with prayers and petitions to our God. We chose another beloved brother in Him to lead hymns that had been providing us with solace and hope. We put together a slide show. We only had 9 months of pictures to share, but each picture captured the large and forever footprint Keller had placed on our hearts. Nathan ended the service with a message and leading the song “How Great Is Our God”. This is Keller’s song. 60 years from now, this will still be Keller’s song.

It was difficult trying to mentally and emotionally prepare for Keller’s service. Some moments are so heavy with importance and meaning that the idea of finally sitting and experiencing that moment is almost frightening. I feel a lot of these same emotions as Keller’s first birthday is approaching. It’s another momentous occasion intended to honor our son in the best possible way. Nothing will ever feel quite grand or large enough to capture the love song we have in our hearts for Keller. We have to be content with every feeble attempt we make and allow God and His love to work and shine through us.

Our church was at the ready to provide all they could to make his service everything we needed it to be. Several went up to the building the evening before to ensure the sound system worked properly and songs we wanted played worked with the current set up. The normal Sunday evening service was shortened in order to dedicate as much time to Keller’s service as possible.

The Saturday before the service, the best man at our wedding, Andrew, called Nathan to let us know he was at his layover in Dallas on his way to be at Keller’s service. Nathan and I were and are forever deeply moved by this lavish act of love and loyalty. Y’all should get an Andrew too. We really have some very amazing souls in our life.

Sunday afternoon, my mom and sister put Mary down for a nap so that Nathan and I could go up to the church building and make all the last minute arrangements. 


We placed the beautiful and abundant flowers we had received on the steps of the stage. We sat the toy Mary had chose for Keller at the welcome table, along with his baby brother onesie, and crocheted hat. I sat while Nathan and our loved ones did most of the manual labor. My body was still so fragile from giving birth. We tested our slide show. Everything was ready. My family dressed Mary in her big sister shirt and a silver tutu.

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Mary and our families arrived. One by one, an incredible amount of people we love to eternity and back filled the auditorium. The only other similar moment I have experienced was at our wedding. My dad was at my side and the doors opened for me to walk down the aisle to Nathan. The doors opened and the chapel was filled with all the loved ones that had helped get me to this point in my life. It was one of the most moving and worship-filled experiences I had ever had. In that moment, I cried and praised the Lord for the community with which He had surrounded me. Keller’s service had that same worship-filled moment. Friends from the community. Co-workers. Friends from who had driven from across the entire state of California. Friends who had flown in just for this very day. Family. Brothers and sisters in Christ. Our entire community gathered up in order to sit for a time and weep with us. Moments like these bring you to your knees as you bow down before the Creator with a sacrifice of thanksgiving.

The service began and we all joined together and sat in the house of mourning. Mary sat next to us and played with Fisher Price Little People and the Scottie Dog she had bought for Keller. We sang “Blessed Be Your Name”, “Glorious Day”, “Just As I am (I Come Broken)”, “Mighty to Save”, “Greater”, and “How Great is Our God”. Each song offered a unique comfort and shared a unique message we needed to be shared. We read II Corinthians 1: 3-7, excerpts from Exodus 14 and John 16, and Phillipians 4:10-13. Words of love for our boy and praise to our God were shared. “Where Joy and Sorrow Meet” was the song that accompanied our slide show.

“Where Joy and Sorrow Meet”

There’s a place of quiet stillness ‘tween the light and shadows reach
Where the hurting and the hopeless seek everlasting peace
Words of men and songs of angels whisper comfort bittersweet
Mending grief and life eternal where joy and sorrow meet

There is a place where hope remains
In crowns of thorns and crimson stains
And tears that fall on Jesus’ feet
Where joy and sorrow meet

There’s a place the lost surrender and the weary will retreat
Full of grace and mercy tender in times of unbelief
For the wounded there is healing, strength is given to the weak
Broken hearts find love redeeming where joy and sorrow meet

There’s a place of thirst and hunger where the roots of faith grow deep
And there is rain and rolling thunder when the road is rough and steep
There is hope in desperation there is victory in defeat
At the cross of restoration where joy and sorrow meet

There is a place where hope remains
In crowns of thorns and crimson stains
And tears that fall on Jesus’ feet
Where joy and sorrow meet

We all sat in that place – the place where joy and sorrow meet. I think that this is same place the writer of Ecclesiastes was talking about when he said, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” We all sat in the house of mourning, where joy and sorrow meet, and worshipped. I cannot articulate all the blessings that come with accepting and embracing seasons of grief and pain. It’s truly difficult to allow yourself the time and energy to sit with sadness and loss and accept they have entered your life and forever changed the way you do and perceive everything. It will take more time and wisdom for me to be able to list the reasons and benefits of time spent in the house of mourning. For now, I simply know beyond doubt that the time spent face to face with death and agony in the shadow of the cross has profoundly changed me for the better. Allow yourself the grace and gift of pulling up a chair and spending all the time you need in the house of mourning.

We stayed at the church building until close to 10. We laughed, cried, and embraced each person who had come to be with us. Mary had the time of her life. She and her best friends ran around the building and played as hard as they could. Nathan and I both vividly recall thinking, “Man. Mary is having a blast!” – which is really awesome. It’s SO good to see sparks of innocent joy in the shadows of darkness.

Nathan and I have made “Crack Pies” for both Mary and Keller’s “Coming-home-from-the-hospital-hooray-you-are-born” celebration. We made each of them a couple weeks before our babies were born. The pies stayed in the freezer at the ready for the birth of our children. We decided that we would have the pies after Keller’s memorial service. Our family and several of our friends crammed into our tiny living room and celebrated Keller with pie. Pie is a good way to celebrate most things. (Especially this pie – it is really, REALLY, good.) We hadn’t really told Mary why we were having the pies, but as soon as we got to our front door she said, “It’s Keller’s birthday party.” Precious child – we will forever treasure the tender moments you provided us in those days of darkness.

We have an audio copy of the Keller’s memorial service. We have yet to listen to it. No time has felt still or worthy enough of taking time to once again sit in the house of mourning and worship. We will take time and listen to it this week. We will sit and weep with our loved ones all over again and praise the great Overcomer of death.

Here are the final words we shared at Keller’s service. This is the best way we know how to honor Keller. Let them see Jesus.
“Treat all you see & interact with as if they just lost their child – we don’t know the long, dusty, tiresome road that may have brought someone to where they are – and I know for certain that they all need the gentle, never stopping, over flowing, never giving up love of Jesus in their lives – at the very moment you encounter them. 
YOU are the hands of Jesus. 
YOU are the voice of Jesus. 
YOU are the feet of Jesus. 
You are JESUS in this world.
Be Jesus. 
He is risen. He is real. He has overcome. 
Be Jesus. 
Let them see Jesus today.”
Keller’s slide show

Lavish love.

 

 

We drove home. We pulled into our parking spot. Nathan helped me out of the car and we tenderly walked toward our steps. My friend Megan was stopping by our neighbor’s house  with her precious son when we arrived. I remember hugging her and crying in each others arms. I remember squeezing her little boy – so warm and alive. It felt as if we had been in a time capsule. We had stepped out into a brand new world. We had new eyes and the way we perceived everything had changed.

We walked through our front door. Mary and I had made a giant “Welcome Home Keller” banner and hung it on our wall. It was the only thing I asked be taken down before we arrived. It was quite a loud reminder of something of which I needed no reminder. My parents, my sister, and Mary were all home. The weight of simply stepping into a home prepared perfectly for Keller was staggering. His rock-and-play sat in the corner. The nursing pillow and burp rags were placed near the rocking chair. His crib was snuggled next to our bed. I’m fairly certain I even had his activity mat set up, complete with toys long enough for a newborn to swat. Everything was ready for a son that would never come home. A brain in such distress simply cannot process so much stimuli at once. There were many, MANY times in the following days and weeks, that (just like a newborn) I would become easily over stimulated and have to retreat for a bit in order to weep and regroup. Our bedroom became our sanctuary. Our house was soon bursting with family and loved ones. The noise and life brought incredible comfort, but it was often too much for us to participate in. So, we would excuse ourselves to our bedroom and weep all we needed. Just hearing loved ones surrounding us on the other side of the door was comfort.

I need to pay tribute to the family that surrounded us in those following days and weeks – another verse to our “love song” if you will.

I don’t think either of us had quite imagined that our entire families would show up in such large ways. The presence of each and every family member was profoundly felt, even if they were not able to be with us physically. For some reason it just didn’t cross our minds that our families would rally so quickly, fully, and selflessly. But they did. Our hearts had a difficult time processing and accepting the lavish love showered on us. We decided rather quickly that we would accept all love that came our way without protest. It’s sometimes hard to humble yourself to accept the lovingkindness of others. The Lord was working in mighty ways through everyone around us and we really needed to allow Him to work. We vowed to one day return the same love to those in the deep inside the pit.

Nathan’s parents flew in that evening and we all hugged and wept. A family from church housed them and gave them a car to use for as long as they needed. The next day Nathan’s sister, brother-in-law, and our newest niece Livia arrived. This was possible because Nathan’s other sister SELFLESSLY offered to keep the two older nieces while the rest of the family traveled. My brother also arrived thanks to the incredible generosity of my grandmother. She paid for anyone and everyone who needed aid in flying to be with us in our moment of need. My aunt flew in from West Texas to tightly hug our necks and just “be” with us. Big, giant, lavish love.

My entire immediate family stayed in our tiny apartment. Nathan and I in our room. My sister and Mary in the other. My parents on our couch and an air mattress, and my brother on a camping pad in our living room/kitchen. (The first evening he tried to use the camping pad and sleeping bag and sleep on our deck. We shared this deck with our other neighbors – two kind and unsuspecting bachelors. I believe one of them saw Caleb and just said, “Hey man. You ok?” To which my brother answered, “Yup.” I love you Caleb.)


Nathan’s sister, brother-in-law, and niece slept downstairs in our neighbor’s bedroom. Our neighbors, or rather BFNFL (Best friends and neighbors for life), gave them their own room and slept on the couch for their entire stay. Nathan’s parents stayed only 10 minutes away. The rest of our family may have been an entire country length away, but they all felt incredibly near. They were present in phone calls, text messages, meals, flowers, gift boxes, and cards. We were flooded with love.

I look at pictures, and I can transport back to those moments. I can feel the warmth of the apartment. I can hear the laughter. I can smell the food, the LAVISH amounts of food, provided by everyone in our tribe. I am so thankful for the moments that we all sat in our crowded 350ft² living room and were united in sorrow, love, and Jesus. I am so thankful for the moments of laughter and camaraderie I heard on the other side of our bedroom door. The noise of life happening around us was so deeply comforting. We couldn’t always join in. Nathan and I often needed time alone to pour our souls each other and to the Lord. We were often to weak to even sit up. We had to lay prostrate and mourn.

Our family filled in every gap. They cared for Mary with every possible ounce of love they had to offer. They put aside their own grief to pour love all over our 2 year old baby girl. We had all the time we needed to be alone and intensely grieve, without ever once having to worry about the well-being and happiness of Mary. She was spoiled a LOT, and I’m just so glad. Everyone pulled together to make decisions, and keep our apartment clean and running smoothly. It never felt crowded or burdensome – only filled with love. There are so many large and important decisions that must be made following a death. We did not have the strength to make any more decisions than were necessary. My sister, in her masterful Executive Assistant ways, booked flights, contacted funeral homes and cremation services, and even reorganized our pantry. Our family became our liaisons to the outside world. They orchestrated food delivery and meal times. We were in such a thick fog in the days following Keller’s death. I’m certain our family filled in more gaps than we are even aware. It is a gift and a blessing to be able sit in the house of mourning without interruption.

Most are not blessed with the kind of families the Lord lavishly gave us. We are keenly aware of our VERY blessed lives. We both have families who were ready to give everything they have in order to serve us in the best possible way. We praise you Lord.

We are so thankful to the Lord for placing us in families that have deep devotion to each other and a steady and abiding trust in our Creator. We are unworthy. All we can do is shout songs of thankfulness for the love He has given us through you.

We pray we can continue pour this incredible experience of love we had on others. It is the best way we know to honor our son and serve our King.

“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”

Romans 12:10 ESV

“Outdo”. I like this. It conveys a message of pouring out an over the top, selfless, and lavish love. Lord, put this love in my heart and may it always pour out on those who need it most.

Everyone needs compassion.

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The staff gave us the option of going to recovery in either the “Mommy & Me” wing or down to a regular hospital room on the second floor. We chose the later option, imagining it would be difficult to hear the tiny cries of newborns. Looking back, both Nathan and I regret this decision a bit. We lost our feeling of security in the regular hospital wing. We were a bit lost in the shuffle of nurses caring for a variety of patients. The nurses were (rightfully) busy and many didn’t know that we had just lost our son. It was our initial introduction into the real world. The thing about functioning in the real world when you are broken is that no one knows you are broken. I have shared this sentiment with others and we all agree that wearing a shirt that says “I just went through stillbirth. Please treat me gently, and if you have them, cookies and hugs are appreciated.”would be helpful. I’ve yet to find that graphic tee in an Etsy shop.

A dear friend brought us breakfast. He asked if I had any requests, so I said “Bagel and Lox.” Sweet man had NO idea what lox was but drove around to SEVERAL different bagel shops until he found it. Just the beginning of the ridiculous love that was poured out on us in the weeks and months to come.

Wendy said goodbye while we were in this room. She had stood by our side for over 24 hours. The real world called. The need for rest called. It was the first of many small transitional steps into our “new normal”. We hugged. I don’t remember any profound words of love and thanks spilling from my lips, but it’s a comfort to have a friend who can read your heart.

It was now time to tell Mary. We had been mourning over this moment for many hours. Our neighbors brought her to the hospital and my parents went down the lobby to bring her up to our room. They gave us time alone as a family to explain everything that had happened to baby brother. I know Mary was only just 2, but she fully understood that her brother Keller was going to come out of mommy’s belly and come home and live with us. It was something we had been discussing with her for months. Not only did she understand, she was excited. She knew that when “Auntie” brought her to the hospital, she would get to meet and hold Keller. She came in the room and Nathan and I fought back every urge to breakdown in tears and frighten Mary.

“Hey baby! How are you? We missed you.”

“We have something we need to tell you ok honey?”

“You know how baby brother came out of mommy’s tummy in the hospital? Well, baby brother got hurt. Keller died and went to Heaven. Heaven is where God and Jesus live. So since he got hurt and died, he won’t be able to come and live with us. He’s going to stay with God and Jesus in Heaven. We are so sorry you don’t get to hold him. We know you were so excited.”

“….But I love him. I miss him. I want to see him… … … I want some nummies.”

I love toddlers. I love their moments of profound tenderness that are quickly followed by a loud reality check that your child is in fact only 2.

We had brought a few gifts for her to the hospital to open once Keller was born. She opened both her gifts, and the gifts she had picked out for Keller. Daddy, Mary, and I decided it would be ok if Mary opened them and kept them for him. One of the presents we got her was a Veggie Tales “God Loves You” DVD. The providence of this is not lost on me. We put it in and curled up on the bed and watched it as a family.

Our neighbors, their son, and my parents all came back in the room. My parents gave Mary a lollipop and the three of them drove back to grab some lunch and head to our apartment. We talked with our neighbors. We cried together. We thanked them.

At this point everyone had left. Nathan and I ate some lunch and took a nap in my hospital bed. I mention this because I just want to take a moment to praise the Lord for my husband and that nap I got to take in his arms. He is my champion.

My sister arrived around 2 that afternoon. She was immediately dropped off at the hospital. She crawled up in the bed beside me and we both sat and wept. For so many reasons, we wept. We shared pictures and moments we had with Keller. We laughed. We snacked. We held each other in silence.

A nurse technician came into our room not long after my sister had arrived. She came in, looked around at our somber faces, and said “Well you all are quiet! Did someone do something bad?” Bless her heart. I had no brain and or will power to say anything other than “Well. My son just died. It was a stillbirth.” Again. Bless her heart. (Here comes the bizarre/funny part.) “Well that’s sad… [looks down at the lollipop Mary had left on the table] That looks good! Whose is it?” “Our daughters. She’s 2.”  “Well you better watch out. I might steal it when you are sleeping.” And walks out the door. Bless that dear woman’s heart. We dropped quite a bomb on her. It’s hard to know just what to say when you are met with a shocking statement such as, “My son just died”. I’m certain she walked out of that room thinking “What in the WORLD did I just say? Did I just threaten to steal their daughter’s lollipop?!” I have all the sympathy. I have a terrible case of inappropriate word vomit as well. Bless your heart.

It was then time to go. My body was returning to “normalcy” rather quickly and we worked to be able to leave within the hour. We got a call on our hospital phone. “Congratulations on the birth of your child. Would you like to pay by credit card now or be billed later?” The employee on the other end of the line was doing her job and doing it well. She had no idea. That was ok, there is no way she could have known. It was just a bleak reminder that we were about the step out in the world. We were about to step into a world that couldn’t see our bruises.

It was such a still feeling packing up to leave. I imagine it was similar to what it must be like sorting through the wreckage after a disastrous tornado. What was once chaos and swirling and howling all around you, was now quiet, as if nothing had ever happen, save the rubble you are left sort through. Quite surreal.

We didn’t need to make sure to pack up all the diapers, bottles, wipes, and blankets the hospital provided. There was no need for a “going home” outfit. It was such a contrast from going home after Mary was born. When you leave a hospital after being pregnant for nine months, it is assumed you will go home with a baby. 36 hours prior we were eagerly awaiting our boys arrival. We had given birth to Keller, but he would not be coming home with us. Nathan and I both liken it to the rewind button being pressed on our life. Things would be “just as they were” nine months prior. Nathan, myself, and Mary – no Keller. It was almost as if those nine months had never happened. There was no baby to prove that he was real. There was nothing that showed those outside of our network that we had two children. Nothing to indicate that I had carried a second child inside my womb for nine months. It was and is difficult for our minds to process. Stepping back into life, a life completely new yet completely the same, was a daunting and scary process.

Nathan and my sister went to get our car and I was wheeled down to the front doors.

Seeing a world that is functioning the exact same capacity as it did two days before was overwhelming. I remember that even the way the volunteer wheeled me to the lobby felt trite considering everything that leaving that hospital meant.

We didn’t want to listen to the radio. It was another reminder that life was marching on without us. We needed everything to keep still for a while longer. The carseat sat empty. The backseat mirror was installed, but there was no squishy baby to glance at. The car was silent, yet every little thing around us screamed out loud that Keller would never be with us.

I remember the car ride home. Both Nathan and I were struck to the core with the truth -“Everyone needs compassion”.

We were battered and broken and no one around us knew. There are so many around us bruised and crumbling under the weight of sorrow and trial – our cashier, the driver who just laid on their horn, the colleague with the snide comment, the teacher lacking patience, the quiet mother at the park who can’t bring herself to smile – and we all so desperately need compassion. We don’t need details. We need love. We needed love. We needed everyone around us to assume that what we needed right at that moment was overflowing compassion.

This lesson has been both a gift and test. It is a difficult lesson to engrain. I constantly have to remind myself that EVERYONE needs that same tender compassion we needed so badly. Compassion looks different for different people and different circumstances, but it is always begins with love.

Mighty to Save

Everyone needs compassion
A love that’s never ending
Let mercy fall on me
Everyone needs forgiveness
The kindness of a savior
The hope of nations
Saviour he can move the mountains
My God is mighty to save
He is mighty to save
Forever author of salvation
He rose and conquered the grave
Jesus conquered the grave
So take me as you find me
All my fears and failures
Fill my life again
I give my life to follow
Everything I believe in
Now I surrender
Saviour he can move the mountains
My God is mighty to save
He is mighty to save
Forever author of salvation
He rose and conquered the grave
Jesus conquered the grave
Saviour he can move the mountains
My God is mighty to save
He is mighty to save
Forever author of salvation
He rose and conquered the grave
Jesus conquered the grave
Shine your light and let the whole world see
Were singing for the glory of the risen king Jesus
Were singing for the glory of the risen king Jesus
Saviour he can move the mountains
My God is mighty to save
He is mighty to save
Forever author of salvation
He rose and conquered the grave
Jesus conquered the grave
Saviour he can move the mountains
My God is mighty to save
He is mighty to save
Forever author of salvation
He rose and conquered the grave
Jesus conquered the grave
Shine you light and let the whole world see
Were singing for the glory of the risen king Jesus
(by Hillsong United)

 

 

 

Goodbye.

I  imagine it’s a universally difficult task to choose when to say goodbye to the body of a loved one. It darkens the room like a storm-filled cloud. The thunder of the imminent moment constantly rumbles in the distance. One of the first things Nathan said after Keller was born was, “It’s going to be hard to say goodbye.”

For Keller, there came a time when he began to lose his newborn appearance. Bodies are meant to be living. Bodies are created to have blood and life coursing through every square inch. When life has left a body the physical appearance of your loved one relatively rapidly disappears. It’s interesting. Bodies are meant to be living. Death is not from God.

We set a rather arbitrary time to say goodbye. We decided that between 6 and 7 a.m., we would kiss our son for the last time.

Around 6 a.m. everyone left the room and gave Nathan, myself, and Keller time alone as a family. Another wave crashed overhead and hurled us to our knees. We held our son and mournfully wept with the bitter assurance that we would never hold him, or see him again in this life. There are no words available that can capture this moment. You are met face to face with the stark contrast of the living and the dead, of the physical earth and life to come. It is too large a truth to process or articulate. We were just still, and in the presence of God. We prayed as a family.

Keller never opened his eyes. There was no life in his perfect body to tell his eyelids to lift. In the few final moments we had with Keller, we opened up his eyes and we were met with the most stunning crystal blue eyes ever known. They weren’t just blue, they were almost an icy blue, and they were all Keller’s. Our blue eyed boy. Just like his daddy.

After the wave of saying goodbye crashed and eased into shore, we FaceTimed Nathan’s parents. They were getting on a plane shortly, but they wouldn’t make it in time to hold their first grandson. I’m so thankful for the gift of technology. Across the country, they were able to meet Keller Norman Bartlett. We all cried and virtually held each other. We all remarked on his handsome perfection. We all worked to pour every ounce of love we had over him.

The Lord, in His almighty, perfect, and wondrous goodness placed another blanket of peace around Nathan and I’s shoulders. It was time. The Lord would strengthen and sustain us. 48 hours earlier we were eagerly awaiting his arrival. 24 hours later we were reeling from the shock of his death. Now we were saying goodbye. We welcomed my parents and Wendy to come back in and say their goodbyes as well. Perfect, selfless love filled the room.

I took off his hat and, tears streaming down my cheeks, handed him to the nurse. She tenderly wrapped him in blankets. She made certain his tiny body was nice and cozy. She wheeled his hospital cradle near my bed so that Nathan and I could touch him one last time. She quietly wheeled him out of the room, my dad stopping to kiss him one last time.

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And he was gone. That was the last time we were with Keller. His first birthday is approaching, but I truly just ache to my core to hold a newborn baby and for a moment feel the weight of Keller in my arms. I always take notice of one year old boys waddling and babbling about. It’s a short glimpse of my son and the life we never knew. In many ways though, Keller is forever a newborn baby. Every time I see a newborn fresh with life, I see Keller, because that is the only way I have ever known him. He will always be 8 lbs 5 oz, 21.5 inches and perfect. Nathan captured our sentiments perfectly,

“With Mary, and other kids, they’re always growing and changing. I put a picture of a newborn Mary on my desk, and a year later she looked completely different. Keller never aged. When we said goodbye to him, the way he looks in his pictures, that’s the only way he ever looked. The Bible gives us brief glimpses of Heaven, but we still can’t fully fathom what eternal life with God will be like. I don’t know what Keller will look like when I meet him someday, but I’m very excited to find out.”

Bodies are created for life. I know so little about eternity. I rest knowing God is creator. He is real. He is love. He promised life forever with Him. No more goodbyes. No more moments of devastating finality – just presence. I’m ready for that eternal moment Keller Feller. I’m excited to see you, with the life and love of the Lord coursing through every square inch of your forever body.