Visiting Ava

Perhaps some grace can be bestowed upon people who have a blog and then abandon  it for months and months.  I of course am one of those people, and even though I’ve been busy composing blog posts in my head, you can’t read them if I don’t type them out!

And the honest truth is that I’ve been holding back because I’ve been feeling this pressure to make every blog entry deep and profound.  This is a burden that I and I alone have placed upon myself since our Ava journey and her death.  I ask myself, ‘Are people really going to want to read my trivial and somewhat meaningless entries?’   And then I tell myself “No, they wouldn’t”, and I walk away.   But let’s be honest, I’m not writing for the masses, I’m writing because it’s in me to write!   It’s something God has put in me to do that I love, so I have to let my go of my misgivings  and just write because I can, because I have a blog and I’m allowed to… so there!

So I might even attempt at posting a trivial entry sometime soon, this entry however is not.  Kinda ironic really.

This post is about visiting Ava, which as you can see from the picture below is what our family calls our visits to Ava’s grave. We all pile in the car and on the way there I feel sad, but I also experience a slight form of anticipation like I’m going to be near my baby again.  I get out of the car feeling a little keyed up, and then a few moments later I’m standing at her grave and I realize once again that I’m not feeling it.   In fact I’m having a really hard time feeling connected to this granite slab with Ava’s name on it.   Sure I’m standing over her… rather macabre.. standing over what’s left of your daughter..  but where is the sense of connection that I’m looking for?

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That connections not there because Ava’s not here.  This is just her memorial, the stone that we have erected to let the world know that we loved her and remember her.  It’s in a sense her little place in the world, but it’s here because she’s not here.

So where is she?

Well, since most of the western world today who acknowledges a God believes that every good person who dies automatically goes to heaven, most people would affirm with me that that heaven is where Ava is.

But for those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ and believe the Bible as the perfect and unerring word of God,  there aren’t actually any verses or even a verse in the Bible that clearly and definitely say that babies or small children automatically go to heaven.  Crazy right?  And to make it even more confusing the Bible makes it very clear that when we are born we get our own share of Adam’s sin often called ‘original sin’ and therefore we are all born sinners and from day one are separated from a good and perfect and just God who can tolerate no sin.   So now we have a problem because the Bible also tells us that there is NOTHING we can do to save ourselves,  nothing at all.  Not a word or a good deed or the power of positive thought or anything that could clean us up from this sin and shield us from the wrath of God and eternal separation from Him.  But then we are given hope… Jesus appeared on earth.   God in the flesh and He came among us and taught us and showed us a way to be right with God again.   This was through the work of the cross when Jesus died for us, and took our place and our punishment and bore our sin on the cross and paid the high price sin demanded, and then rose again!   Completely victorious, conquering death and sin, AMEN!   So the Bibles says if we believe in Him and accept His free gift of salvation, His blood will remove our sin and save us so that we can go and be with God in heaven for all eternity.

Um… so again that leaves us with a problem.  Because even though salvation is a free gift, we have to accept it.  Romans 10:9-10 says that we have to confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead in order to accept this free gift, which works for me, but how in the world was my 8 month old baby supposed to be able to do that?   How could she confess with her mouth that Jesus is Lord and ask forgiveness for her sin?   She obviously couldn’t, she was completely incapable.  That little baby that suffered so much in her short life, wasn’t able to take those steps to save her soul.  So it’s done then?  We are out of options?  Ava’s not in heaven?

Hold your horses!!!

The Bible is very clear that God gives salvation as a free gift and that He alone is sovereign.  And God is good… didn’t we see that all through Ava’s story?   And from the moment Ava died in our arms and Jason prayed that soul into heaven we have known in our hearts exactly where she was.  She is in heaven!  We believe this to our very core.  The same God who gave us the grace to endure her illness and eventually her death, who gave us joy through it all and never left us alone will be faithful to the end.  How could it be otherwise?

Our church has been working through the book of Romans and the past few weeks have dealt with original sin, so our beloved pastor Norm (who did Ava’s funeral service) was so kind to post this information on our church’s website last week regarding babies just to clear up this often muddied point.   Here are the reasons he gives for babies going to heaven when they die

  1. God is good and always does good.
  2. God is just and always judges justly.
  3. God is merciful.
  4. God is abundantly gracious.
  5. Salvation is always, for any who are saved, entirely an act of grace, a ‘free gift’ (Rom 5:15-17), and even our faith – necessary to believe, is a ‘gift’ from God.  So salvation is 100% a work of God applying Jesus death and resurrection to us by grace.
  6. We believe God applies this grace to those we are discussing who have never personally sinned, covering their original or imputed sin by Jesus atoning work on the cross.  God does this entirely by grace as well, without their having faith.
  7. Plus it appears when final judgment is discussed in the Bible those sent to hell for eternity are sent their for their own acts and attitudes of sin (Romans 1:18-32, Rev. 19, etc.)

For further reading on this I would recommend the following:

  1. Dr. Albert Mohler’s article HERE
  2. Dr. John Piper’s short article HERE
  3. Dr. John MacArthur’s three in-depth sermons HERE (you can read the sermon manuscript by just clicking on the sermon title or listen to the sermons by clicking ‘high’ or ‘low’).
    And I want to add that John MacArthur has also written a book I love, “Safe in the Arms of God“,  a must read for anyone who has lost a child.

I read those points from Norm and I want to yell “AMEN” from the top of my lungs!   And I read those articles as well and they resonate with my heart and my mind and what I take from them is that I  completely trust in God’s love and faithfulness to care for these little ones, when they couldn’t do anything to possibly save themselves.  He is just and good and I am to have no fear that Ava is anywhere but in heaven for eternity.  And she is there not on her own merit, but only by the mercy and grace of her creator who could do for her what she could not do for herself.

And so I’ll continue to visit her grave, even though I don’t get connection with my daughter that my heart craves.  But I can say in faith, just like the faith that King David had when his baby son died, that babies go to heaven.   I know that’s where Ava is and we will spend eternity together there with our Saviour.

” 22 He [King David] said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ 23 But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”  2 Sam 12:22-23

Amen.

A moment…

So yesterday I had a moment.  That moment was defined by getting to church and then as worship began, starting to sing, and then starting to cry.  And then even though I was feeling foolish I wasn’t able to stop.    A moment.   And I knew exactly why I was crying, it just hit me like a tidal wave that I missed my Ava. Right there and then while I was standing in church, I just missed her horribly and it made me so sad.

Sometimes these waves of grief just hit out of no where, but this wave actually started on Saturday when I was out driving.   Something about the weather reminded me of being in Toronto in December three years ago and spending every day sitting at the foot of Ava’s bed in critical care.   And then yesterday on the way to church I mentioned that Ava’s birthday was coming and I asked jokingly what we were getting her for her birthday.   Jason said we were getting her a Christmas tree and that is exactly what we are getting her.  Last year we ended up getting our tree on her birthday and so we decided that we were going to drive out to the country and get a Christmas tree from the nice tree farm that is just down the road from her graveyard every year on her birthday.    And don’t worry – it’s not morbid at all – just happy and festive and it kinda feels like we are including her.

So the wave was growing without me even realizing it, and then the moment hit.  And the funny thing about my grief is that I’m never truly sad that Ava died.  Considering how sick that poor baby was, she is exactly where she is supposed to be – safe and snug in heaven and I can’t argue with that.  When I cry, I cry for the baby I didn’t get to keep down here.  I cry for a baby that my heart wishes was born healthy, with her little reddish curls and adorable smile.  That would have turned our lives and our house upside down.  That would have kept the kids busy chasing her around and would have been a fount of cuddles and kisses.  She would have added to our family so much.  On December 4th she would have turned three and I’ve missed it all.  That’s why I cry.   I guess it’s purely selfish, but it’s such an aching loss… I suppose like all loss is.   Isn’t it strange that most of our hurt in life involves loss?   But then grief is the emotion that God gave us that helps us process and release these things we’ve lost.  But I think that my well of loss is so deep I might have to grieve for the rest of my life, but that’s OK… even though I’m a puffy red crier, not a pleasant sight at all.

But as I stumbled out of the service yesterday to go and wipe my eyes and calm my heart,  the first person I saw was a friend who gave me a big hug and listened, I was so grateful.  And after church I made a beeline for a lovely woman in our congregation who herself has experienced so much loss and we talked and she prayed for me.  And that’s when I think of this verse in  2 Corinthians…

 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.   2 Corinthians 1:3-5

(Here are mine and Jason’s four blessed distractions which I am so grateful for….)

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God is the God of all comfort and He is always there to comfort us in our affliction and then in turn we can comfort others.  And like I was comforted yesterday I hope that I can comfort others when I say that I’m OK.  I have lost a child, but am living testament that by God’s amazing grace and by his comfort, day after day my heart is healing.  I just still have my moments.

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Sung to sleep

Yesterday was two years since Ava passed away… 2 years!   Time goes by so quickly and it’s a little tough because the memories fade, but the ache our hearts isn’t going away.  I don’t think it ever will.

Last night when I put Sophy to bed I sang to her like I usually do.  I’ve always loved singing my kids to sleep at night – especially when they were babies.  I realized early on that hymns make great lullabies, they are often lilting and long – so I set out to memorize a few favorites and the kids would often be regaled by my singing them such hymns  as “Great is thy faithfulness” or “Be thou my vision.” (One of my favourites).  But I also would sing to them a little ditty that I learned from a children’s tape that we had growing up (yes, a cassette tape).  I just tried to find it on the world-wide web for reference, but can’t somehow.   The words go like this…

Jesus is coming
Coming for me
Like lightning, that flashes from the west to the east
In a moment
In a twinkling of an eye

The song is based on Matthew 24:27 when it talks about the 2nd coming of Christ and how He will return one day to earth…

For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

It’s something that all of us believers in Christ look forward too – the day that Jesus will come again to earth and call to Himself His own.  It will also mark the end of this age and the beginning of the next… good heavy stuff.

But back to my lullabies… singing that song to Sophy last night reminded me that I used to sing Ava that little ditty quite often.  My precious little Birdy – in the hospital, on the nights that I could tuck her in for the night.  I would sing to her like I sang to her brothers and sisters when they were babies, but in my mind I was always singing it to her with the thought that Jesus might just come and get her in the here and now.

And then in the moments when Ava did die – and Jason prayed that sweet soul into heaven, the relief of knowing that Jesus had finally come and gotten her and taken her home and released her of all her suffering was like a presence right there right with us.   I’ll never forget that sense of peace and release we were given.  Her earthy journey was over and her heavenly one just begun.  And I’m so thankful that’s where she is now – in heaven with Christ, praising and glorifying him and more alive than we could ever be here on earth.

Lately I’ve added another song to my nightly repertoire,  “10,000 Reasons” by Matt Redman.   We sang it at Ava’s funeral and for some reason it just struck me lately that it would also be a great lullaby and anyway,  Sophie likes it.  And I love the reminder that I have 10,000 things to be thankful for and that I can still bless the Lord with all my soul and that when I get to heaven I’ll have 10,000 years to sing His praises.   Hallelujah!

And I’m also so grateful for the memory of singing my sweet little Ava to sleep.

Amen.

Ava’s Story

I’ve been meaning to write our Ava’s Story for a while.  Since I had to opportunity to write it out for our church newsletter I decided it was the perfect opportunity to put it all together and finally publish it here.  

“They are worried about your baby’s heart.”

This was not the news I was expecting when I answered the phone call from the midwife.  That afternoon I had gone for my routine 19 week ultrasound and in my hands was an ultrasound photo showing a precious baby girl.  We already had four children – so how could something be wrong with this pregnancy after four healthy ones?

Three weeks later Jason and I sat on the edge of our seats at in the pediatric cardiology department of our local hospital.   Even to our untrained eye the echocardiogram that had been done didn’t look normal.   Finally we were called in by the cardiologist and his first words to us were  “Let me show you what a normal baby’s heart looks like, and then I will show you what your baby’s heart looks like.”

All I could say was, “Pass the Kleenex.”

The Cardiologist explained that our baby had a serious congenital heart condition called critical aortic stenosis – where the artery coming off of her left ventricle was so small, it was affecting the left side of her heart.  The most probably outcome of this would be hypoplastic left heart syndrome, where the left side of her heart would stop functioning and she would be born with only a half of working heart.    She would need open-heart surgery right at birth if she survived the pregnancy.   Or we could abort her now, wait until she was born full term and then hold her until she passed away, or try an experimental procedure in utero where they would try to fix the problem.

We left that appointment feeling completely stunned, not really believing this was really happening to us.  I was very emotional and just wanted to go home and cry, but we had to make a decision on the experimental procedure quickly and we knew we needed to talk to one of our Pastors.    Thankfully our Pastor Leo met with us right away and prayed for us and told us that going to Toronto was a ‘no brainer’.

After a lot of prayer and talking things out with family and friends, we found ourselves at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto a few days.   We had another echocardiogram and talked to another cardiologist. He explained this ‘experimental’ procedure and said that if it succeeded,   baby’s swollen left ventricle would heal and a minor valve repair surgery would be all she’d need after birth.  This procedure carried a huge risk to the baby, but we felt that this was her best chance, and God gave us tremendous peace, so we agreed to have the procedure done.

We walked across the street to meet with the Obstetrician at Mt. Sinai who would do the procedure.  After waiting over five anxious hours to see him, we were finally called in.

The baby was miraculously in the right position and so the doctor and his team wanted to do the surgery immediately.  In a whirl-wind, Jason rushed to have me admitted while I was being prepped.  I was nervous and excited, but mostly hopeful that this would work.  Cardiologists were called from Sick Kids Hospital and the team was minutes away from doing a procedure on our 24 week-old unborn baby girl.

God truly answered our prayers and kept that baby in the right position until she could be sedated, then going in through my belly and into her chest wall they preformed a balloon dilation on her aorta that was so tiny and closed it was hard to believe the doctors possessed the technology and ability to actually try to fix it.   In less than 9 minutes it was over.  We praised God for His goodness, believing that He was going to heal her. The next day after a quick ultra-sound the surgery was pronounced a technical success and we headed for home.

Then came the heartache. In the next few weeks and months as we kept going back to Toronto for more appointments and echocardiograms it became clear that the baby’s heart was not healing.  Even though everything had pointed to God’s hand in that intervention, her left ventricle was slowly dying. We had to face the fact that our baby would be born with only half a working heart.

All that kept going through our mind was why did God allow this to happen if it wasn’t going to work?   We still don’t have the answer for that question. But we just clung to these verses in Isaiah 40:27,28,30b when God asks the people of Israel why they question Him – their way isn’t hidden from Him, He is the everlasting God, His understanding is unsearchable!

And this is where our faith had to kick in.  It’s easy to trust God when things are going right, but now things were going wrong and it was so easy to turn to despair.  But knowing that God knew what we were going through and that His ways were higher than our ways allowed us to choose everyday to trust in Him.  To trust Him and put the life of this baby in His hands.    In the months leading up to her birth and impending surgery, all we felt we could do was trust that God would be glorified however this story played out, knowing that God loved this baby and had a perfect plan for her life.

Our daughter Ava Samantha Grace was born Dec  4, 2012 in the early hours of the morning at Mt. Sinai hospital.  I was prepared for them take her away immediately, but I was not prepared for her to be as purple as a blueberry!   Ava’s heart defect was depriving her of oxygen so they quickly whisked her away to stabilize her.   An hour later, after allowing my husband and I take a quick peek at her she was taken to Sick Kids Hospital.

Two days later I was walking beside Ava’s bed as they took her to surgery.  Jason and I wondered if we would ever see her alive again.  During the long and difficult six-hour wait, Psalm 23 was on my mind.   It seemed like Ava was walking through a valley where death was lurking in the shadows.   We placed our trust in God knowing that He is the giver of life and we prayed that He would be guiding the surgeon’s hands and holding her safely in His arms.

She survived the surgery!  But now back in critical care she looked more bionic than baby, there didn’t seem to be a square inch of her that wasn’t covered in wires or tubes. She was still on a ventilator and her chest was still open, the only thing covering her tiny beating broken heart was a piece of gauze.

The days were long as all we could do was sit by her bedside, waiting for her to stabilize.  We couldn’t hold her, only touch her hands and stroke her head, and pray for her to recover.    One nurse commented that we were coping so much better than other’s in our situation and we knew it because God was keeping our hearts focused on Him and His plan for our little Birdy.

Finally, almost two weeks after her surgery, Ava’s sternum was fully closed and things seemed to be headed in a good direction.  But God still had some challenges for our family to face.   The very next day, I took our daughter Sarah who was 5 at the time to a walk-in-clinic, only to be sent back to Sick Kids. It was there that she was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.    This was a huge blow to Jason and I, and it was so hard to understand.  We were dealing with so much with Ava, and now we had another child with a life-threatening disease, a disease with a steep learning curve.   It was five days before Christmas and the stress on our family and our relationship was incredible and we didn’t know how we were going to cope.   It was hard to keep it together in front of the children, but thankfully all they were thinking about was Christmas.  To be honest I didn’t want anything to do with Christmas, there didn’t seem to be much to celebrate that year.  But once again, God showed us through our children’s joy on Christmas Day that we still had our family and His love and those things were worth celebrating.   Going forward we decided to divide and conquer.  Jason took on the diabetes education and care for Sarah and I concentrated on Ava.

We were finally able to take Ava home February 11th after 68 days in hospital.  We had battled feeding intolerance and heart issues for our whole hospital stay, but the staff was now confident we could care for her at home.   It wasn’t home for good and we knew that.  Ava would need another heart surgery when she was around 6 months old, but for now we were thrilled to move back home and have our family all together.

We loved having Ava home, but it wasn’t easy!    Her care was demanding, and her feeding and medication schedule kept me busy almost 24 hours a day.   The doctors had warned us that many babies with this defect don’t make it through these first months, so we tried to be diligent in her care and were in touch with her heath care providers daily.  Thankfully so many people pitched in to help to keep our home running smoothly and our church organized meals for us and my mom would often stay and Jason  was keeping good care of Sarah and the other kids.   Our family had adjusted well to this new crazy life of having Ava home, the kids helped out when they could and showered Ava with love.

Unfortunately in mid April, Ava was hospitalized in London with what turned out to be influenza B.   She was quite sick and even when she got home things just didn’t seem to be right, her breathing was laboured and she would get clammy.   All we could do was to hope and pray that  God would heal her little body so that she would be healthy enough to get her second surgery which was coming up.

On May 5th  Ava was well enough that we could take her to church to have her dedicated.  Our Pastor Norm prayed for her and we were so encouraged by our church family.     But five days later we were back at Sick Kids for a routine clinic visit and it was then that they said her heart function was decreasing and we would have to stay, they were going to admit her.

It was now May 10th, Jason’s 40th birthday , Ava was five months old and I couldn’t believe that she and I were now back in Toronto.   Jason and the kids were still in London so our family was separated once again, however we were confident that it would not be for long.  The doctors had been very positive and were saying that if Ava could have some testing done on her heart in the upcoming week, then they would plan on booking the surgery she needed for the week after.  I was envisioning a speedy recovery for Ava and being back at home that summer as a family reunited.

Jason came down to be with us for one of Ava’s major tests – a heart catheterization.  She would be put under and a camera inserted into a blood vessel in her thigh where it would travel to her heart so the doctors could do some diagnostic testing.   We were confident that the results would be fine, and were totally unprepared when the surgeons came back with bad news.   Ava’s one and only heart valve was terribly leaky.  It was the culprit behind her poor heart function and it was raising the pressure in her lungs, basically removing the possibility of surgery.   This was devastating not only for Ava’s sake, but I started to see my plans for returning home and reuniting our family start to crumble.  The medical team started tossing out the words ‘Heart Transplant’ and these words soon became our reality.

On June 11th, when Ava was 6 months old, she was officially listed to receive heart transplant.  But this wasn’t a cure, the medical team were very clear that receiving a heart transplant is like trading one heart disease for another.  And not only that, but waiting for a heart could take from 6 months to a year.  A very long time, especially considering Ava’s deteriorating condition.   Jason and I were doubtful that she had a year to wait.

Thankfully were we able to get another apartment at the Ronald MacDonald House fairly quickly, so now our family was at least all in the same city, but we didn’t know how long our stay in Toronto would be.  Would we be there weeks, months, or even a year as we waited for a heart?   Ava wasn’t doing well and a few times we came close to losing her and we just kept praying that a heart would come fast.    Those were very tough days as I walked to the hospital each morning, not sure how I was putting one foot in front of the other.   Facing each day was becoming more difficult, but I never walked alone.  Each day, God would remind me of a verse or a song, or someone would call or come to visit or leave a message on our blog that would encourage my heart.    Jason and I knew that God was carrying us through each day and He was being so faithful

The end of July came and Ava was getting worse.  She was sleeping most of the time and it was clear she was in heart failure.  She was puffy as her heart couldn’t move fluid around her body, and even though she was on an adult size dose of diuretics, she was gaining fluid every day.  She needed help to breathe so she was on CPAP which was helping take some of the load off of her heart,  and she was on the highest dose of the heart medication that they could give her.   We were constantly talking with the palliative care team about how to keep her comfortable and how to prepare our children if something happened to her.  We were praying desperately for a heart which was the only thing that could save her, but it hadn’t come yet and time was running out.

Finally, on August 15, 2013 we had to say good-bye to our precious Ava.  God choose to heal her not by sending her an earthly heart, but by taking her up to Him and giving her a brand new body that would never hurt again.   It was bittersweet because although it was so hard to say good-bye to daughter – it had been harder still to watch her suffer and we felt God’s peace in knowing that this had been His perfect plan for her all along.

It’s been over 18 months now since we said goodbye to our precious little Birdy.  Often I think about how life would be if we had her still and my heart aches for the loss, but deeper down, I know that my heart is healing.    We have no bitterness or anger and looking back all we can see is God’s faithfulness and goodness to us, and we look forward to the day when we will see our Ava again.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:26

This is Ava’s verse that we were given and it’s now on her gravestone.  We hold on to this verse knowing that even though Ava’s heart did fail,  God is now her reality and our strength.

We miss you Birdy

Ava Samantha Grace Colley

December 4, 2012 – August 15, 2013

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We love you so much our sweet little Birdy, and can’t wait to see you again in heaven some day.

Love mom & dad, Erik, William, Sarah & Sophia

Psalm 73:26     My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

_________________________

Ava’s Life Slideshow (change the quality for better pictures)

Homesick

Wow, it’s me… I’m back.   It’s been a long while,  almost two months, but I think I”m ready to start again.    I do want to thank everyone who sent me a kind word about continuing to blog back in the spring.   Back when I wasn’t sure I was going to continue, it was encouraging to know that there were those of you who still enjoyed reading what I had to say, even when I felt that nothing in our lives seemed worthy of blogging about.

Lately I’ve been composing blog posts in my head so I knew that it was time to start writing again, for better or for worse. 🙂

Here’s a quick catch-up on what we’ve been up to… let’s see,

End of June and the last day of school.   I love this pic… Sophia is crying because she was going to miss her teachers and Will is just happy…

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June 28 Erik had a birthday and turned 11 on us.  Here he is all excited about power packs that he received that he wanted to use to power his…

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Raspberry Pi.  It’s Erik’s computer that occupies him for hours and hours.  He ordered more parts for it with his birthday money and was thrilled, as we all were of course. 🙂

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He’s such a neat kid even if he is a computer nerd.  I’m now come to grips with the fact my eleven year old son is smarter that me.  But it’s actually turning out to be quite handy, so I don’t mind.

OK – so moving on.  Summer vacation… we’ve spent lots of lazy mornings at the cottage…

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See how Sophia smiled so sweetly for me and Sarah’s like “Whatever mom”?

And the boys spent lots of nights fishing with Jay &  grandpa at the cottage – and actually catching fish this year… woohoo!!!

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I’ve kept the kids busy this summer working as my ‘minions’… here they are painting a new desk for Erik’s room…

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They did a pretty good job actually.  And we’re even raising a few monarchs again this year, courtesy of our butterfly garden we planted years ago.

This beauty emerged just yesterday…

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This in on top of swimming, riding bikes and playing with friends.  There is never a dull moment.

And then last week we celebrated my birthday.  Sophia asked me if I was turning 24 or 93… I only wish and hahahahaha.   But it was strange, for most of the day I just felt homesick…- homesick for Toronto – where we were living last year.

I spent the day missing the nurses & other friends at Sick Kids that made me smile and laugh as well as listened to me when I needed to talk.   I missed the time I had just to sit and pray and drink coffee.  I missed the Ronald MacDonald House and walking through the hot concrete jungle that is Toronto in the summer.  And I missed my precious baby Ava… and I wished I knew then that I only had a few more weeks here with her on this earth.  And the strange thing about my homesickness is that things weren’t all rosy last year at this time.  Ava was definitely struggling and the chickenpox scandal had gripped the Ronald MacDonald House (someone’s child broke out in chicken pox and they locked down the house for weeks and weeks, so no programs for the kids or dinners) so Jason and the kids were spending a lot of  time away from Toronto and I was alone with our sick baby.    And  it was all very tough.  But like I said, this week I missed it all.. the good and the bad because it meant Ava.  We all miss her so very much.

But Jason and I also still know that it’s still all good and Ava is exactly where she should be.  We are honored that we had the privilege of being her parents for as long we did and in two weeks when we mark the day that she died – August 15th – we know it will be tough, very tough.   But once again we can just marvel at God’s amazing grace and how He was so faithful and brought us through our Ava journey with our hearts broken, but in other ways, still fully intact, resting in His peace and love.

As I was writing this I was thinking about how life really is so fleeting… and this verse came to mind….

Psalm 103: 15 – 18

As for man, his days are like grass;
    he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
    and its place knows it no more.
17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
    and his righteousness to children’s children,
18 to those who keep his covenant
    and remember to do his commandments.

Ava was our sweet little Birdy, who came and flew away so quickly – but I am so grateful to God for the gift that she was for as long as we had her.

Thank you Lord, and give her a kiss from me.

Amen.

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6 Month Anniversary

Today is the  6 month anniversary  of our sweet baby Ava’s death… we’ve been without her for half of a year and I find it really hard.  I’ve said it before, but the more time that passes just makes me feel like I’m getting further and further away from her… it’s like I’m leaving her behind and putting more and more miles between us, and I don’t like it.  It’s been six months since I held her and kissed her and told her that I loved her.  Six months since we had 5 children and 6 months since we had to say good-bye to someone who we loved so very much.   And it’s tough, it really is.

But in this grieving process there are still so many things we are thankful for.   First off, we are thankful that people are still praying for us – even though its been six months and we don’t update often.   When people tell me they are still praying we feel so blessed that people have not forgotten us and that God is still laying us on people’s hearts.    Another thing I’m thankful for is just how busy our life is with four kids (no matter how much I complain).   In my life there isn’t often time to just sit and think about how much I miss Ava.  Lying in bed before we go to sleep is often when it hits Jay and I, but this long winter has tired me out and it’s not often I can stay awake for more than a minute or so, praise God for that.  🙂

And we know that we were fortunate that we were able to do quite a bit of our grieving before we lost Ava.  The actual truth is that we started grieving before she was born.  We always had a strong hope that she would beat the odds and make it –  but because we almost lost her a few times before she died, it forced us to take a look at what our future would look like without her.   It’s like we were able to practice grieving… and those times were incredibly painful, but it did help prepare us.   And because of that, we know that we are grieving in a complete different way than those who suddenly lose someone they love.  It’s just that for both I’m sure the end result is the same…   living with the memories of a person you long for, and missing them like crazy.

I miss my Birdy… I really do.

Oh that God gave us that precious gift, but only for such a short short time.  Having Ava taught us so much about God’s goodness to us and His incredible faithfulness that if I ever doubt God again I hope someone smacks me… hard.    And there is the promise that God used this time in our lives for His glory and to strengthen our faith and bring us closer to Him. We also know that it made us more aware of the suffering of others and I hope God will continue to keep using these lessons learned in our lives as long as we are here on earth.

Here’s another wonderful promise….

1 Peter 5:10&11 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.  To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Praise God for His promises…. Amen!

Two Months

It’s two months today since our sweet baby Ava died, which means it’s been two months since we held her and kissed her and said good-bye to her.    And I look back now and I marvel at how God gave us the grace to let Ava go that day.   How we were able to hold her and wait for the end to come without completely breaking down.   God carried us with amazing incredible strength and for that we can look back and praise Him, even in the midst of the pain of that day.

And we still miss Ava so much, and the ache in our hearts hasn’t gone away.   And grief keeps sneaking up on us, where one minute we are fine, and the next minute we are in tears.   I see her pictures and I just want to hold her and kiss her and love her, and then I just hope that when she was with us, I loved her enough.   I know I tried to spend as much time as I could with her the last few months when she was in hospital, but I obviously couldn’t be with her 24 hours a day if I wanted my other kids to remember that they had a mother.  It’s just that now I wish that it had been possible for me to have never left her side.   Although I’m grateful once again for the support of friends, and it helped that one of my friends who is a nurse on 4D kinda scolded me when I  asked if I loved Ava enough when she was there.  🙂  And I do know that when I wasn’t  able to be at the hospital, Ava was receiving a lot of love from the nurses and they were so good to her.    I really do think it’s more of a case of me wanting to give her some love right now (oh what I would give for a cuddle with my baby!) that makes me wish I could have given her more then.   But the reality is that Ava didn’t feel good alot of time and when she didn’t feel good, she didn’t want to be held.  And she slept so much too.  She was just a sick little baby,  who has now left all that behind and is free from her body of death, and is now enjoying the glory of God in heaven.  Praise God.

And it’s kinda sweet, but our little Sophia is the one who tells me that she misses Ava the most.   She’ll look sad and I’ll ask her why, and she will tell me that she misses Ava. Actually for the past week she’s been telling me that she misses 3 things…. the stray cat that was hanging out around our house for a while (and thankfully found a home elsewhere), Ava, and our friend’s dog named Duke who she hasn’t seen in a while.   Sophie makes me smile.

We were really fortunate to be able to spend some time together at the cottage this weekend.  Some friends were there for a bit as well and the weather couldn’t have been nicer if we had ordered it online.

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And yes, Jason was able to borrow the Gator from work and it certainly did alot to enhance Jason and the kid’s enjoyment of the weekend, I’m glad you noticed.

In other news, Erik managed to break his arm almost two weeks ago by falling off the swing… rather inglorious actually as he wasn’t really swinging and in his own words said that he just forgot to jump off.  Oh Erik.    After the fall he was in  a lot of pain that seemed to be getting worse so off to emerg we went.  I was a little worried about going there seeing that it was one of Ava’s favorite spots to hang out, but all it did was managed to feel very familiar.   Now because Erik wasn’t top priority, we had to wait a while and after a few hours Erik didn’t seem to be in much pain anymore and i was kicking myself for running to emerg so quickly because I was starting to think that it was nothing.   But thankfully when the doctor came in she diagnosed a buckle fracture and fitted Erik with a splint.    He’s been great about wearing it and taking on and off himself so it hasn’t been that bad.  But it’s our first broken bone and I hope it’s our last!

William also distinguished himself last week by coming in 5th place in our school district’s semi-final Cross Country meet.  Jason and I were very proud and were also glad that all his running around inside our house has finally paid off.  Next week he is off to the finals and I’m already nervous for him, but he’s a pretty good sport and I know he’ll be happy whatever place he comes in.

So life isn’t slowing down for us.  But even though it’s been two months since we lost Ava,  praise God He is holding on to our hearts and we are doing OK.   We miss her like crazy, but we are doing OK.

What we are clinging too…

Out dear sweet little Ava had been gone now for almost 6 weeks…. it seems so crazy because in some ways it feels longer than that, but then it seems just like yesterday we were living in Toronto and she was still with us.

Since we are now officially back into the swing of things, I’ve been trying to get our house back in order while the kids are at school, and I fear I’ve met my Waterloo.   It’s an over-whelming job and I don’t feel like I’m making very much headway, but yesterday I turned my attention to the downstairs bedroom which has ended up being a dumping ground for all of our stuff from Toronto, including Ava’s stuff from the hospital.   Yesterday I started to gather Ava’s things together and put them in a bin, ready for when they will  eventually  go into a memory box Jason is going to make for us.

Since Jason and his dad did such an amazing job making Ava’s casket, he is going to make a smaller version to use as our ‘Ava’ memory box.   I do promise however that the memory box will look more like a chest, and less like a casket.  🙂   We do plan on decorating it the same, and since I never did show pictures of the casket, I will now.   Because it was such a labour of love, it doesn’t make me sad to look at it, I just see a father’s (and grandfather’s) love….

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The kids hand-prints were on it, and we had written Ava’s verse on the top…

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The memory box will be such a wonderful reminder of our little Birdy – and we want the kids to be able to open it and look at her things whenever they want.  I can’t wait.

But as you can imagine, sorting through Ava’s stuff yesterday made me rather sad, and so I guess it wasn’t a surprise that later in the day I ended up at her grave-site.  I shed lots of tears and mourned for her and just missed her like crazy.

But through the pain and the sadness, here is what we are clinging too…

We are clinging to the knowledge that Ava’s life turned out exactly as it was supposed to be.    Isn’t that a cool thought?   That the 255 days that she lived her on earth was the exact number of days she was supposed to live.   That God formed her and her heart exactly how He wanted.  That He had a purpose for her life and a plan formed for her before she was even born.

I love Psalm 139 and I always have.   And here are the words we love,  verses 13 – 16…

For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.

And it brings us so much comfort… especially in the fact that we don’t have to play the “If only” or “what if” game. “If only a heart had come in”… or “What if Ava was born healthy”.     This was how it was supposed to be, right from the beginning.     And even though Ava leaving us wasn’t at all in my plan, it was in God’s plan.   And even though I can’t see the plan, I can trust Him.   He’s sovereign, I’m not.

I just finished reading the book “Safe in the arms of God” by John MacArthur and it was another huge source of encouragement, just like our Pastor’s Norm’s sermon at Ava’s funeral.   Here’s a tidbit from the book…

“We ought to be greatly comforted by the knowledge that this little one is in heaven, in the presence of Christ, enjoying all the wonders of that glorious place, free from all the troubles of this earth, dwelling in perfect bliss, surrounded by perfect love, and loving and worshiping Christ perfectly in return.”

It’s such a wonderful thought.   And like another grieving heart mom said, when we think about where our child isn’t, it’s sad.  But when we think about where they are, there is joy.

And the best part is, is that while Jason and I are clinging to this hope, God is working on healing our hearts.  And we’ve received so much encouragement and love from friends and family that we know God still is caring for us and loving us.   And we also know that He will help us go forward and live our lives with renewed joy,  especially in our hope of eternal life and meeting our sweet baby Ava again someday.

Amen.

A sunny peaceful place…

Today the girls and I and Grandma went to visit Ava’s grave and put a few flowers on it.  I hope this isn’t super morbid or anything, but I wanted to show you what a sweet peaceful place it is where we laid Ava to rest… just a little country cemetery where the only noise you’ll hear is the birds and the breeze.

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Ava’s resting place is in the top center of the picture… where the grass sitting up higher with the bouquet on top between the two headstones.   It’s certainly not a morbid place for the girls, they seem to enjoy going and today they enjoyed pumping water from the old-fashioned well and watering Ava’s grass – although Sophia kept saying we were ‘watering Ava’.  Oh dear.    Because it’s a small country cemetery you can plant flowers on the graves and Sarah thought that we should water all the flowers on everyone’s graves, but we declined for lack of time.  We watered the flowers in the cemetery’s flowerbeds and called it a day.

And talking of days,  tomorrow the kids start school!   I’m really looking forward to having us all back in routine and I’ve purposely planned for this week to be busy so that time won’t weigh heavy on my hands.   It helps that Jason is still off this week so I won’t be alone.  And we are travelling to Toronto on Tuesday and will be at Sick Kids to pay a visit to Tanya and Alleeda and baby Britton – as well as all of our friends on 4D!!!   I can’t wait… I miss everyone so much and they have been so supportive that we feel very blessed.

It’s hard to believe that this coming Thursday it will be 4 weeks since Ava passed away.   The reality of her being gone is starting to sink in and even last night I was feeling really down until I was encouraged by a friend, and then I thought of a verse that another friend had sent to encourage me,  Romans 8:18 where Paul says…. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us…” and it was such a good reminder to me that yes, there is suffering in this world, but it’s all worth it.  And I can tell you that I miss my baby from the bottom of my heart, sometimes the tears won’t stop and I just wish she was here.   But you know what,   I’ve come to realize that I would do it all over again – every minute with Ava.  I would because of what she taught me and how God changed me, and the people we met and how our family grew together and how we leaned to count our blessings.

So praise God that even now I can even now appreciate a sunny peaceful place, remembering with joy that Ava isn’t really there, she is alive and rejoicing in Heaven and someday I will see her again.

Amen.