Two years of going Deeper Still, by Michelle Hicks
Almost two years ago several moms connected through the Deeper Still blog and decided to meet face-to-face at Deeper Still: The Event in Atlanta. It was a unique story that brought these eight women together.
The common denominator, in addition to their love for Christ, they all had lost babies in the previous year. Most of them actually lost a baby in the three or four months prior to Deeper Still in Atlanta 2008 to Trisomy 18. You have to get into genetics to even begin to understand all of this, but unlike Down syndrome with its varying degrees of severity, Trisomy 18 is usually fatal. They knew before their babies were born that they most likely would not have them in this life for long. Yet, they opened their hearts and loved them with everything they had for as long as they could physically.
All of these sweet mommies carried their babies and then returned them into God’s hands within hours or days after birth. For one of these mommies, the weekend of Deeper Still Atlanta 2008 was only four weeks after she had physically let go of her little one. For another it was exactly one year after the loss of her baby. The longest any of these young women had her baby on this earth was 138 days.
My heart was broken by their stories. I still can’t begin to know the loss they feel. But I was also so encouraged by their dependence and passion for our great God. To watch them worship was amazing. And I can’t begin to express the impression they made upon my life through a few blog comments and a short gathering at Deeper Still to talk and pray and hug.
We hope by revisiting their story of God’s love and grace, you will be encouraged regardless of what you may be facing. You never know how God will move and work in your life during a two-year time period…they didn’t and look how far God brought them as they chose to trust Him and go deeper still with Him each day…and for every breath.
This is is their story told by one of them. It is a VERY long, but worthy read:
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Deeper Still: A Divine Appointment Indeed
By the time I pulled into the dark parking lot of the hotel at nearly 1:00 a.m., I was spent. I had been trying to get there for what seemed like forever. My heart was pounding and my mind was racing as I handed my keys to the man at the valet desk and made my way to Room 112. Heavier than either the bag on my shoulder or the box of t-shirts in my arms was the need to look into the eyes that were awaiting me, to fall into the arms it had taken me so long to reach. I wondered if I would cry. I thought I might laugh. But when the door slowly opened, I did neither. There, in that little room, were six of the best friends I will ever have. As I hugged them one by one, I began to wonder if that is what Heaven might be like. Our babies are already there, after all, so we have each spent a great deal of time trying to imagine how our eternal home will be. There in that simple hotel room in Atlanta, in the middle of that June night, I believe we were given just a glimpse.
We stayed awake, chatting in our pajamas like old friends instead of women who had just met until our eyes finally closed. Sweet Kenzie fell asleep before the rest of us, as her body is working hard as the Lord knits her third child together in her womb. What a blessed little girl that will be to have one big brother in the world and one big brother in Heaven. Sweet Maddox was born in January and opened his eyes to gaze upon his earthly father just before he closed them and saw his Heavenly One. In a moment, he changed more lives than most people do in many years. We slept in the next morning, and then made our way down to Starbucks to continue our conversations over the very comfort foods (and beverages, of course) that have helped to sustain our broken hearts this year. Just to sit all together at one table instead of in separate drive-thru’s scattered all across the country was a miracle and a joy to behold!
That afternoon, we pulled the brown t-shirts I had carried in the night before over our heads and everything changed. Like soldiers dressed for battle, we headed to the airport to gather one more sister before we went to worship together at Deeper Still: The Event. Just four weeks before Karen stepped off that plane, her precious baby boy Jacob Ryan had left his earthly father’s arms for his Heavenly Father’s hands. Her third son, he had lived a miraculous 138 days in this world as a Trisomy 18 miracle. It was only fitting that Yvette was waiting there to meet her, too. Her third son, Tristan Asher, was the only other one of the babies represented that weekend who had made it home from the hospital. He, too, was a Trisomy 18 miracle and spent an incredible 56 days under our sun before he, too, found complete healing at home in Heaven. When we rejoined our group, I had the privilege of introducing my sweet new friend to every one in the group and one more special grieving mother, our friend Kirsten. By God’s divine intervention, that California girl was also in Atlanta and she needed to look into eyes and be embraced by arms who understand just as much as any of us. Her first baby girl, Chloe Faith, was born into the arms of Jesus in April and changed her life forever. Meeting for the first time was such an unnecessary charade. We knew each other by heart.
Kim and I share the bond of being Kentucky girls. Atlanta wasn’t our first meeting. I met her for the first time just days after she was given the incredible honor of holding her third daughter, the beautiful Mary Grace, for seven sacred hours. As long as I live, I will never forget how it felt to see that tiny white casket covered in roses resting silently at the front of all those pews. I knew I was standing on holy ground. It had only been six months since my husband and I had endured that impossible task. It was an unspeakable honor to finally embrace the woman I had prayed so fervently for. It broke my heart to know that she, too, understood the pain of standing with an empty, still womb before a tiny casket that held the treasure she had cherished for so long. And yet, even then, she and I knew that the Lord was working. His plan was bigger than we knew. As we exchanged glances and laughter over that lunch table with seven other women who knew the same secret in Atlanta, we believed it more than ever.
I never dreamed when I held my sweet Miller Grace and sang to her until the angels carried her home on the morning of June 28 last year that I would even be standing one year later, much less standing and worshiping our Maker with the mothers of her best friends in Heaven! The two days we spent together with our arms raised high in praise to our Lord, with the names and life spans of our babies written on our backs, were simply too sacred for words. Try as I might, I could never capture the sanctity of such a divine appointment. We shared everything from snacks to tears as Priscilla reminded us that even the Israelites endured a time of wilderness before they were able to stand on the mountain of God. We wept as we watched her throw her elbow in the air, portraying to us how a mother eagle will offer a wing to her little ones when she realizes they cannot fly on their own. We swallowed hard and nodded when she said the Lord will do the same for us. We sat still while our hearts were absolutely moved as Kay Arthur challenged us to open our eyes and see the state of our nation for what it is. We took it to heart when she called us to action. When we sat on the sidewalk to eat our boxed lunches together, we were more determined than ever to make the most of the moments we are given in this world.
We held our breaths as Beth Moore took the stage. She has played such a crucial role in so many of our lives during this season. When she said she felt moved to offer a time of prayer before she spoke, we needed it more than anyone. When we found the strength and the joy we needed to return to our seats, we were thirsty for a Word and she did not disappoint. Grief has a way of making a girl desperate for relief and sweet Beth reminded us that Jesus is the One and Only Deliverer. By the time the praise band took the stage again, our group of eight from all walks of life and all corners of the nation couldn’t help but lock hands in the air. I think I will always count those moments I spent with my left hand in Karen’s and my right hand in my dear friend Chrissy’s among the sweetest I have known. Chrissy and I share the special bond of having held little dark haired girls for five days before they breathed their last against our chests. There is not a doubt in my mind that Eva Janette, Miller Grace, and all their precious friends were worshipping right alongside us that day.
As the event came to a close, our adventure reached its climax. We filed into a small vacant room backstage, and absolutely could not believe it when Beth Moore and her own baby girl followed us in. I can speak for all of us when I say we would give just about anything to have video footage of those moments to watch over and over again on hard days. With all the intensity of a woman on fire for God and all the love of a mother with a heart broken for us, she called us to our knees. As she, her daughter Amanda, and our dear new friend Michelle walked around us and laid their beautiful hands on us, Beth offered up the most beautiful prayer to our Lord that my ears have ever heard. She was undaunted as the sound of our sobbing and the presence of our Lord filled the room. She continued to petition God on our behalf, to ask Him to be glorified in our lives, to make Satan sorry he ever messed with us, to bring healing here and to transform our ashes into beauty. Though I doubt she knew it, Beth Moore instilled in us that day a courage to pray boldly to our Lord, a hope that beauty is indeed on its way even when ashes are all we can see, and a peace that comes only in knowing that His plan is still to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us hope and a future.
I will never forget standing there with one of my hands on the back of Beth Moore and my eyes on the seven women who held my heart, there on the very day on the calendar that my girl finally received healing one year before. June 28th is a day of redemption indeed. I will forever be moved to envision in my mind, again and again and again, how Beth embraced our sweet friend Kristy that day. She is perhaps the most faithful of us all, as she is the mother of two little boys in Heaven. Kristy and I share the bond of being mothers to little ones whose neurological conditions cannot be named or explained, while the rest of our friends’ little ones share the commonality of having been diagnosed with Trisomy 18 prior to birth or soon thereafter. Kristy’s second son, Isaac Matthew, would be three this year and Asher Joseph, her fourth son, joined his brother just four months ago. To listen as she told Beth her one prayer request in all of this is that the Lord would be glorified somehow spoke volumes to our broken hearts. Only God.
Overwhelmed by His goodness, resting in His grace, we did what all smart women do: we went to the Mexican restaurant! It was then that I finally had the chance to really talk with Angie, the mother of precious Poppy Joy. Her blog was the first one I had dared to read during those first months after Miller Grace left us. I will never forget praying for that beautiful baby girl while she was in Angie’s womb, then marveling over her beauty and the joy that filled her pictures that day in December. When I read of her arrival, the beautiful three hours she spent with her family, and her gentle passing all in one post, I realized for the first time that I was not alone. And I began to suspect the Lord was up to something wonderful. As we sat there, changed women knitted together by sorrow and grace, that Saturday afternoon in Atlanta, it was confirmed. He is absolutely on the move.
The Lord does not always work in ways we expect and sometimes, He works in ways that break our hearts. But He is still good and He is still worthy of our praise. No matter the heartache, the joy will always outweigh the sorrow in the end. The weeping may last for a night – or a year – but the joy is on its way. We may be wandering in the wilderness tonight, but we can rest assured that we are on our way to the Promised Land. We cannot afford to waste a single moment that we are given. Little babies that lived six days, five days, three hours, seven hours, one moment, fifty-six days, thirty-five minutes, five days, and one hundred thirty-eight days came to remind us to live each breath to its fullest. Their tiny footprints are big shoes to fill we know, but it is our heart cry and our sincerest prayer that the Lord might use their little legacies and our lives to challenge you to do the same.
January 18, 2010
What Happened to Those Mamas in the Brown Shirts?
We became known by the color of our t-shirts, but we had more in common than that. We had each said goodbye to one of our babies in the last year. But we had more in common than that, too. Heartbroken and confused, we were clear about one thing and one thing alone: we wanted to see His glory.
It was in the praying for, the holding tight, and the letting go of our little ones that we found out who our Savior really was and is and is to come. He is mighty. He is meek. He is quiet. He is loud. He is strong. He is gentle. He weeps with us. He rejoices with us, too. He listens closely and answers clearly. He heals. He holds when healing doesn’t come. He makes sense when nothing does. His breath is warm. His arms are strong. He is real. He is present. He is God.
It had been exactly one year since my daughter’s death. It had been four weeks since Karen’s son had died. In the time between, Angie, Yvette, Kim, Kenzie, Kristy, and Chrissy had all said goodbye to their babies, too. For Kristy, it was her second son to release to the Lord. By the grace of God, we converged on Atlanta for a weekend that would change us forever.
Deeper Still: The Event was sacred to us. We were able – for the first time in a long time – to feel somewhat normal and understood as we sat together, prayed together, learned together, and worshiped together. Our eyes and the tears that flowed from them, our hands and the way they couldn’t stay down any longer, our voices and the way they quivered as we sang His praises seemed to say it all.
It has been a year and a half since we have seen each other’s faces and held each other’s hands. As long as I live, I will never forget how it felt to take Karen’s sweet face in my hands just before she climbed out of my car and onto her plane, as I promised her that her God was still going to be good a year from then. I remembered wondering how I would make it through a day, when my grief was fresh and my heart was raw, and it was my heart cry to prove to her that our God was more than able to carry her through, too.
I think all eight of us would agree today that God is indeed good and He has indeed carried us further than we ever dreamed He might. God was doing a work in our hearts before our babies ever came or our suitcases arrived in Atlanta, Georgia, and He will be working long after our new babies are grown and gone. That’s right. Every single one of us has been blessed with a brand new life in her home. If you had asked us that weekend in Atlanta where we would be in a year and a half, I am quite certain none of us would dared to dream we could possibly be right where we are now.
Poppy Joy Luce was the first of our babies in Heaven to gain the Big Sister status when her parents and big sister brought the beautiful Adrienne Christine home in May, 2008, and made Adrienne’s adoption official on Poppy’s 1st Birthday that December. Tristan Asher Hostetter’s parents were blessed with the opportunity to bring a sweet baby girl (born on Tristan’s mommy Yvette’s birthday, no less) home from the hospital in October, 2008, making him a Big Brother, just like his own two big brothers at home.
Maddox Donald Stanfield soon earned his Big Brother status when his stunning baby sister, Faith Clare, was born in November, 2008. Judging from his own Big Brother’s smile, I imagine Maddox was a happy boy that day, too. Eva Janette’s mommy learned she was expecting her new blessing – Eva’s adorable baby brother Dante, born in February, 2009 – the very weekend we were all together in Atlanta. Many of us watched Chrissy’s elation and wondered if that would ever be ours again. Oh, how God must have been smiling then!
Kim and I, both Kentucky natives and moms of three girls, were roommates that weekend. We could never have dreamed what God in store for us. The following April, our newest baby girls were born a week apart. Miller Grace became a Big Sister to my dear Abigail Joy on April 2nd. Mary Grace became a Big Sister to the precious AnnaGrace Pearl on April 9th. How awesome.
But, God wasn’t done!
After four boys, Kristy welcomed an amazing baby girl, Hope Amelia, on the first day of June. I can only imagine how proud Isaac Matthew and Asher Joseph had to have been of their family that day. True to form, our dear friend Karen was the last to join our joyful chaos. Jacob Ryan became the third Big Brother in his family when Karen delivered her fourth gorgeous boy, Jeremiah Gabriel, this past August.
We are just eight women. If you passed any of us in the grocery store, you likely would not give us a second glance. (Unless, of course, one of our children threw an orange at you or something.) We are ordinary in every way. We come from farms and big cities alike. Some of us are working moms and some of us stay at home. Some of us home school and some of us do not. Some of us are nursing mothers and some of us are not. While it is true that some of us have urns on our mantels and others of us buy silk flowers instead of toys when special occasions roll around, you would never know that by looking at us.
Our story is one of God’s power. By no other means could we, as ordinary women who love our children with all we are, have survived the storm we have come through. By no other means could our scarred hearts have healed so much. By no other means could our families have known peace and joy again. Our hope is not in our children in Heaven any more than it is in the children in our arms. Our hope comes in knowing where our true treasure lies, fixing our eyes on what is not seen, but unseen; on what is not temporary, but eternal.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-10)
In Christ alone,
On behalf of LifeWay Women everywhere, we thank Emily and all of these moms for sharing their stories with us. To God be the glory.
We pray for God to move again in the lives of women at Deeper Still Denver this weekend. This is why we go.
Two years of going Deeper Still, by Michelle Hicks