Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Two Years Later

Today, our Nan would be two years old.  There are so many thoughts that race through my mind as soon as July rolls around.  Last year, I thought it was because we were reaching the coveted one-year-mark that anyone who is grieving longs for from the day their beloved person leaves this earth.  But this year, as soon as July 1st came, I found myself engulfed in the familiar emotions and harsh memories.  Each day closer to the 22nd reminds me of those last three weeks before we held our daughter.

I don't mean to be heavy, but navigating this life with a huge, gaping hole in our family has been difficult.  We have choked out grace time and time again as we have re-learned how to do, just about everything.  That first year, everything just seemed so hard.  Cooking dinner was hard.  Social media was hard (so I eventually deleted everything).  Holidays were hard.  Sitting in a crowded room was hard.  Sitting alone was even harder.  Everything about our lives just seemed so labored, and it seemed as though it always would be that way.

And then, just before Nan's first birthday, I found out we were expecting again.  The one thing I was sure would take away all of our troubles.  And, oh, the disappointment when it didn't.  Realizing that each and every day of my pregnancy with Billy I had to cling to the Lord.  I had to re-learn (or maybe really learn for the first time...) that I serve a Sovereign God.  There is absolutely nothing out of the realm of His power. And even though our circumstance (being pregnant with Billy) didn't change our sadness or loss, the Lord did.  I found when I stopped looking for something to heal my broken heart, I did find that there was Someone who actually would. 

So it seemed that this second year was bringing up so many of the same emotions of the first year.  And I think that makes sense, because the things the Lord has taught me in these two years are real.  And they are eternal.  They are not light and happy things, but they are good things.  And I am sure they could not have been taught to my cold, selfish heart in any other way except through the most beautiful life of Nan.

I have learned that the Lord is living, and intimate.  There have been countless moments that the Lord has met me, right where I am.  I remember staring at my Bible for days (and probably weeks...) after Nan was born, unable to open it.  When I finally did open it, I started in Job.  I needed to read this man's words who had suffered, because at the time, it seemed like it was the only thing that would pierce my heart of stone.  And it really did.  I felt like I really learned how to lament my sorrows to the Lord from Job.  And then I went to Isaiah, and when I read what the Lord wrote through Isaiah, it literally took my breath away:
"See, I will create new heavens and a new earth.  The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.  But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create...I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and crying will be heard in it no more.  Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years..." Isaiah 65: 17-20a

I just couldn't believe how specific the Lord was with this description of His return.  I'm sure I've read this passage before, but I will never forget reading it after Nan was born.  What a sweet promise for my broken heart. It was like the Lord was saying, "Julie, I know your heart hurts.  I know your pain, because I know the pain of losing a child.  But one day, these will be the former things."
 Praise God for His Truth.

I have learned that our story is not unique.  It was so easy for me to sink into 'our story'.  Losing our daughter was tragic and awful.  But it is not the first time it's ever happened.  And, unfortunately, it's not the last time, either. The Lord has used the past two years to take me further outside of myself, and make my world just a little bigger (I'm still working on this...).  I am certain that we go through these terrible, soul-splitting times for His glory.  And because I believe this to be true, I can walk alongside dear, dear friends who find themselves in a similar position as I did.  And I can whisper words of hope when hope seems to have vanished from every inch of this world.

I have learned that His goodness is not contingent upon our circumstances.  So often we will say, "God is SO good!" when something great happens.  And this is great!  When friends and family members are healed, when babies are born, when we get a job, etc.- these are all GREAT things!  But there is goodness in losing Nan.  God is good, even though Nan is not here with us.  I would say, almost especially so.  And it's taken me a long time to be able to say this (almost two be exact).  His goodness has manifested itself in so many ways in our little family- our marriage grows each and every day.  Jesus and Heaven are so real to George, and I'd say even more real to Clay and me.  So, while it's okay that I'll never be 'happy' about Nan not being with us, I can celebrate His goodness.

So, here we are.  Two years later.  I am still missing Nan, and I think it's okay if I always miss her.  But I will honor her in the only way I know how- by always deepening my love for the One who created her, and numbered each and every one of her (and my) days exactly.

"This bitter cup, I take it, my fainting heart restored.
So here I stand, unshaken, I trust upon the Lord.
Sweet comfort, sweet comfort, yet shall fill my heart.
Sweet comfort, sweet comfort, sorrow shall depart."
- Sweet Comfort by Sandra McCracken

Happy birthday, Sissy Nan.  Our hearts will love you forever.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

April 12, 2015

I couldn't decide on a title for today.  There are so many phrases that have run through my mind, but none seem to capture what today will mean to me, and to my family, and to our entire family for years to come.  So, I'll start at the beginning.

Today, my aunt went to be with the Lord.  My dearest aunt has won her battle with cancer.  She is whole, and she is healed.  All of these sweet truths don't take away the searing pain of loss.  Marianne was more than just an aunt to me, she was an extension of my own mom, since she is my mom's best friend.  I will forever be thankful for who Marianne will always be to me.  She is such a picture of strength, grace, and unwavering love.  And I am so thankful that Billy got to meet her, and I will be sure to pass on her legacy to my children.

Today, Billy was baptized at church.  We have waited for this day for two years, and the wait was totally worth it.  After an emotional morning, we stood in front of our church, and Murray talked about all three of our children.  The two we see, and celebrate their earthly baptisms, and these brothers' sister, who is no doubt being smothered in love by my aunt today.  The thought of Marianne holding Nan as they watched Billy's baptism together is almost too wonderful for my heart to imagine.  I'm not sure there is a better way to honor Marianne, than to post a bunch of pictures from today. 

We sang a new (or at least it's new to me) hymn today.  I thought the refrain was so perfect for me, for today.  And it is exactly what Marianne and Nan are singing together today.

"We will feast in the house of Zion
We will sing with our hearts restored
He has done great things, we will say together
We will feast and weep no more"

Monday, March 16, 2015

Seven Weeks

Almost seven weeks in, we've decided that Billy is a pretty great baby.  
I think we'll keep him.  
(Actually, I can't joke about that, because George still asks daily if we do, in fact, get to keep 'Bebo'). 

So, things are chugging along as we start a new week in the newborn fog phase.  Billy is a great sleeper.  Next to his sweetest toothless grin, his ability to, and seeming love of, sleep is my favorite thing about him.  

George is still completely infatuated with his baby brother.  I wonder sometimes if his head might actually explode when Billy laughs at George, or dare I even think about the day he talks to his big brother?!  My heart melts at the thought of it.  

Clay and I have prayed a lot about the friendship between George and Billy.  We tell George all the time how big of a blessing it is to get to have a brother, and that there are a lot of people who don't get to have a brother.  We want our children to value and appreciate each other.  I know they'll fight and make each other cry.  I know they will drive each other crazy.  But, I will never stop praying for our children to be friends with each other.  That they would be each other's biggest encourager.  Not only that they would do this in our house, but as they grow up and navigate life in this world.

Anyways, we took some newborn pictures when Billy was just seven days old.  In retrospect, maybe I wouldn't have chosen to do these pictures on Clay's third day at his new job, or as George is still learning his own strength around his delicate baby brother.  But...we did them anyways.  Bryan Johnson did them, and we got some really sweet pictures of the four of us (or some combination of the four of us).  Here are a few of my favorites...

Two weeks ago, Clay and I took Billy down to Monroeville to meet my sweetest Aunt Marianne.  We had the best time visiting- and could have stayed all night catching up and reminiscing.  I hope Billy knows how lucky he is to be a Howell, and to have such incredible people to share his name.

Everybody loves Uncle Ed!

Oh, Billy, I actually think you do know how loved you are by the three of us.  And maybe that's why you sleep so much.  Maybe you hope that if your eyes are closed, George might not hover over you, or I might not pick you up and cuddle you and kiss all over you.  But...we all do it anyways.  You have made our family taste the redemptive love of Christ in a real and tangible way.  And you've reminded our hearts what real, deep joy feels like again.

Happy 7 weeks, Billy!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Billy Cochran

On January 28, 2015, Billy joined our family.  

The weeks and days leading up to his birthday were long, and if I was being honest, were wrought with anxiety, excitement, fear, happiness, and everything in between.  My doctor wanted to induce me (and, frankly, I had no idea why Billy had not been born yet!), so we picked Wednesday, January 28.  We chose this date so he could share a birthday with my grandmother, Mimi. 

Labor could not have gone more smoothly, or easily.  I figured being induced would make everything go slowly, but within 6 hours of starting the pitocin drip, we were holding our sweetest new baby boy.  I knew it was going to be a flood of emotion for me, but I just had no idea what emotions I would feel.  Would holding Billy make me ache for Nan more?  Would I be overwhelmed by past memories in a delivery room?  Would the Lord's best for our family be enough for me? 

The overwhelming feeling I experienced as I heard Billy's first cries was redemption.

There is no replacing a child who is not with your family.  But there is redemption.  And I have prayed that I would see redemption on this side of Heaven.  Where there was deafening silence after Nan's birth, our room was filled with sweet baby cries (and lots of adult tears of joy, too).  Where there was sadness and loss, there has been great joy restored to our hearts.  The Lord has redeemed our broken hearts, and made them whole, as only He can do. 

But possibly my favorite moment of that day (and there were too many to count!) was when George laid eyes on his baby brother for the first time.  My mom brought him up to the hospital just before nap, and Clay was holding Billy.  George's mouth fell open, and he walked straight up to Clay with his arms up in the air.  George got up on the bed with me, and as I was holding Billy, he looked at me, and said, "Do we get to keep him?" 

I really forgot to take pictures like we did when George was born.  And part of me is sad that I don't have pictures with Billy and all of his visitors, but I really just wanted to soak up the day.

 Brothers' first meeting

 These boys make my heart so happy.

 I had to include our sweet nurse, Jada.  She was just the best!

 My mom took care of George while we were in the hospital, and we came home to flowers, a gift for Billy, and the sweetest sign for our newest family member.  I actually can't take it down, because I love it so much.

 George pretty much wants to be *right* where Billy is.  If he could just lay right on top of him, I think George would be pretty happy.  Clay and I have started referring to him as 'Lenny' from Of Mice and Men because he just wants to squeeze his baby brother.

 I'd say this picture pretty perfectly sums up their current relationship.

...and so does this one.

"Hope shall change to glad fruition,
Faith to sight, and prayer to praise."
-Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I love the holiday season.  This year, Thanksgiving was sort of non-existent for me because I was sick as a dog.  I actually spent Thanksgiving Day by myself falling in and out of sleep to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  So needless to say, I was all in for the Christmas festivities this year. 

We have a working wood-burning fireplace in our den, and I absolutely love it.  I'm not so sure how George's toys feel about it though.

These are the walls of my childhood.  Western Supermarket on Rocky Ridge.  It takes every ounce of patience to let George have his own cart, but he really loves it.

Plus, at the end, you get all the free rides on the mechanical horse your heart desires!

The day after Thanksgiving, we headed to Rome, Georgia.  In college, Clay worked at a Christmas Tree Farm, and we've been talking for years about getting our tree from his old boss there.  We finally made the pilgrimage to Rome, and had to stop in to see Berry College.  

It was pretty special to be there as a family.

See, you can hardly tell how sick I was!  

Feeding the donkeys on the hayride around the Christmas Tree Farm

We had the hayride all to ourselves.  All in all, it was such a sweet trip as a family.  I'm pretty sure George was ready to apply early decision to 'Daddy's college.'

This kid caught the Christmas spirit like nothing I've ever seen before.  Every Christmas song, decoration, activity lit him up from head to toe.  It was so special watching Christmas traditions take root in our little family. (Mainly because George couldn't stop talking about every single detail of the season.)

Front of our house decorated for Christmas

The first Saturday in December, we celebrate Christmas with the Lee Family.  It was such a fun time with everyone, and stomp rockets are always involved!

...and a Saty craft or two.

We had brunch with Santa and the Howell family, and George just about lost his mind when he saw Santa sitting in front of the tree.

Howell-Cochran boy cousins!

I sort of thought that George would have the biggest issues with sharing his toys as we prepare for Billy to join our family.  But it turns out...Daddy is quite the toy hog :)

Christmas at Nana's is always a highlight of the season!  Here is the entire Nativity cast (George was the Little Drummer Boy).

I had my heart set on making Christmas cookies as a family.

George and Clay were happy to oblige.

Working clockwise from the top left: Sissy Angel (named by George, decorated by Mom), Snowman (by George), Wreath (by Clay), Christmas Tree and Happy Santa (by Julie), Grumpy Santa (by Clay), Rudolph and Star both by George.

He did not take his eyes off of those cookies for a second.

 I haven't found a sweeter sight than this boy's love for the fire at night.

Christmas morning!

Christmas morning at the Cochran's

George and Pops

Three Cochran cousins can't get that huge present across the den!

By the time we get to the second half of the day, I've usually lost sight of my camera.  We had a photographer come to Christmas with the Lee Family, so here are some Christmas pictures with the Howell family.

When I think of how far the Lord has brought us since last Christmas, I am overwhelmed by His faithfulness and mercy.  It was such a gift to have this Christmas just the three of us, because to see Christmas through the eyes of a three-year-old is like nothing else.  I came across the Christmas hymn 'Away in a Manger', and was so struck by the last verse of that song. 

"Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me I pray.
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care,
And fit us for Heaven to live with Thee there."

It made me think of Nan.  It made me long for Billy.  And it made me treasure George.  It made me thankful that the Lord would send His own Son as a baby into this world, so that I might have a relationship with Him.  

Christmas is always a time to reminisce of days past.  There are memories that make me laugh, and warm my heart, and make me cry.  This Christmas will be one that I will treasure forever.  I will treasure the time I spent with Clay and George, and meaningful time with both of our families.  I will treasure the healing that has fallen on our family because of the First Christmas 2,000 years ago.