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Friday, February 26, 2010

Ransom's Story, Part 2

THE FEET OF ETHIOPIA
(This post originally had pictures, which were removed.)


Dear Friends and Family,

Thank you so much to those of you who donated shoes in honor of Ransom. We were so moved when we were first able to see the pictures of the great things that God was able to accomplish through the short life of our little boy.

Manny shared several stories with Quincy about the shoe dispersement… so I’ll do my best to share them with all of you.

The children of Elpis were so thankful to receive their shoes. The adults were washing the feet of the little ones and then carrying them into the feeding center to be fitted with their new shoes.

Many of the children received a pair of brand-new shoes while many others received what Manny referred to as a “bobo” pair of shoes (if you know Manny, you know that is a direct quote). Those kids did not care! They were so grateful to receive any shoes!

At this point, they actually broke out in song because they were so excited about their new shoes!

Many of the children (and adults) had never had shoes with laces so the Elpis volunteers had lots of opportunities to hone their skills! (Note for the future: If you want to buy shoes to donate to Tied Together, Velcro is good!)

The next day, when the children returned to the feeding center, many of them were not wearing their new shoes. They cherished these new possessions and did not want to mess them up.

Many of the mothers who came to get shoes for their children tried to obtain shoes several sizes too big for their little ones. They knew that these would likely be the only pair of shoes that their kids would receive and wanted them to have as much “grow time” as possible.

After providing shoes to the children of Elpis, they sent word to the local churches to send the poorest of the poor to the feeding center to receive shoes. By late afternoon, Manny said that there were probably a thousand people lined up to receive shoes! A THOUSAND PEOPLE! We sent a lot of shoes, but we sure did not send a thousand pairs of shoes! They actually broke down the gate outside the feeding center (not in anger but excitement) while waiting to get their shoes. Manny eventually had to tell the others that there were no shoes left and that they had to go. For the rest of the trip, in several neighboring towns, they were asked for shoes. What a blessing!

Thank you for being part of this mission.

There are many, many more pictures at http://picasaweb.google.com/quenifers/TiedTogetherElpisInternationalEthiopia?authkey=EkIuwkw2_wY&feat=directlink

Enjoy, and thanks again!

Love,

Jennifer, Quincy, & Ephraim Richardson
& the rest of Tied Together (aka Mark, Janice, Ian, & Kylie Foster and Jason, Britney, & Lincoln Warner)

A CHAPTER CLOSES

At midnight 2 years ago, my labor with Ephraim began. He was eventually born on the morning of April 20th, around 6:30 am. This Monday, he will be 2. This Monday was also to be the day that our second son, Ransom Everett, was to be born; however, this was not God’s plan for our second little boy.

There are some moments in life that we never forget. Some things are etched into our minds so clearly that we can still see them when we close our eyes. I will never forget the look on our sonographer’s face on November 20, 2008. I knew. I knew before she said a word. I’ll never forget Quincy saying, “Is the baby moving?” I’ll never forget Ephraim referring to my stomach, for the first time, as “boo-boo” instead of “baby.” I still have the gut-wrenching feeling in the pit of my stomach when I think about it now. This loss will never be gone from us. Losing a child is tragic. It leaves a permanent scar. It cannot be reversed. There are some wounds that time cannot heal. The loss of a child is one of them.

These past few months have been a rollercoaster of emotion. I have been blessed to truly know that God draws near to the brokenhearted. I saw a mountain of despair and found, at it’s peak, an eternal weight of glory so magnificent that my light momentary affliction paled in comparison. I found myself thinking, “Lord, bring the pain again. Let me see You that closely again.” My thoughts were tempered with my humanly fear of what mountain of despair would lead me back to that peak. I don’t want to hurt. I don’t want to feel pain. But, I do want to feel near.

There have been many, many times over the last few months when I’ve thought, “I would still be pregnant right now.” I’ve wondered if I would be complaining about my discomfort or if I would be as big as a whale. I’ve looked around at my multitude of pregnant friends and realized it was just a few short months ago that I was amongst them, awaiting the arrival of my newest little one. I was honored to attend 3 of their births. I thought, in some ways, that those births would be difficult to watch, agonizing to bear. They weren’t. God drew near in those times again. I was so happy for each of my friends who had hiked up each of their own mountains of despair to reach their own mountaintop experiences. I praise God that they each have their own little people to hold and comfort. I praise God that He is using these tiny little people to refine my friends and make them more like Him. God used our Ransom to do that in us. God continues to use Ephraim to do that in us.

I’ll never forget seeing those pictures from Ethiopia for the first time and realizing that so many of those shoes were given because our son was lost. Honestly, it was beautiful and special, but it also hurt. I thought, “God, did my son really have to die for shoes?” He did not die just for shoes, though.

I’ll never forget going to the mailbox and receiving shoes and letters in the mail from complete strangers, many who had similar losses, and who knew my pain intimately.

I’ll never forget attending a funeral for another couple who lost a little one so soon after our boy went to be with Jesus. I couldn’t take my eyes off the mother. I knew her thoughts. I knew her agony. I held her in my heart and lifted her to our Savior.

I’ll never wake up from a vivid dream without wondering what it means. I am so grateful that the Lord used a dream to prepare me for what was to come, but I am sometimes afraid to go to sleep.

I’ll never here someone say, “We’re going to find out the sex tomorrow!” without catching my breath and praying for mercy. I am certain that the temptation to be overcome by this fear in the future for myself will be a heavy burden to bear. I am also certain that the Lord brought us through tragedy once, and in such a magnificent way, that there is nothing that I should fear.

I’ll never forget my first MOMS group meeting at Fruitful Vine after losing Ransom. I almost broke out in a sweat wondering how to introduce myself. Everyone always shares their names and the names and ages of their little ones. It felt like a betrayal to my second child to not mention his name. It felt cruel to a group of many pregnant women to bring up my loss.

I’ll never forget the awkward moments with family and friends. If they said nothing, it hurt. If they said something, it was likely the wrong thing, and that hurt. Loss hurts. It is complicated and difficult for everyone.

I’ll never forget going to Wal-Mart with the news that the child in my womb had passed. I remember wondering how in the world people could be grocery shopping at a time like this. How had the entire world kept running when mine had stopped?

I’ll never forget going to Ross to buy a dress to wear to my son’s funeral. I thought, “I am 27 years old. I should not be buying a dress for my son’s funeral. No one should ever have to buy a dress for their child’s funeral.”

I’ll never forget the songs that we sang at Ransom’s funeral. I will never sing them again without tears.

I look back on the short 17 weeks that we had with Ransom and I know that I will never look at pregnancy the same way again. I will do my best to cherish every ache, pain, discomfort, and illness that I feel on behalf of my future children. God uses those things to make us more like Him. I desire to be a mother who is more willing to sacrifice for her little ones. My Ransom taught me that. My short time with this little one also shouted to my soul what this life is all about. I confess, I don’t care about our economy, politics, religious denominational rightness, or church growth strategies. I don’t want to waste my moments arguing rightness. I want to live rightly. I want to be the kind of wife my husband deserves. I want to be the kind of parent that my heavenly Father is to me. I want to give lavishly, even recklessly. I want to figure out what God’s Word says about things and be willing to look at everything through His eyes. I want to shoe the feet of the masses. I want to feed the hungry. I want to no longer be slave to the lender. I don’t want to sit in judgment of the people who do not know my God. I want to love them with all my heart. I want my Father to be proud of me. Whether I have 17 more weeks, or 17 million weeks, I want to pour out my life in love.

I’ve been thinking about Jeremiah a lot lately. He was this crazy, young, unpopular prophet, especially with the religious leaders of his day. I sort of feel like a crazy, young prophet sometimes. I’ve got all sorts of unpopular views and opinions that can be dismissed because of my youth, but God still challenges me to share them. I want to honor Him. My plans are momentary and fleeting. His are eternal. When we prayed that Ransom would go forth in the wisdom and power of Elijah, I never considered that much God’s purpose for his life would continue to be accomplished through the courage he bestowed on me. So, I have to continue to share truth in love, to honor my God and to honor my son. I have to continue sharing and living God’s Word despite the fact that it’s a pretty isolated and narrow path.

I am thankful for the lessons that I’ve learned through the life and loss of Ransom. It is amazing how God uses the smallest packages to deliver His biggest gifts.

I am sure that Monday will be bittersweet for me. The “I Would Still Be Pregnant” chapter of my journey will officially close. Ephraim will turn 2. We will celebrate. I am thankful that the Lord saw fit to give Ransom a due date that mirrored Ephraim’s. I suppose He knew we could use the distraction when the day arrived. Though this chapter will end, Ransom’s effect upon my life will continue. I am hoping to hold to the “lessons of my youth” that I have learned so far. I am looking forward to learning and growing in the next chapter of my journey. I am grateful for your love. I offer you mine.

Jennifer

PARTLY CLOUDY WITH A 40% CHANCE OF RAIN

Today was Ephraim’s second birthday and Ransom’s due date. The weather forecast was partly cloudy with a 40% chance of rain. That was a pretty good description of my emotional state and the overall day as well.

I woke up this morning with plans and expectations about our day. We decided in advance that we would be taking Ephraim to the zoo today, purchasing passes as his birthday gift, and having a great time together.

Ephraim came running into our room not long after I woke up. Quincy and I immediately began showering him with affection and excitement. “You’re 2! You’re 2!” Whether he fully comprehended what all the fuss was about, he definitely enjoyed it. We sang “Happy Birthday” to him. We rejoiced. We told him how we were going to the zoo to see the animals. He was thrilled! We asked him a hundred times how old he was. He excitedly answered, “TWO! TWO!” I took Ephraim downstairs to get a CINNAMON WAFFLE (woot woot!) while Quincy stayed in bed a little longer. Because…

Quincy is sick. He’s congested. He’s got a cough and sore throat. Ephraim has a runny nose. Not what I most desired for this day, but not so big a deal, right?

After cooking Ephraim’s waffle, I sat down to check out the status of our bank account. (I can’t explain this next part of the story without giving a bunch of back story. Bear with me. Also, this may be, to many of you, some of my crazy Jeremiah stuff.) Several years ago, the Lord challenged Quincy and I to make some major changes that had major effects on our financial comfort. We both once worked full time for companies where our paychecks were never in question. We lived in a much bigger home. God challenged us first to sacrifice the home. So much of our money was going to our own little kingdom and we just didn’t feel good about it. We sold the place. God challenged Quincy to leave his job and start his own business. Scary. Those of you who own your own businesses know that, especially in the first few years, your paycheck is anything but guaranteed, and most definitely not scheduled. Next, God challenged me to leave my job. What?! I know. I left the job. We have really been living by God’s mercy ever since. For most of our marriage, we had never used a credit card. We just paid cash for things. If we didn’t have the cash, we didn’t buy it. Last year, our toughest year both emotionally and financially, our credit card got used… especially at the end of the year, with losing Ransom, Quincy needing to grieve more than needing to build websites, and the dreaded holiday money-drain.

On New Year’s Eve of this year, I made a commitment to the Lord. I would actually go so far as to say it was a covenant with Him. He takes those really seriously and so do I. I wanted to get back to our roots. I promised the Lord that, no matter what, I would not use that credit card in 2009. If He didn’t provide it for us, we just wouldn’t pay it, whatever “it” might be. Fortunately, the Lord opened a door for me to make some additional income for my family while still being home with Ephraim. This is a priority for us. Today was supposed to be my pay day. I logged on to our bank account and found, unfortunately, that I had not been paid. My heart sank. In the meantime, Quincy had showered and come downstairs to join us. I told him about my paycheck. Quincy, you must understand, is an eternal optimist. I know that I drive him bonkers sometimes because I just have days or moments when I just want to be sad about something. He said, “Well, that’s no big deal. We’ll just go and have fun anyway. We’ll put it on the credit card and pay it as soon as you get paid.” My husband would never encourage me to break a covenant that I had made with the Lord. I don’t think I’d really told him about that, at least the seriousness of it, until today. I said, “I’m going to go take a shower and get ready. Maybe it will be deposited when I get back. If not, I think I might have a meltdown.” That’s exactly how I felt. Hanging by a thread. Wanting to enjoy the day with my big boy, missing my little boy, and wondering why God would allow this “glitch” in my plan. I’ll be honest, when I was in the shower, I was pretty upset with God. I was thinking, “Lord, why? You know this is already a hard day for me. Why isn’t the money just in the bank account so we don’t have to worry about it and can have fun?” I immediately started thinking of Jonah. He had this HUGE miraculous experience with God. Then, when he was hot and the shade tree situation wasn’t working out for him, he was devastated. He was whining to God about being hot. I felt very Jonah-ish. It felt so stupid to be so upset about money in light of all the things that God has done for me. I thought, “Even if we can’t go to the zoo, we can still have tons of fun together. It doesn’t have to be about the zoo. We can figure out something else.” Then, I thought, “Well, Quincy didn’t make the commitment about the credit card. If he uses it, that isn’t really breaking my promise, is it?” This line of thought reminded me of another conversation in the Bible. “He didn’t really say you couldn’t eat that fruit, did He?” Ugh. No. That’s just the way it is. If we don’t have the money, we don’t have the money.

I got dressed and ready and headed back downstairs. I checked again. No paycheck. My heart sank. I was trying really hard not to be hurt that God would allow this to happen on a day that was already a tangled knot of emotion. I was failing.

Quincy figured out every penny that we could squeeze from his business account in order to write him a small paycheck. He even found a small check that we had forgotten to deposit! Praise the Lord! It wasn’t what I’d expected, but it could work.

We went to the bank first. Our bank teller is a sweet, wonderful lady. She knows us well, because, as small business owners, we see her on an almost-daily basis. She knows Ransom’s story. She also recently lost her mother.

Because Ephraim has the firm belief that the bank is actually a drive-through lollipop restaurant, our teller gave him TWO blue lollipops. Blue is his favorite color. He was thrilled! We told her that we were planning to take him to the zoo. She was very excited for all of us.

Because I had not seen her since her mother passed away, I told her how sorry I was for her loss. With tears, she started to tell us how God used Ransom’s story to prepare her to let go of her mother. She was really grateful that we allowed her to be a part of it. She was thankful that the Lord brought us together. It was sweet. It was difficult.

Our deposit made, we were on our way. I was looking around at the sky. One half of the sky was bright, sunny, and blue. The other half of the sky was thick with black clouds. I thought the sky was a perfect reflection of my own feelings. I could choose the blue sky. I could choose the dark clouds. At times, I wouldn’t even have a choice. At other times, both would thrust themselves upon me.

Once we were at the zoo, Ephraim was really happy. He was running around and climbing on rocks. He was somewhat unimpressed with the actual animals, but he definitely enjoyed all the other children. It began to rain. Again, this was not what I expected or desired, but it wasn’t a huge deal. It was that sunny, light rain. It was EXACTLY how I felt. I was so happy for my big boy, but there was a slight drizzle on my heart.

We rode the train, Ephraim’s favorite part of the experience. He was so excited about the sounds of the train and the lights near the tracks. We explored a little longer and eventually headed home for lunch and Ephraim’s nap.

The next few hours were uneventful as we just waited for our little man to wake up.

On Monday nights, I’ve been taking a cake decorating class at JoAnn’s. Quincy, knowing I didn’t want to be away from him or Ephraim for too long, offered to drive out to the Town Center with me, have Chick-Fil-A for dinner, let Ephraim enjoy the playplace, and keep him busy during my two-hour class. I should mention that this morning, when we asked Ephraim what he wanted to do for his birthday, he said, “Playplace. Plug-it.” (Plug-it = Publix) I have no idea what the Publix thing was about so, we just told him he meant “zoo.” :) Our dinner was fun. The playplace was amazing. Ephraim ran around and climbed and squealed. He really likes the little white car at the top of the Chick-Fil-A playplaces. He drove that joker better than Mario Andretti.

They dropped me off at class and Quincy took Ephraim to Adventure Landing! I know they had great fun. I had a little trouble focusing in class. I just felt “different” today. It wasn’t necessarily a bad class. It’s just been a strange day.

They picked me up and we headed home. I was silent and pensive the entire way. I was thinking, if I had delivered Ransom on his due date, as I had done with Ephraim, we’d be at home with 2 little boys right then. We’d be exhausted. We’d be riding on new baby euphoria…. but it wasn’t meant to be. These were all just my ideas. They were never reality, never God’s plan.

We bathed Ephraim and put him to sleep. Quincy is asleep as well.

I sat down to write this note and got an email from a woman I love and admire. She had an appointment with her OB today and found out that her baby had no heartbeat. My heart is broken for my friend. I am so sad that any women have to experience what I have had to experience. But, I also know her baby is perfect. I know her baby is with Jesus. I know her baby is with mine. I know she will glorify God through her loss. I know He will draw near to her. I know her testimony will be beautiful and miraculous.

I know my own loss was not just about me. I know my loss was about each of you. I know my loss was about my bank teller. I know my loss was about my friend.

I am no longer “supposed to be pregnant.” I am “supposed to be holding a newborn.” This is a new and different part of my grief. And I know my God will carry me through it, as He has carried me through all the rest.

I rejoice for my two-year-old son. He is a joy to me. I mourn my 17-week-old son. He is surely a joy to my God.

The sun shines on, even when the rain falls. The sun shines on, even when the clouds hide its glory. The sun shines on. The Son shines on.


YOU SHALL NOT PASS!

Over the past couple of weeks, I have learned that two friends have lost babies. I have been so sad for them and known their pain a little too familiarly. I hope I’ve been able to encourage them as I truly believe we experience pain for two reasons. One reason is to grow. The other reason is to love. There’s definitely something to the ability to comfort someone else with the same comfort you’ve been given. It’s nice not to be alone. It’s nice to know you aren’t the only one. It’s nice to see someone has survived longer than you can imagine in those first moments. I know it was nice for me. When I first found out about Ransom, I only knew of one woman who had an experience similar to mine in that she birthed her child. I wanted to talk to her. I knew she had survived because I didn’t know her until a few years after that happened but, I just wanted to be assured that she was, indeed, still walking this planet. She called me and ended up leaving a message. It wasn’t anything revolutionary, but hearing her voice made me cry. I thought, “She survived. She’s ok. I’m gonna be ok.” I hope I’ve been able to offer that same hope to my friends.

God is good. God was good when we found out we were pregnant with Ephraim. God was good when he was born healthy and alive. God was good when we found out we were pregnant with Ransom. God was good when we found out we’d lost him. God has been good in all the wonderful moments since and all the tough moments since. God’s goodness is completely irrelevant to my circumstances. He’s really taught me how to praise Him despite them.

So, the circle of life continues. We found out the day after our 7th anniversary that we are pregnant with another little one. We are happy and scared. We are hopeful and cautious. We know that God carried us through a previous loss and, if necessary, He’d carry us through another one. We truly have nothing to fear.

Here’s some practical information. Ransom died of a cystic hygroma. I’ve done very limited research on this topic. Many different things can cause this. We chose not to have testing done on Ransom’s body to find out why he died. We made this choice in faith. We decided, a long time ago, to trust God with our childbearing. We didn’t want information that would affect the choice we had already made. I’ve thought many times about how, when we decided to trust God with our childbearing, I was scared about having way too many kids… about the “financial aspect” of it… about the “impracticality.” I never considered the alternative. Would I trust God if I LOST too many kids? Wow. That’s an even bigger pill to swallow. Ultimately, we made the choice. Until or unless God shows us something different, this is the path we are taking. Anyway, back to Ransom. Because we didn’t do testing, we really don’t know the cause. We could either be very likely to have it happen again or very unlikely. We won’t know until we know. Either way, God is good.

Here’s some spiritual information. Very few of you know this story and I almost hesitate to share it because I feel like a crazy person. I can’t say that’s entirely untrue though, I am pretty crazy. Here goes. For those of you who have followed our story all along, you know about the dream I had about Ransom. The night after we got home from the hospital, I had the same dream. This time, there was a baby girl behind him. She was bald like Ephraim, except that her little bits of hair were dark. She was a “big girl,” not tiny like Ransom. I knew she was a girl because she was all dressed in pink. When I woke up, I felt about a million percent sure that God was telling me we had a little girl on the way, that she would be healthy, and that it wouldn’t be too long. So, here we are. We seem to have conceived right around Ransom’s due date. The due date for this baby is January 7, 2010. I’m excited to see if God will fulfill this dream. I don’t know if I’m quite bold enough right now to say that I am sure she’s going to be a girl with dark hair, and she’s going to be healthy. I have, however, had a few moments in past months, with my closest friends, where I was bold enough to say just that. I guess time will tell.

Rejoice with us. Praise God with us. We hope you have been praising God with us all along, despite circumstances. Pray for us. We are starting each day choosing not to be afraid. We are choosing to thoroughly enjoy every moment we have with this little one, whether it is only a few weeks, or many years. I’ve already had a few headaches and nauseated moments, and I automatically thought, “Thank you Lord that my body is doing what it’s supposed to be doing! Bring on the sickness. It’s worth it for my little one.” I am certain this attitude will come and go, but I’d really like to hold on to it as much as possible. Perspective changes everything.

One last thing I want to share. I’ve shared this several times with several different people. I think it applies to a multitude of circumstances. I know it applies to mine. (Bear with the following nerdiness.) In the first Lord of the Rings movie, there is this scene that always makes me cry. They are running across this bridge in the mines of Moria. This monster, a Balrog, to be precise, is coming after them. Gandalf stops on the bridge and faces the monster. He yells, “You cannot pass!” The monster keeps coming at them. He says, “I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the Flame of Anor. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udun.” A moment of silence. “Go back to the shadow.” Another moment of silence. “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!!!!” Every single time I see that scene, I cry. I think if I had any clue of the power that I have in Christ, I would face my own fears with that kind of confidence. I would slam my staff into the ground. I would say, “I am a servant of the Most High God, bearer of His Holy Spirit. The dark fire will not avail you, my enemy.” “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!!!” I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Yeah, great. Doesn’t Gandalf fall off the cliff in that scene?” Yes. He does. BUT THAT MONSTER DOES NOT PASS. And if you know the whole story, you know that Gandalf falls and fights that monster and emerges as Gandalf the White. Here’s a youtube clip of the scene. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=44kBN340vd4 Knowing Tolkien’s motivation for writing these books, I don’t think my interpretation or encouragement from that scene is far from the mark that he intended. So, as I daily declare to my fears that they shall not pass, join with me. Declare the same to your own. Slam your staffs into the ground and refuse to be defeated. Join with me “until at last we throw down our enemy and smote his ruin upon the mountainside.”

Quincy’s life verse, and mine too, by marriage, osmosis, and life experience – “The Lord did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of love, of power, and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7

That’s probably the strangest “We’re Pregnant!” announcement you’ve ever read, right? :)

Jennifer

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