Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How far we've come!

I had hopes of writing a post last night, but instead I stayed up too late with my brother and Ryan talking and laughing at stupid youtube videos.

I went with my dad, brother, and Ryan to pick up my dad's race packet. The whole way there, he kept asking my brother if he was going to surprise him again. When we got there he went in and I just followed behind him not really knowing what I was supposed to do, if I was just going to give the person my name as well and that would be the surprise. But the woman pointed my dad to a board outside with all the racers names and bib numbers. She told him to go find his number and then come back. YES! I thought to myself this will be so good! So as my dad was searching the big board for his name I hurried and found mine. I pointed at it and said, "dad, who's this?" He looked up. Maxwell.... Natalie...WHAT!! You're running?? He was so excited. He hugged me and told me that now it was going to be much more fun :)

We enjoyed our carb load supper to the last bite. By the time I finally went to bed, I had a really bad headache from depriving my body of my daily coffee(s) and my stomach was beyond stuffed. At this point, I was not excited for the next day. I was scared. "I don't know if I'm ready." I told myself. Ryan and I prayed before he fell asleep and then I just laid there for a while squeezing the bridge of my nose, for some reason that seemed to help my headache. I laid there and told God to please make me feel better tomorrow. I need to be excited for this, but right now, I'm not.

My alarm was set for 5AM, but God woke me up at 4:50 just so I could spend a couple minutes soaking in the excitement and adrenaline that I was so thankful He had given me. We got ready, got Landon bundled for his big day. It finally hit me when I put on my race bib that this was really going to happen.

We made it to the race early so that a man from the race committee could show Ryan where he was supposed to be waiting with the stroller. 

It was freezing!!

When the announcer said that it was time for the marathon and half marathon runners to start lining up, I still didn’t feel ready. I kissed Ryan and my baby boy and told him I’d see him soon. “We’re going to finish this thing love bug.” More kisses and then I had to leave the security of the sidelines and venture onto the pavement. I still didn’t feel ready. It started to hit me when we were listening to the star spangled banner just how amazing the moment was that I was in. My eyes got teary as I thought about five and a half months ago when we didn’t know if Landon would ever make it out of the OR and today I get to finish a half marathon with him. That realization was exactly what I needed to give me the encouragement that I could do this. With God, I could do this. I heard the starting shot and then the crowd around me began to move. I started at the 2 hour mark so that I could start with my dad so for the first 10-15 min everyone was passing me. I didn’t care. I wasn’t doing this to finish at any certain time, I just wanted to make it back to my family, so that we could finish this thing TOGETHER.

I had another realization during mile 1 or 2. I realized I was NOT prepared for this. My side was killing me and I was telling myself that this is why people train for more than two weeks. God showed me, at that time though, that I wasn’t only running this race for Landon and for our family. I was running it for every mama of a child with special needs. Because nothing anyone says or does can prepare you for it. It doesn’t matter how many books you read or how many other moms you talk to, NOTHING can prepare you for the journey that God has chosen for you. When I thought about that the side ache didn’t matter, in fact it seemed fitting. It was right that I was unprepared and it was ok that I was in pain, because I’m running this for my long hill and I wouldn’t trade him for any amount of easy.

I found my pace (slow and steady) and just settled in for the ride that God was about to take me on. I knew this race would be more than physical, it was going to be emotional and spiritual. When the side ache went away and I could breathe again, I felt good. I thought about all of the amazing blessings and overcoming joy we’ve experienced this past year. I praised God with every step.

It wasn’t long into the race before I could see the hill in the distance. I knew that was where I was headed. I can’t say I was physically prepared for it, but I wanted it. I knew at the top was my family. It was an amazing sight looking up and seeing a sea of different colored race shirts covering the hill. I thought about how I’m not in this alone. I thought about all the other amazing heart moms that have gone before me, paving the way, telling me that it’s hard, but it’s worth it. I thought about the mommies who’s babies have already finished their race on this earth. I cried for them, but I know that someday they will cross the finish line in Heaven and not even the Boston marathon can hold a candle to that day. I can't imagine how hard it is for them to run each day on this earth without their child, but oh how beautiful that finish line reunion will be.

I was surprised by the boost of excitement I got as I reached the bottom of the hill. When I went across the bridge where Ryan and I started running just a week prior, I knew that I could do this again. Knowing that I had already ran it with Ryan by my side gave me so much strength. I knew he was carrying me with his prayers and love. I knew he was at the top waiting for me. I hope this doesn’t sound stupid, but the hill actually felt like home. I had run it before, physically and symbolically. I no longer hate it because I know that it’s where God is. I did not stride up that thing. I forcefully placed one foot in front of the other and with each step I took I thought about my long hill.

I thought about the night when I was pregnant and home alone. How I flailed around on our bed, kicking and screaming and yelling WHY at God. Telling him I couldn’t do it, that he was wrong when he chose me to carry this long hill. I screamed into the pillow soaking it with my hot hysterical tears.  It wasn’t pretty, but today I thanked God for that night. I thanked God for making me climb through the pain. For letting me scream at Him and for holding me through those extremely dark nights.

I thought about how hard it was for me as a brand new mommy to sit up in my hospital room, floors away from my baby. All I had to remind me that I was his mommy was my now empty squishy belly and the pictures I uploaded of him on my laptop.

I thought about the day after he was born when I got to hold him again, this time for more than a minute. I remembered how when they placed him in my arms I felt complete. My soul breathed a sigh of relief and told me, yes, this is how it is supposed to be.

I remembered how the joy of that moment was swallowed whole by the heartbreak of seeing my baby that evening after his long first day in the OR. I wanted so badly to hold him again. I wanted him to look up at me and smile again to tell me that he is happy in this world. That he is glad God brought him here to be with us. But I never heard his smile tell me that. The only words his face spoke of were pain and emptiness. I heard him down in the place of my heart that he will always hold and in that place he told me... I didn't think this was what it was supposed to be like. Is this what being in a family is? Is this what love feels like mama?

 I wanted to grab him out of that incubator. To rescue him from all of his cords and tubes and tell him, "NO, baby boy! This is not what your life will be like. This is not what family is. Family is a beautiful thing. It is safe and warm. Love is hugs, warm cuddles, and bedtime stories. It's stroller rides and this little piggie games. Life will not always be like this my child, I promise. I promise you Landon.

But I couldn't even pick my child up.

I remember longing to be able to place him back in my womb. He was safe there. I could protect him and hold him there.

I felt so helpless.

As I ran that long hill I forced myself to keep remembering. I prayed that God would take me back and heal those places in my heart that still bleed from the memories. Bring healing to them Lord.

Bring healing to the day when we had to say good bye to our baby. Bring healing to that mommies heart that walked empty and lifeless into that OR waiting room. Bring healing to the moment we saw him again for the first time.

I remembered how I approached his bed like it was an open coffin. My baby wasn't in there. My baby couldn't possibly be in there. I remembered praying that he wasn't. I remembered how I actually asked God to somehow keep his heart beating, but Lord please take his spirit. Please take his spirit to Heaven for a while and hold him on your lap. Read him his favorite book, "On the Night You Were Born". Read him the page where it says Heaven blew every trumpet and played every horn, on the wonderful marvelous night you were born. I can't read it to him here God. I can't read it to him like this, so please take him for tonight Lord. Take him until it's safe for him to come back into his broken little body. Protect him from this Father PLEASE please Jesus.

I remembered feeling numb so many days.

I remembered how I would go into the bathroom and break down because I didn't want Ryan to have to see me like that... again.

I wanted to be done remembering. I wanted to just focus on the race, on the hill that was in front of me. On getting up it and seeing my family, but God told me no. He told me this was needed. He whispered to my heart that the finish line wont matter unless I know the journey it took to get there.

I agreed.

So I went there. I went to the memory that I push as far back whenever it returns to the front of my mind. The one that haunts me. The images are still so vivid in my mind, I know I will never forget.

We were so excited when they told us that Landon was going to get his chest tube out. Having any cord or tube removed is such a victory. We told the doctors that we wanted to stay in the room while they removed it. A couple nurses came in and stood around Landon's bed. I stood by his head and let him grab my finger with his tiny frail hand. Ryan stood right behind me with the camera. For some reason we thought this was going to be a moment we would want to remember. We thought it was a big day for Landon, his first step to recovery. One of the nurses began peeling off the bandage, revealing his incision, the doorway to his broken heart, for the first time. I bent down and put my mouth right by his ear and whispered to him to be brave and that we were there and we love him so much. Then we watched in horror as our heavily sedated child writhed in pain. They told us that he would hardly feel anything, but I knew right away that they lied. My child was hurting and because he couldn't speak, they didn't listen to him. Landon would open his mouth to scream in pain but because of the breathing tube lodged down his throat, no cry could be heard. But I heard him. Just ask any mama who has had an abortion and if she is honest to the depths of her soul she will tell you that she has heard the silent cries of her unborn child. Some people try to take the voice away from innocent life, but they cannot steal it out of a mothers heart. I leaned down closer to Landon and kept telling him that I hear him. No one else could hear him, but I could hear him and those silent cries of agony will forever haunt me. He squeezed my finger so hard. He squeezed it with more strength then he should of had. He couldn't even open his eyes because of the access fluid in his body, but my heart broke inside when tears somehow found their way out and slid down his swollen cheeks.

As I was climbing my physical hill and also this emotional one in my mind I no longer had the energy to cry, but my heart was shedding a thousand tears. God how can I bring healing to that? He replied, if you could go back what would you tell him today? I thought about it. I thought about these past 5 months that we have been able to keep him in the safety of our home. I would tell him that the pain really wouldn't last forever. That someday his days will be filled with laughter. That each morning his face will brighten as mama or papa lift him out of his crib and welcome him into a new day. I would tell him of the adventures we would go on.

The walks in the park

 The laughter that he would be a part of
 How if he wants, mama will hold him all day
I would tell him how much fun his life will be and how we will pour out all of our love on him.

Just hold on baby boy, if you just hold on and keep fighting there will soon be a finish line. The hill is so hard now, but there is a beautiful life waiting for you at the top.

As I was thinking and pondering over all of these things my thoughts were occasionally interrupted when I would meet someone walking up the hill. I tried my best to encourage each one. I marveled at how the statement "Because with God no hill is too high to climb" and the proof of my Landon's picture on the back of my shirt gave them the encouragement to start running again. They would soon pass me and I just thought that was the most beautiful thing. It brought me to tears that even out on that long hill my child was inspiring others to keep running the long hill God has placed in front of them.

The hill just seemed to keep going. I turned the corner and there was more hill that I had never climbed before, but I knew just at the top was my family. Oh how I hoped they were there.

I turned another corner and soon I saw them. My mom, brother, Ryan and Landon. I threw my hands up in the air so they could see me and then they jumped to their feet and began cheering.

It was amazing to see them! It reminded me that I was taking this one for the team. I was running this race not for myself, but for our whole family. In so many ways it was personal healing for me, but I wouldn't be running this long hill without Ryan and he was the one who encouraged me to run the physical hill too. We do everything together. We share in life's sorrows and we rejoice together in life's victory's.

As I ran around the university I took in the beauty of the hill top. It was magnificent. 

As I finished my treck around the campus and began propelling down the hill I thought about our many hill top experiences over the past 5 months.

I remembered how scared we were to bring Landon home, but how our fear slowly faded as we began to sink into and discover our new family. We would study this new tiny human who all of a sudden holds a forever place in our family and in our hearts.

We couldn't believe how perfectly he fit with us. Soon we forgot what life was like before him.

You forget the long hill you've climbed until some little hills rear their heads in front of your smooth perfect path. That happened to me during the race. Out of nowhere I would feel the familiar change of an incline and I would adjust myself to the larger of amount of energy that was needed to make it. I remembered how sometimes even little hills can feel like monsters trying to swallow your joy.

I thought of the horrible day that I took Landon to the pediatrician for what was supposed to be a very quick procedure, but it turned into me holding my screaming bleeding baby for close to 2 hours. See

I thought about the days we have where the stress of it all just seems too overwhelming.

The days when I worry about Landon's color or his raspy breathing.

The days when the jealousy that comes from seeing other women getting to experience the joys of their first weeks with their little one that I never got to experience try to pull me over to the side of bitterness.

All of these things are small in comparison to our time in the hospital but they are all part of our long journey. I have found that you can never compare journeys by the size of the hills others are climbing. The size of the hill doesn't matter when you're climbing it and all you can think about is your waning strength.

I got over each of the small hills just as I do with the ones in life. I relied on God for strength and took one step at a time.

People say that running marathons is hard, but really it isn't complicated at all. All you do is the same thing over and over and over. I believe that anyone can run just as long as they know how to place one foot in front of the other. The hard part is that you have to keep doing that one thing for a VERY long time. I think that is why running is so relatable to life. God will give us the strength we need for each day if we would just stop looking at the huge journey in front of us and start focusing on each tiny step at a time. Our long hill taught us that. It's not about reaching the finish line. It's the journey in between the start and finish that makes life beautiful. It's each forced step that causes your foot to blister a little more, each hard trial that makes you a little bit wiser.

God reminded me of our journey and because I, in a way, got to hammer out all or our hardest and most joyful days, the finish line was more than just the end of a physical race. It was closure. It was healing. Not that I don't still have the traumatic memories floating around in my mind or that they don't still hurt to think of, but I know that God has made even those horrible times beautiful. They served a purpose.

They brought me here...

Ryan caught up to me and we ran a tiny ways hand in hand before he took off so he could be at the finish line.

I will never forget that moment. I started crying as soon as I got to Landon and my tears only increased when I heard people cheering for me, cheering Landon's name! It was so beautiful! I would push my child up any hill or run any race with him, but I desperately need you guys. It was a marvelous example to me of prayer. How when we pray for each other it gives us the strength and encouragement to keep running our races.

Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                       Hebrews 12:1

I was finally able to stop running. It was finished. I finished it with my Landon. I laid my head on the handle of the stroller and sobbed. Letting the last of the emotional build up go. A woman who I met during the race (she asked if the baby in the picture was mine) came and put her arm around me and said, "this must be Landon." I just smiled.

Yes, this is my long hill and he is so worth every tear, every blister, every drop of sweat, every sleepless night, every horrifying thing that God will put me through to teach me that this is what love feels like.

If I could go back Landon. If I could go back to your first day when you asked me if this is what love feels like, I would tell you yes. Sometimes love feels like pain. Love sometimes doesn't make sense to us. It's painful and it demands every once of strength we have. I would tell you that sometimes the abundant life looks alot more like death. I would tell you that the best families give each other what is best even if they know it is going to hurt the one they love the most. I can't tell you that if you love Jesus Landon your life will be easy. I can guarantee you that it will not be, but look at what we accomplished today baby boy. We finished the race and no race is worth running if the journey to the finish line is easy. You will see people in your life blame God for their pain, but you remember child that pain has purpose and if you let it God will take your pain and paint it into a beautiful masterpiece using colors that only Heaven has seen. Remeber Landon.... remember today.

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