progression | part 3

december 14

we had to do it alone.

web ready-003

we were alone when we summoned his body from the earth, and now, alone, we return the sum of our bodies to the earth and water and air and elements.

web ready-005

these ashes feel hideously indecent, powdered triune nakedness.

web ready-007

web ready-009

web ready-010i pour into my hand and they slip through my fingers, soft and caressing like a baby’s touch.

web ready-011

web ready-013

fine like baby powder.
fine like powdered baby.

web ready-015

web ready-017

i strew my heart and my passion and my future and my body along this river. spiritual and carnal comingle, cold rain and hot tears. the water and ash make mud in my hand, and this is creation. i hold the stuff of adam.

creation and desolation, beginning and end.

web ready-018 dyptich

alpha omega is here, in this infinite moment.
distilled and destroyed image of god.
breath and dust.

i breathe. i choke hot dusty sorrow. it is finished.

web ready-023

but it is also beginning.

web ready-024

a small seed of rainbow, the root of ash, nestled in the womb, a circular room that circles from beginning to end. sky’s life began and ended here; ash’s life begins … and begins again. old mud is formed into a baby who is not yet powdered, bringing forth order from chaos.

web ready-028

web ready-032

i have two babies: one knit into order, the other flung into chaos. earth and water and breath course through the baby of order. the baby of chaos is in the earth and air and sky. my sky child, and my ash child.

web ready-034

a paradox:
my baby who is ash is not called ash, and my baby who is called ash is not yet ash.

web ready-035the beginning and the end curve together into a circle, and binding them in orbit is love.



we gave ourselves the entire plane trip to pick out a name for our 12 day old, yet-unnamed baby, forgetting that the plane would have no internet access. how the heck do you name a baby without the internet?!

the process went something like this:
watch an episode of seinfeld.
“what name do you like the best right now?”
“you answer first.”
“let’s watch another seinfeld.”
(lather. rinse. repeat.)

web ready-005

ashal was a name that we had briefly considered before sky was born, but never even reached the “let’s research this name” phase. basically, we wanted to call him ash, but give him a slightly more dignified full name. “asher” had a little too much R action with our last name (asherrrrrroberrrrrts), so ashal was a lovely alternative.

web ready-011

my dad did some research on the name. (cause, you know, he had internet. such a useful invention.) he found that it means “tamarisk tree” in hebrew, and “a flower in the heavens” in arabic.

web ready-017

joel asked why the baby even needed a middle name. i informed him that depriving a child with the ridiculously common last name of “roberts” of the many internet-age options a middle age name provides is not very nice. joel capitulated.

web ready-026

ashal’s has haitian heritage, so i used our half-hour layover in phoenix to look up popular haitian names for inspiration.

unrelatedly, the phoenix airport carpet is weird. (though i suppose a pdx native can’t really boast in the matter of airport carpets.)

web ready-026-2

and there, right near the top of the list.

god with us.

it all came together.
web ready-033

today we’re snuggling our little flower from the heavens, who brought the hope of god-with-us back into our life after a desolate year of pain and grief.

web ready-039i wondered if i would ever say this again.

merry christmas.


don’t go chasing after the grand theme, the idea, i told my students, as if it is separate from the story itself. the idea or ideas behind the story must come to you through the experience of the novel and not as something tacked onto it.
~ azar nafisi, reading lolita in tehran

would you like to know why i haven’t written much lately? maybe you hadn’t noticed that i haven’t written much lately – i’ve never exactly been religious in the area of blog regularity. so i’m informing you now: i haven’t written very much of anything lately.

my goal in life is to have a story worth telling, and i’m waiting for the moral to my story. i want to tell a story that makes sense, written in the past tense. a story with pathos, yes, but past-pathos, articulated beautifully instead of raw and incoherent. i’m waiting to blog about my life until my life starts to make sense.

because, honestly, very little in our life makes sense right now. our baby died a year ago, and we are parents with no children.  i am in school right now, but with no major or definite course of study. joel spent the last 5 years in nursing school, and now he can’t find a nursing job. i am taking hormones to prepare my body to induce lactation when we adopt, but we have no adoption prospects; in the hormonal sense i am pregnant right now, but with no baby.

these are paradoxes, not parables. stories without morals, they are messy and confusing, littered together through our lives like multi-colored confetti at a birthday party (but without the presents or cake).

but what if the point of the story isn’t in the story, but is the story.
what if the story cannot be compressed into a point?
what if trials are not, at their root, lessons in character development?
perhaps my story is worth telling, not because of its resolution, but simply because it is my story.

i wonder how often we do this to god’s story. i’m not denying that there are lessons to be learned and morals to ponder, but perhaps we are often so eager to find the truth in god’s story that we miss the truth that is god’s story. a messy, confusing, sometimes contradictory story that doesn’t always make perfect sense … kind of like mine.

this is the place in the blog where i would like to insert a pithy last paragraph to tie it together, because it feels very unfinished  right now. i didn’t address mindfulness like i intended to, i didn’t articulate and defend that part about god very well, and on the whole i feel a bit insecure about hitting the publish button.

but maybe that’s the point.




fallen leaf dead sadness damaged stillbirth fall autumn

one of my favorite fall/christmas traditions, one that i’ve kept every year since i was 6 or 7, is to read straight through the first 4 christmas in my heart books, delightfully and unashamedly sappy collections of christmas stories. the storylines are quite predictable; they set up a winter conflict, and end with its resolution on christmas day (or christmas eve, to change things up a bit.) estranged lovers find love, sad people find happiness, orphans find parents, and sad, bitter, childless people (who usually lost a child at christmas) find heartwarming orphans in informal ceremonies that usually involve some combination of surprise snowfalls, unexpected deliveries of christmas trees and clear, starry nights.

this tradition is among the many that will not be kept this year. others may include but are not limited to:
listening to christmas music
decorating for fall
decorating for christmas
watching christmas movies
sending christmas cards
and being merry.

i will probably keep the traditions of eggnog chai (because i’m a hedonist) and buying christmas presents for people (because it’s so darn fun, and there’s no rule that they have to be wrapped in christmasy paper).

the fiery leaves burn; the encroaching darkness threatens to swallow; the christmas songs mock. and the traditions? they lie dormant, waiting to be awakened some other season. the anticipation is a cruel shadow of last year’s anticipation; preparing for christmas was synonymous with preparing for my christmas baby.

in real life, orphans rarely drop out of the sky on christmas eve, bringing with them snow and hope. and even if they did, orphans are not cure-alls.

dare i admit that i’m not excited to celebrate another christmas baby? a christmas baby who got to live for 33 whole years? that’s the same amount of time that my husband has lived. 33 years is a long time to have with your baby.

don’t misunderstand me – i don’t reject that christmas baby.
i don’t hate that christmas baby.
i don’t deny that christmas baby.

on the contrary, i trust that christmas baby’s ability to find a different way to reach me: one that doesn’t involve … well … christmas. i trust emmanuel’s ability to transcend songs and scenes and celebrations of which he is the subject.

maybe i’ll find christmas again someday, but it probably won’t be this year. and i know that, even though i’ve lost christmas for now, even though i’ve lost my baby for now, i haven’t lost christ. and though the sky is obscured behind snowless clouds, i haven’t lost it forever, either.


journal entry from april 19, 2011

well, we’re pregnant. 5 weeks and 5.5 days pregnant, but who’s counting? (6 weeks on thursday!)

i’ve been so anxious about this pregnancy. it was unexpected (kind of). the timing’s not just right. i expected to have more trouble getting pregnant – or at least to experience “trying”. we just experienced “we’re tired of birth control” and here we are. or rather, here i am – since joel’s at his first night of mother baby clinicals tonight. ironic, no?

so i’ve been having a hard time with God for the past few months. sometimes mad, sometimes confused … just your run-of-the-mill spiritual desert (to appropriate a cliche). and then … i discovered we might be pregnant. and i begged. i allowed myself to get so emotionally attached to the idea (before the embryo even attached itself to me) and i cried and asked God for it to be true. i took a pregnancy test on april 6th and 8th. negative. last tuesday: negative (and yet …). last wednesday: negative (but is that a line?). last thursday: 2 positive tests. every negative test i cried and asked God to give us a baby now. but after the positives, i hopped straight to worry again. will it be ok? i can’t go through a miscarriage again. does my cramping mean it will die? what do i do if i start bleeding?

joel urged me to thank God and be patient, but i couldn’t see how i was supposed to thank God for a gift that wasn’t yet fully given, and could be lost any day. we already lost this gift once. i decided would thank him when i had something more to thank him for than an extra line on a pregnancy test.

but i had an epiphany tonight. i found an oasis in my desert, and i realized that God did already give this gift. this baby isn’t a gift promised – it is a gift given. if we have this baby, and in 4 years it is taken away by cancer or an accident, we will always be thankful for the time we had with it. but my time with it doesn’t start at birth, or at quickening, or even the first heartbeat. it is here now – each day i spend with it, exploring the mystery of early pregnancy and motherhood as my little it explores its new life – creating organs and shapes and a heartbeat.

and furthermore, i’m excited to participate in this awesome act of life-creation. God and i (and joel, to a different extent) are the only ones experiencing this little person right now. i am partnering with God. i am valuable. and i am thankful! so thankful that i had today with my baby. thankful for the past almost-week. for the past almost-6 weeks. God knows that i was already a mother when i got pregnant this time. God knows how much every “when you become a mother” has hurt, how a mysterious being came to be and disappeared within me over 5 years ago. and here we are again.

i’m not mad at God. i’m thankful! i’m thankful for today with my baby! i’m thankful that we get to have a baby right before it would have been convenient! i’m thankful for Joel, for everything about him, and that he’s taking a mother baby class – possibly helping in a childbirth right now.

tonight, i cannot do anything about the future of this baby, so i’m putting it in God’s hands. i’m thankful that He will accept it, and accept me.

so much has changed in a year. spiritually, i’m in a very different place: a better, more honest place. but God met me where i was at that day, and in the following weeks and months of scary early pregnancy. i had no idea then how relevant that message would be, and it is amazing to me to see how i was given the perspective and opportunity to be fully present in the short time that we had with sky.

and though this is the hardest thing i can imagine going through, God continues to sustain and remind. i am not thankful for what has happened in my story right now, but i am thankful for the comfort that has allowed me to survive this story. and i am thankful for the 39 weeks and 5 days i spent with our gift.


i wonder if it snows in heaven.

i wonder if babies who die become insta-adults, or if they grow up in a huge heavenly orphanage, playing with Jesus and being loved on by bible characters.

i wonder if he can see the same stars i see.

i wonder what language he is learning. language shapes thought in profound ways … are there even words for “i miss you” in the language of heaven?

i wonder if he misses me.

i wonder where our lost time together is stored, and how we will get it back when time is no more.

i wonder what he would have feared, and what i would have feared for him.

i wonder if it hurt, if he was afraid … or if he was secure in my heartbeat until his stopped. i will never know.

i wonder what hurts would have taught him to forgive. i wonder who he would have hurt, and how they will learn to forgive now. i wonder how i would have hurt him, and what it would have felt like to be forgiven by him.

i wonder who his siblings will be, and what big brother fights games secrets talks jokes wrestles hugs will never be.

i wonder if he would have married, rosy cooing girl-baby somewhere who will never know his love. i wonder if she will marry someone else, and if someone else will love her as well as he would. i wonder who gets to be her mother-in-law.

i wonder what children and grandchildren will never exist, and if the lack of their existence matters. i wonder if I can mourn people who will never be, or if there’s something sacrilegious about that.

i wonder what career field will miss his innovations and camaraderie. i wonder who will fill his office, or studio, or cubicle, or truck, or apron.

i wonder what sports teams will be short one player, which choirs will be missing a tenor. or maybe sports and music aren’t his thing. i wonder.

i wonder if the little boys and girls who would be his friends will feel the sky-shaped hole in their life.

i wonder if his name is still sky, or if he has a new name that i don’t know.

i wonder what causes him to wonder.

i wonder if it’s spring in heaven, and his baby eyes are seeing flowers for the first time.


there is a term in the baby loss community that I love.

rainbow baby.

isn’t it beautiful? i never say it out loud; i whisper, reverent. rainbow baby.

rainbow baby is the next one.
rainbow baby is the flickering candle in darkness, the wavering mirage, the misty purple mountain, the cry in the supermarket.
rainbow baby is the genesis promise of life, the resurrection of a dream, the beauty when chaos rains, the proof of a sun.
rainbow baby is the trembling light of hope refracted through tears of grief.

whisper it, rainbow baby. they are words of courage.

some say a baby isn’t all that. a baby is long nights no sex weird smells sore nipples and sacrifice but it’s worth it in the end.

i say no. a baby is a rainbow.

they say you don’t know what it’s like. they say wait until you’re a mother and you’ll see. they say you’ll be tired, you’ll want a break. they say you have no idea.

i say watch me. watch me make my rainbow. watch me conquer the choking clouds of fear to live at peace with my rainbow. watch me bring forth my rainbow in pain and joy. and watch me thank God and hope and heaven every morning for my rainbow, made more precious by the tears of pain in which it is conceived. i may have no idea what it is like to live with a baby, but i know what is like to die with a baby. and one whose motherhood has died with her baby may not know the trials of living with a baby … but i know without a doubt that i will embrace the rain with my rainbow.

during my pregnancy with sky i bought the yarn to make this blanket. it has been my project since he died, healing and connecting me to him, and i only recently realized … it’s a rainbow.

rainbow crochet baby blanket

i may save it for when we have another child, or i may give it away to one of my many pregnant friends. i don’t know. i don’t need to know that now because, thank God, there will always be rainbows.


food and shelter notwithstanding, there’s a lot that i don’t have these days.

i don’t have spit up stains on my clothes.

i don’t have sling tying skills.

i don’t have any idea how to “encourage latch.”

i don’t have caps in my power sockets or gates on my stairs.

i don’t have diaper change arguments with joel.

i also don’t have diapers.

i don’t have an infant seat in the car or pacifiers in the glove compartment.

i don’t have to “sleep when the baby sleeps.”

i don’t have memories of the first look, the first diaper, the first grin.

i don’t have sky.

but i do have a story.

it is a horror story … to this day, some of the awful moments in this story make my stomach drop and my eyes widen in terror.

it is a murder mystery … back and forth, i wonder who is the culprit in sky’s death: myself, God, the universe, the occasional tylenol … and, like in any good mystery, i get the impression that at the end of this story i will find some unimaginable plot twists.

it is a fantasy … a brief wild journey into this fanciful elusive dreamworld of parenthood. sometimes still, like susan in the chronicles of narnia, i can’t quite believe that it was real.

more than anything – this will sounds cliché but i don’t care – it is a romance. a great epic of love running many tangled directions … between a husband and wife, a mother and child, a father and child, a couple and their family, a family and their community, a God and his children and their child who is also his child (because the family of God is confusing like that).

but – and here is my confession – i don’t want this story of love, with all its tangles and intensity. i want another story, a less interesting story. i want a halcyon biography so idyllic that my telling of it would put you to sleep, and you wouldn’t be reading this post because i didn’t write this post because i’m too busy uploading baby pictures to facebook.

and that is where i am today, sitting and pouting in the middle of this transcendent epic of love. i would trade it in a heartbeat for a few mundane spit up stains.


as i endeavor to make this place a resource for other grieving parents, it would be unfortunate to limit posts to only my own thoughts. some very wise friends responded to me after last week’s little insecurity fest post, and were gracious enough to give me permission to share. they wrote some beautiful words on the significance of telling the stories of our little ones.

“one thing i have learned, on the road paved with losses and deaths and lots of love and tears, is that God authors our stories to be told, that the telling of stories is how we express Him to the world. the telling of His son’s story has woven its way into yours, just as sky’s story will always be intrinsically linked with yours.

[…] parents are storytellers in so many senses of the word.”

~ kelli

“don’t be strong, lani. your strength is not enough. don’t endeavor to hold shattered pieces together. let them fall to the ground so the Savior can pick them up and put them back together according to his design and by his own strength so that he might truly be glorified. we are called to be weak. what a relief, and yet how hard that is for us strong women. but he promised that his grace is sufficient, so now comes the daily challenge to trust his promise and rest our vulnerable selves in his hands. praise God that his power is made perfect in our weakness and praise God for the times where we truly become aware of our weakness in order that he might be better glorified in us. He doesn’t glory in leaving us weak, but in giving us the strength and power we require.”

~ michelle

“sky has one massive extended family, and we want to know. it’s joining the ranks of family stories at all of the reunions, and in the scrapbooks, and when we get old and gray and remember bits and pieces of life in between our jello at denny’s.

don’t call it momentary insanity. call it more-than-momentary sanity. […] we want to remember him, because his story is part of our story.”

~ bekah

wise friends.

i mentioned our night nurse from the hospital, heather, briefly in sky’s birth story. as she was preparing to leave after our second night she asked to hold sky, and spoke these words:

“every baby brings a gift into the world. i think his gift is understanding … and love.”

a prophecy from a kind obstetric nurse. sky’s story compressed a lifetime of meaning into a few womb-encased months, and i will spend the rest of my life exploring and discovering that eternal meaning. and sharing it.

every lost baby brings a gift.
every lost baby has a story.


adapted from a 2am journal entry:

i feel such a burning loss tonight, an angry sad
my heart is torn and my breast cries out for the injustice
my stomach craves relief from the gnawing pain
my leaden lungs are too tired to inflate
my arms ache with emptiness
and my head with confusion

i cry, but tears bring no relief
they struggle from my eyes and crawl back into my ears
soaking my face in wet shame

in the valley of the shadow of death
that comes at 2am like no other time
i fear no evil
i have already lost my child
what is left to fear?

i gaze on evil
i cannot rise to meet it
i lie down
exhausted and apathetic

what is more evil than a naked and helpless child
robbed of his life
stripped of relationships
betrayed and strangled by the cord of his lifeblood?

this is not design
this is not providence
this is not God’s will

this is evil
wholly bad
defies order

the enigma of God is not how a good God can cause evil to happen


the enigma of God is in His impossible promise to make the evil into good
to restore moments that are forever lost
to unbreak the shattered pieces
to balance scales tipped with the weight of the universe

God promised.
(the little child cries in ringing whine, “but you proooomised!!!”)

and if He could forget this promise before my son died
He cannot now

i cry every day in ringing whine
you promised
remember, you promised
i won’t let you forget that you promised
i don’t know how you’re going to do it but you promised so you have to
so there.