Friday, October 21, 2016

Dear Little Saint, I Haven't Forgotten You

p a x

October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month.  I miscarried at 7 weeks on December 15, 2015.  I'm due with our "Rainbow Baby" any day now, but I wanted to make sure I had a chance to get these words in writing before he or she arrives.  

Dear Little Saint,

I want you to know that I haven't forgotten you.  August 5th, your due date, sort of came and went without us doing anything substantial, but I was thinking about you then just as I am now.  

You'd be going on three months old at this point... Instead we are waiting for your little brother or sister to be born any day now.  As excited as I am to meet the new baby, there's still a part of me that knows that you should be here too.  

I know I never got to hold you or snuggle you.  We lost you only a few weeks after discovering that you existed, and the ache is still very much present.  You are you.  A unique creation, made from love whom I never got to meet, but a real person with an eternal soul,  You were there, and then you were gone.  This pregnancy has definitely helped me to heal, but in no way can this baby ever replace you.

Little Saint, I haven't forgotten you.  Every morning on our drive to daycare your big sister and I say our morning prayers and always ask for the intercession of Our Lady and you, our Little Saint, in the intentions of the day.  What a blessing it is to know that you and Mama Mary are taking our prayers and petitions to Jesus for us daily!  Thank you for those prayers.  You know how much we need them!

Before your little brother or sister is born, your Dad and I knew that it was important that you, our Little Saint, had a name.  It's a name that's been on my heart since that cold night in December when I took my grief to the adoration chapel and God whispered your name.

And so, little David, my Little Saint, please know that I haven't forgotten you and that I love you.  I know that we'll meet each other some day, and that brings me so much joy and peace.

Please keep praying for us!  We love you forever.  

Sunday, June 5, 2016

20 weeks along & 16 months old

p a x

Somehow I blinked and I'm 20 weeks pregnant.  Twenty weeks!  That's pretty much the halfway point.  How did so much time pass without me really noticing?

When I was pregnant with Alexandria I remember feeling like it took forever to get to 20 weeks.  I would check my "What to Expect" app every Wednesday morning to find out the size of the baby and to watch that very perky lady give me two minutes of insight into utero.

While I do check the app from time to time to make sure I've got the right week in my mind and to know what food best represents the baby's size at this point, this time is different.  It's not that I'm ignoring this little one inside of me, I think time just feels different because I have an almost 16 month old who is growing up fast and changing everyday!

Bubbles before Bedtime
Somehow we blinked and our daughter went from an army crawling baby to a toddler whose vocabulary and personality have just exploded over the past couple of months.  It's like she's not just a baby any more, she's a little person with likes and dislikes, favorite books and toys, and is very excited about exploring the world around her.

I haven't written down all of the words that she can say yet, but I'm pretty sure we're well over 30 words at this point.  She has started telling us what she wants to do, putting together simple sentences like "This is a book." or "This is a ball".  Sometimes she just gets straight to the point with an enthusiastic "ELMO!!"

And boy is she full of personality!  She loves playing outside, especially in her new baby pool, and I've never seen a toddler so engrossed in books before.  She has two babies that she takes care of, and I'm pretty sure she's already got the big sister thing down pat.  She also gives the best hugs in the world, which melts my heart every.single.time.

Two years ago I took a pregnancy test during my lunch break.  My husband waited with me in the bathroom, and when we saw that big fat positive on the stick, there's no way that I could have imagined what life would be like a year or two from that moment.

One year ago when Alexandria was just 4 months old, I had no idea what sort of adventures we would be in for as she grew into a toddler.  And now as I watch her learn and grow I realize that there's even more excitement, even more love, even more wonder and awe ahead of us.


God willing, this time next year we'll have a 2 year old and a 7 month old in the house.  At this point my mind cannot compute that information right now and I'm not even going to try to imagine what life will look like in the Johnston Headquarters.

But I do know that it's going to be beautiful and wonderful.  There will be overwhelming days, and there will be peaceful moments.  There will be chaos and plenty of imperfection, but I'm confident that there will also be a lot of joy, laughter, and love.

Thank you Lord for the gift of this vocation!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Saints, Surprises, & Surrender

p a x

Every morning on our drive to daycare Alexandria (1yr), and I say morning prayers.  Usually it's just simple things like thanking God for another day, asking that God keep us safe and bring us back together at the end of the day, and for any special intentions I can remember at 8am.  We always close by saying "We ask these things through the intercession of Our Lady and our Little Saint..." followed by 3 Hail Mary's, a Glory Be and then a litany of our family's patron saints:

We plan on making a patron saint wall in our house and ordering these icons from
St. Thomas Aquinas (my husband's confirmation saint), St. Faustina (my confirmation saint), St. Scholastica (Alexandria's birthday saint) & St. Catherine of Siena (patroness of miscarriages).  

We go through this litany every morning, and I've really enjoyed starting this tradition with my daughter.  She will even throw in an "A-Muh!" (amen) at the end for us.

Around the first week of February we were going through our traditional litany when I heard myself say, "St. John Paul II, pray for us.. St. Kateri Tekawitha, pray for us."  And then I said out loud, "Huh.  Where did they come from?"  Sure, JPII is a family favorite.  I'm a Theology of the Body junkie after all, so adding him to the list seemed appropriate.  But St. Kateri Tekawitha?  I didn't know anything about her except that she's the first Native American Saint and that her feast day is some time in July.  Why on earth would she come to mind?

I sort of shrugged it off , but we kept them in the litany from that point on.  Little did I know, this wasn't some kind of fluke.  St. Kateri and John Paul II knew something that I didn't.  

Fast forward to February 18th...

I took a pregnancy test.  It was positive.  
I'm due on October 21, the day St. Kateri was canonized a saint.  
October 22 is St. John Paul II's feast day.  

Well played, Holy Spirit.

This pregnancy is different from the other two.  For one, this is the first time we are really and truly surprised that we are pregnant.  We had very much been planning to wait the doctor's recommended 3 months after the miscarriage before trying again, if not longer.  So when I read the word "Pregnant" on the test, my first reaction was fear and worry... what if I had put this baby in danger by simply not waiting the amount of time my doctor had suggested?  Thankfully, my husband was incredibly encouraging (and continues to be) and reminded me that no matter what this child is a gift.  

Any woman who experienced a loss of any kind will tell you that the next pregnancy is just different.  I hesitated to accept the news, I struggled to open my heart to the excitement and joy out of fear that it would be stripped away.  Lent was a journey of healing, rediscovering joy, and realizing that this child deserves to know that he or she was loved from the moment of conception.  Fear can't  get in the way of opening my heart.

This Friday I will be 15 weeks pregnant.  There has been plenty of morning sickness, nausea, and heartburn... which I'm grateful for, because it means things are moving along.  Yesterday I had the joy of hearing this little one's heartbeat for the first time, which gave me a renewed sense of peace.  While I'm not sure the anxiety or questions of "what if?" will ever go away completely, I do feel like I'm able to surrender my worries into God's hands.

I think one of the greatest comforts of this pregnancy so far has been knowing that we have a Little Saint in heaven praying for his younger brother/sister, and the intercession of St. Kateri and St. John Paul II.  No matter what happens, God knew I needed prayers even before I knew I was pregnant, and that gives me hope!

For those struggling with infertility, hurting from miscarriages and the loss of children, and those who are longing for a child of your own... Please know that you and your intentions have been close to my heart, and I will continue to pray for you throughout this pregnancy and beyond.

For all of you who have been praying for our family since we lost our baby in December, I cannot express adequately how meaningful your prayers are to me.  Your prayers, encouragement, and this baby have helped joy return to my heart.

be at peace
walk on water
be not afraid


Jesus I Trust in You!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

On Not Finishing Everything Before *30*

p a x

Two weeks ago I turned 30 years old.

That's right.  The big 3-0.  No longer a twenty-something...just thirty.  Gasp! 

Surprisingly, I'm OK.  I survived the transition.  The clump of gray hairs on the top of my head seems a little more shiny than usual, but other than that I'm OK.

As my birthday came closer, people asked the same typical question, " are you feeling about turning THIRTY?"  I responded with the typical "Eh..."  I mean sure, saying the word "thur-tee" leaves a slightly sour taste in my mouth, but I think that's mostly because 30 used to seem so far away.  And now here it is... with no where for me to run.

Yet there was also a very satisfying feeling about jumping into this new decade.  It wasn't like I lived under a rock for the last ten years.  A lot of life happened in the past decade.  A lot of GOD happened in the past decade.  

Some time after I had turned 20 I made the obligatory "Before I'm 30" list.  I decided to go looking for it in my box of journals because I know that there are things that I can definitely mark off the list, such as: 
  • Travel to a Spanish speaking country (Studied in Costa Rica 2007 & lived in Mexico for a year)
  • Help someone become Catholic (RCIA sponsor in 2012)
  • Discern my vocation (Got married 10/5/2013)
  • Travel to Rome & have an audience with the Pope (Best. Honeymoon. Ever.)
There were others on there that I know I didn't complete such as Publish a book, but I did write an 85 page thesis for my MA Theology degree in 2014, so maybe that can count? :)  

It isn't uncommon for people to have a Bucket List, or just a "things I want/need to get done" within X number of years.  Whether it's things we want to do before we graduate from college, before marriage or kids, or things we want to get done before the next decade sneaks up on us, it's not a bad thing to have goals that motivate and inspire us.

My 20th Birthday...
Taking Selfies before it was cool.
But sometimes when that deadline arrives it can be tempting to only focus on what we haven't accomplished.  As my birthday got closer it was really hard not to think about the fact that I'm not 30-50lbs lighter (hellooo baby weight + the lbs I never lost in my 20s).  I have an incredible list of things that I can be proud of and thankful for, but for some reason it was really tempting to only focus on how I failed to reach a certain number on the scale.

Maybe someone else is disappointed that they never traveled as much as they wanted, or mastered a certain skill, or figured out their vocation in life yet.  That's OK.  Just because we don't do all the things in the time frame that we imagine for ourselves doesn't necessarily mean that we've wasted time or that we've failed at being a successful 20 or 30 something.

God is still at work.  For all that we don't mark off the lists, there are so many other things that, when we really take the time to think about it,  God has done in our lives.

I haven't been able to find my official "Before 30" list, but as I went through my old journals it reaffirmed what I shared several months ago:  In the darkest moments, God was at work.  In the happiest moments, God was at work.  When I was wrestling with God and discerning my vocation, God was at work.  When I felt like my plans were completely falling apart, God was most definitely at work.

If God can do all that in my 20s, then I'm certain that my 30s are going to be full of more surprises and adventures.  I'll probably make a "Before 40" list in case God needs any ideas, but I already know God's plans will be better and more fulfilling than what I can dream up for myself.   

No matter where you are in life, no matter how many things you have or haven't marked off your list, remember that God loves you too much to let you stay the same.  Our lives are more than a series of "Things to Do".  God has a plan and a purpose for each of us, no matter our age or state in life.  

be at peace
walk on water
be not afraid

Friday, January 29, 2016

It Hurts Because We're Pro-Life

p a x

First, I want to thank you all for your emails, comments, messages, and prayers after I shared about our miscarriage.  My husband and I have felt an incredible amount of support and love from many people over the last month, and we are grateful.

When people ask how I'm doing I typically respond "I have good days and bad days."  I've learned that grieving is a process.  There are days when I'm at peace, and there are days when it's hard to smile.  

I've been able to hold myself together pretty well, especially when I'm around other people.  Sure, there are a tears that leak out from time to time, but if I cry it isn't much more than that.  Last week, however, something happened.  I guess it was what folks call a "trigger" and it came without warning.

And I bawled for the first time since I lost the baby.

I've cried several times since December 15th, but nothing like this gut wrenching, sobbing, ugly cry.  Something set me off and it took me a moment before I was able to calm down and breathe again.

When the sobbing was over I realized two very important things.
  1. I needed to cry to that.  I needed a moment to feel the ache of losing our baby.  And
  2. hurting like this reminds me that I really am Pro-Life.  
It sounds almost silly to say it; it's such a simple truth.  We lost a baby.  It wasn't a foreign blob of tissue that perhaps someday might become worthy of our care... This was our child.

My husband and I have always been pro-life Catholics.  My high school led the March for Life in 2001, and I participated in the March all 4 years of high school.  Both of us have been part of various pro-life efforts in our parishes and dioceses throughout our lives.  We've never doubted that a human life is sacred and worth protecting "from the moment of conception to natural death."  It just makes sense.

But there's something about that "from the moment of conception" piece that I don't think really hit us until we lost this baby.

When we found out that we were pregnant with Alexandria we knew she was a baby human, no doubt.  But I think that as the pregnancy continued, it became more and more obvious that this was a little person who would make her "humanity" known to me especially by lodging her foot in my rib cage or punching the heck out of my stomach.

This time it was different.  I only carried the baby we lost for 7 weeks.  But just because that child hadn't yet formed 10 fingers and 10 toes, didn't make him any less human.  From the moment this baby was conceived there was a human being with a soul... a child of God worth loving and protecting.
As the great Dr. Seuss put it, 

"A person's a person no matter how small."   

The Catechism of the Catholic Church also articulates this beautifully:

And that is why this hurts.  We lost our child.  This was not a blob of tissue or a "potential" human being.  This was our child, and if we didn't believe that this was a person then I don't think we would feel the ache the way that we do.

I'm not grieving that we lost what maybe could have eventually turned into a baby.  That anyone would dare to say that's the reason why mothers who have experienced miscarriage are mourning is , quite frankly, insulting.

In a way, I'm grateful for this ache.  It hurts because we lost a child, a person with a soul.  But that also means that I have the great hope of meeting him someday, which brings me joy and peace.

Pray for us, Little Saint.  We look forward to meeting you someday!

be at peace
walk on water
be not afraid

Friday, January 15, 2016

This is Not the Cross I Wanted

p a x

On December 15th I had a miscarriage.  Over the past month I have gone through a roller coaster of emotions, and I am finding ways of healing a day at a time.  I believe that writing is going to be extremely helpful in the healing process.  I also want to be sensitive to those who may find reading this difficult.  I simply ask for your prayers and know that I am praying for all families who have lost children.  

This is not how the New Year was supposed to begin.

I was supposed to hear my baby's heartbeat for the first time at the beginning of this month.  I was supposed to be taking a picture of my 11 month old in her "I'm a Big Sister!" onesie and posting it online to announce Baby #2's arrival in August. I'm supposed to be dealing with morning sickness, mood swings, and strange cravings. 

But I'm not.

When we found out that we were pregnant with our second child, we were a little surprised (but not really), a little overwhelmed (2 under 2!), but so so happy.  We bought our first house and moved in a week after we got the news.  Everything was coming together.  Were finances about to get a little interesting?  Oh yes.  But our family was growing, and our new house was going to be filled with one more person to love. 

On December 15th it felt like all of this joy and excitement was ripped from us without any warning.

While my husband and I sat in the ER waiting for the doctors and nurses to come talk to us about what was happening, we started praying the rosary.  

First Sorrowful Mystery... The Agony in the Garden.  

And that's where we were. 

Looking back I see how we were having our own "Let this cup pass from me" moment.   I remember praying: This is an opportunity to show off, Lord.  You can save our baby, you can stop the bleeding and keep our Little One safe from harm.  We trust you and we have faith.  Please God save our child.  

But as things got progressively worse, I just went numb.  And in the midst of going through the miscarriage I kept thinking "I don't want this cross.  This hurts too much."

The day after our ER visit we went to the Adoration Chapel.  I wasn't really sure what I wanted to say.  Where Christ's words were much more profound: My God, why have you forsaken me?(Mt 27:46)  all I managed to get out in the moment was "You're a Jerk." And we left.  

Sure, I know that we're called to "take up [our] cross and follow Him" (Mt 16:24), but this is not the cross I wanted.  

I was angry.  I was hurt.  None of this made any sense.  Why wouldn't God let this cross pass from us?  This could have been a miraculous story of healing and trusting the Lord.  

A few days later, we drove from Kansas to Memphis to visit family for Christmas.  I got really sick along the way (we later found out I had bronchitis and an ear infection), so I was dealing with that on top of the physical and emotional discomfort from the miscarriage.  At one point the pain became overwhelming, but it was the first time I felt like I could approach the Lord in prayer without anger or hate:

Lord I didn't want this cross.  It is not something I would have chosen for myself.  But I desire to be close to You. If carrying this cross allows me to be more deeply united to you, I ask that you help me to embrace it... to carry it so close to my heart that it becomes intimately united with Yours.  Amen  

I wouldn't say the pain went away instantaneously, but praying those words in the backseat of the car led to a moment of peace and surrender.  It was just a moment, but it changed everything that has happened since.  

There are still moments when I am angry.  I am still hurt.  There are times at Mass when I just start crying because I still can't make sense of why this happened.  I didn't want this cross, and I know that there will be moments where it will seem impossible to carry it.  

But I am certain that this is a miraculous story of healing and trusting the Lord.  

I know that God's hand has been with us, guiding us, long before our child was conceived.  We have a "Little Saint" in heaven standing before the throne of God interceding for us, and that brings joy to my heart.  

There are difficult moments ahead, especially as our baby's due date draws nearer.

As many people have told me over the past month, the Blessed Mother knows what it is like to lose an innocent child.  In those moments when I'm so angry at God that I can't talk to Him, that's when going to her will be even more important.  There's still a lot of hurt, but there's also a lot of healing taking place.  

I really didn't want this cross.  It was my biggest fear.  At the same time, I draw so much hope and comfort from the fact that this cross, if I choose to embrace it, will bring me into a deeper union with the heart of our Lord.  

This is not the cross I wanted, but I know that He will help me carry it.  

Little Saint, pray for us.  

be at peace
walk on water
be not afraid


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Still At the Beginning {2nd Anniversary}

p a x

On October 5th my husband and I celebrated our second wedding anniversary.  Two years... I can hardly believe that much time has passed.  We've learned and experienced a lot in these first two years of marriage, but I also realize that we are still very much at the beginning of a lot of new adventures. 

A couple in our parish recently celebrated 50 years of marriage.  Before their renewal of vows, the priest spoke about how when a couple walks down the aisle and stands at the foot of the altar on their wedding day they have no idea what they are saying "yes" to.   

Sure, God willing they completely intend every word that is spoken during the exchange of vows, but there's no way for a newlywed couple to anticipate all that will come in the decades ahead, no way to know what that "yes" will cost them.  And if we did somehow get a sneak peak of the crosses married life would bring with it, would we be as enthusiastic to say "yes"?

I can't imagine all that this couple has experienced in the last 50 years of marriage, all of the joys and the sufferings...   but I'm sure they would say that it has been completely worth it.

One of the most beautiful things about the sacrament of marriage is that we receive the grace that we need to say "yes".   There's no way we can live out God's free, total, faithful, and fruitful love by our own efforts.  There's no way we could love unconditionally without some Divine Intervention.  The vocation we embrace as married couples is to help our spouses and our children become saints.  We need all the extra help we can get!!

The day before our anniversary this song from the movie "Anastasia" got stuck in my head.  

We were strangers starting out on a journey
Never dreaming what we'd have to go through
Now here we are and I'm suddenly standing
At the beginning with you
No one told me I was going to find you
Unexpected, what you did to my heart
When I lost hope, you were there to remind me
This is the start...

In two years of marriage we've learned a lot about ourselves, one another... life... but I know there's still a lot of learning to do.  God willing there are still decades worth of new experiences and life lessons ahead of us.  The best part of all of this is that we aren't facing any of this on our own. 

In our second year we experienced one of the most exciting new beginnings of all:  the birth of our first child.  I think Michael would agree that becoming parents has been one of the most wonderful, happy, frustrating, sleep depriving, sometimes disgusting (did you know there's such a thing as projectile poop?! Neither did we, lesson learned.) and hilarious experiences of our entire lives.  And we are so grateful that God called us to this messy vocation :)

I am looking forward to other beginnings as we enter Year 3.  In fact, one "new beginning" is already underway.  The night before our anniversary we received a phone call that our offer had been accepted on a house.  Our first home!  As I'm sure you can imagine, this is a pretty major step for our family.  After a lot of prayer and discernment (and a lot of "Are you sure about that Lord?") we are putting down deeper roots.  We're excited, surprised, and doing our best to surrender our plans to God's hands. 

What continues to give me peace and joy in the midst of all of these new beginnings is that we aren't going through any of them on our own.  God has been part of our story from the very beginning and it is comforting to know that He will continue to be part of every step.  

be at peace
walk on water
be not afraid