i’d had these weird, competing emotions leading up to thanksgiving this year. on one hand, i was thrilled because i knew we’d be surrounded by dear family (it helps that they’re all really good cooks, and really, who doesn’t love a plate full of dressing and butter-injected turkey?). i had also looked forward to the day because of the dual role it played in our family’s life this year – it was the first birthday of our twins.

but what happens when the vast space between november 24, 2015 and november 24, 2016 didn’t just include your babies’ births – but also one of their deaths? what does their thanksgiving birthday look like when one of them didn’t live to celebrate it? it’s hard to find the happy in that.

1

a friend texted on wednesday to let me know she was praying us through the next day. when she asked how i was doing, i answered with something to the effect of, i’m broken. peaceful. cheerful. sad. irritable. full of hope. this last year just can’t be wrapped up in a nice little package with a pretty bow. it’s been hard and it’s been messy. but every time i’ve looked out beyond the ups, downs, swirling madness, and chaos, i’ve seen just one thing.

jesus, the unchanging anchor.

2

while our thoughts, emotions, and sometimes even our actions have been variable and fickle, he’s never budged. he’s always been planted firmly in the seat of hope and the place of joy. those two things are what have sustained us through the storms of the last year. no, we can’t be happy that our baby died a few days before she was six months old. but we can believe god when he says that he’s using the sorrows in our life to prepare for us an eternal weight of glory (2 cor. 4:17). we can trust that the lord uses our suffering to ignite a divine chain of events that propel us through perseverance, character, and hope (romans 5:3-4). and out of that hope is birthed not a fleeting happiness, but a joy that can’t be shaken.

3

so what did our FirstBirthdayThanksgiving look like this year? we began the morning at ava’s grave being wowed by sam and that whole twin-bond thing. we finally decided to just sit and BE with our expected flood of tears and a delightful serving of laughter and memories.

4

after our beautiful time at the cemetery, we made our way down the little two lane road to my grandmother’s house, where we’ve celebrated thanksgiving day for decades now. when she passed away a couple of months before sam’s and ava’s birth, she left her century-old home to my parents who have spent the last many months renovating it. the last time the whole family was there together was the day of ava’s burial. the house was stripped down to its skeleton state and i remember standing in the middle of all that old creaky wood thinking of how much life had taken place there. babies were born within those walls. marriages began under that old archway between two of the rooms. and many tears were shed as loved ones took their last breaths. my meme’s house had always been a lovely, warm place for me, but i fell even more in love with it that day. so much life and death had passed through the lord’s hands there within the last hundred years, and it was comforting to know that as our family gathered to celebrate ava’s life and to mourn her death, our story was just one of so many joys and sorrows, all written by the author of life himself.

5

i found it a sweet gift that after that dark, sorrowful day there within the torn down walls, the next time we all gathered in that house again was to celebrate thanksgiving and our babies’ birth. gone was the empty shell of a home and in its place was light, life, and joy. nearly every room still bears the marks of generations past – from the original wood floors to the expanse of old bead board ceilings – but it’s now a tangible picture to me of how the lord makes all things new. the floors still show evidence of hard days past – there are deep gouges in some places where past damage marked the delicate surface – but they’ve now been refreshed and restored.

i think it’s the perfect reminder of what the lord has done for us. we’ve been marred by sin, pain, and grief, but god, in his holy passion for his children, has given his own son to pave the only way for us to be restored and redeemed.

6

one year old.

my parents have a longstanding tradition of frequenting this certain little bakery to get a cake for each grandchild’s first birthday. i knew to expect sam’s cake to be special because the bakery has always worked hard to make these cakes unique, but what i wasn’t prepared for was how my mom and aunt had gone out of their way to ensure that this cake was one i would never forget. as my mom told me later that day, we wanted to show that although sam and ava are away from each other now, a part of them will always be together. so many tears and so much thankfulness for their extraordinarily thoughtful gift.

7

years ago, josh and i began praying for a voice in the midst of what we saw going on around us in our country. we wanted a way to speak for the very, very least of these, to speak for those who weren’t yet born and couldn’t speak for themselves. in our wildest dreams, we couldn’t have scripted the story the way the lord did. we couldn’t have possibly imagined that in praying for a voice, the lord would actually give us *two* very real, very tangible little voices. we’ve praised him every day since sam’s and ava’s birth for his hilarious, creative, magnificent answer to our prayers. it’s been a long, wonderful year. i thank god for the platform he’s given me to share over social media and for the countless conversations and debates that ava’s life, in particular, has sparked both online and face to face.

as this first anniversary of their birth passes, though, i’ve prayerfully decided to step away from the mic for a while. my email, messenger, phone, and calendar have virtually exploded since ava’s story has made its way into the hearts of many, and my family and i are finding ourselves in need of a season of stillness and rest. before i shut it down, though, i have to say that as i look back over this last year, i’m overwhelmed with thankfulness for the innumerable ways that you’ve loved us and loved ava, and i am so enormously grateful to you for sharing in our joys and sorrows. truly, thank you.

i’ve begged the lord time and time again to help me steward the voice that he gave me well, and i pray with all my heart that what you’ve seen over this last year is a whole lot of jesus.

because that, my friends, is all that matters.

8

he is the image of the invisible god, the firstborn of all creation. for by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. and he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. and he is the head of the body, the church. he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. for in him all the fullness of god was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
-colossians 1:15-20

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7 Responses to one year

  1. sandra imler says:

    Thankyou for sharing your life with me. I have shared your story with friends. Merry Christmas to you and your beautiful family.

  2. All of us who stepped through the internet and into your very personal space have been richly blessed by your giving. You gave of yourself, your family, and your deepest, intimate and most meaningful moments. We were there for the rejoicing and the deepest sadness, but most of all for a reminder of how our Lord is Always there for us. He keeps His promises.
    Your eloquent words pouring from deep in a heart filled with so much joy and sorrow were not perceived as a voyouristic journey by your readers. But as a mantra always of: God is Ever Present, Ever Knowing, Ever Caring for the Biggest and the Simplest things in our lives. A reminder with each post that we too are not alone. Your affirmations were embedded deeply in each intimate glimpse of your beautiful, busy household.
    I wonder if a year ago you would have known how many people your family was going to touch if you would have been afraid? Perhaps that is why God never really tells us what is coming. I am sure it’s scary to see the power of God when he chooses you and your family to be his messenger. People are so hungry for the affirmations that you have poured from your soul. Again and again your posts were tangible to all of us that there is a higher power. And that is so very pleasing to our spirits.

    Knowing in your heart that your job is done for now and God has prescribed rest for the work so well done is a good thing. Ava’s story, Sam’s story, your family’s story will continue on and work on the hearts of many. I know we will all miss your updates and encouragements. And were rooting for everyone to be be well, and happy, and have hearts filled with peace.

    We are so grateful for your wisdom in sharing your journey with us. And you should be proud for a job well done. I hope one day to be in a book store and see your full works in print and photo so that you may reach all that is intended for the lessons of not just a year, but a life time.

    Blessings, Barbara

  3. Jodie L Velthuizen says:

    My dear momma how great to have been blessed with such an amazing family and network. My prayers for you and your lovely family and may Ava forever look down on you and smile. My heart broke to hear she passed so young but she lived so much more than she was expected to and that was because of your love!

  4. Katie Ward says:

    Love you girl! Thankful for your disciple heart and desire to serve the least of these !

  5. Love your story, photography and your blog. All are inspiring. I couldn’t find a follow me link to let me know when you have a new post. Did I miss that somewhere?

  6. Hannah says:

    I just finished reading about Ava’s burial and stopped crying, now I read about the cake and the tears are welling up again. My boy is 2.5 and we have a 17yo foster son. Think I have to go give them extra hugs before bed. Cherish every single snotty grumpy wrestle of a cuddy

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