Small miracles

Before I had my girls and definitely before we lost Zoe, I might have commented on a coincidence - talking to my mom about my sister and then my phone rings, and its Naomi. Things like that. I wouldn't dwell on them and I certainly didn't look for coincidences. Since Zoe died, that has all changed.
I've opened up my heart and my mind to receive whatever gifts God sends my way - whether that's the ladybug Lily found on her bed this Easter, or the seemingly distant connection made recently between myself and an organization in Athens, GA called Lukas' Fund.  Or meeting Maureen, founder of MOST, thinking she was simply the leader of a helpful organization - only to see 5 years down the road that because of the connections she made for me, I am able to do much of the preemie support work I do now.  And of course, the many people placed in my path throughout my girls' NICU stay that became much more than a nurse, a respiratory therapist, or a long lost friend from high school.  Connections are made, people are brought together, ideas, thoughts, experiences are shared and in so many cases the meaning for it stretches well beyond the moment itself.

If you've read my blog you know all about my "ladybug whispers".  These ladybug whispers I can no longer claim complete ownership of because so many other people I know will see a ladybug and consider it their own little gift from Zoe.  And more often than not, these ladybugs show up for people at just the right time when they need reassurance, hope, or just a smile.  I will admit to being a little bit jealous if someone saw a ladybug, but I didn't.  Those are my ladybugs after all!  My feelings on this have of course changed and I am thankful for every ladybug Zoe sends down to Earth to offer just what someone needs at that particular moment in their lives.  I have this image of her sitting on a white puffy cloud, long curly dark hair flowing around her shoulders, with her magical bucket of ladybugs set next to her.  I picture her looking down on all of us from her Heavenly perch, just smiling and giggling as she sprinkles those little red bugs down around her.  Each one knowing exactly where to go and when.

I love my ladybugs...and while I didn't exactly get my own ladybug whisper on her angel day this year, there were other things that happened that filled that space.  Each year I struggle with how best to honor Zoe's life on her angelversary, or on their birthday or any other significant holiday.  I want to be sure we include her in a natural way, that remembering Zoe is never something Avery and Lily will dread or resent.  I always have a strong desire to be somewhere beautiful and peaceful, to have a chance to take in the beauty of the world God created for us as a reminder that Heaven is even better.  Maybe this is my way of self-soothing, to feel close to God and by default, close to Zoe.

This year we decided that from now on we would spend Zoe's angel day with just the four of us and we wanted to be somewhere special for the girls.  When I think of peaceful and relaxing I see myself cuddled in a warm blanket in a rocking chair on the porch of a cabin in the woods, enjoying a steamy, hot mug of coffee, listening to the birds in the trees.  But what are two five year olds supposed to do when its winter and they can't play outside?  So, living in the South, we opted for the beach which is equally tranquil and relaxing in my mind and even in the winter, the Gulf is gorgeous, with weather that is usually quite mild.

Avery and Lily had not been to the beach since they were 18 months old and do not have any memories of that trip of course, so they were very excited about going.  They knew the water would be too cold to swim in but they didn't care.  All they wanted was to build a big sand castle in the world's largest sandbox.  And that is exactly what we did.

The weather forecast was grim, calling for cool windy days and lots of rain.  God, in his infinite wisdom and mercy, gave us a 2 1/2 hour slice of sunshine and 70 degree temperatures on February 16, 2012.  Richard and I were both so full of joy on this day.  We couldn't help it because Avery and Lily had never looked or sounded so happy in their 5 years.  Their entire bodies were charged with excitement as we strolled down the boardwalk, each armed with a brightly colored plastic basket full of shovels, buckets, and other sand toys.  For the last 3 1/2 years Avery had heard all about how, as a toddler, she hated the feel of the sand on her feet.  So much so that when we tried to set her down she would hike her feet up to her ears!  We got to the edge of the boardwalk to remove our flip-flops and she looked tentatively at the soft white sand.  Carefully, she placed each jelly shoe in her basket, stepped slowly on to the sand and in a flash looked up at me, eyes gleaming and exclaimed "Mommy!  I like the sand on my feet now!  I like it!"  I think she was relieved to learn this about herself and off she ran to catch Lily, who did exactly what she did as a toddler and headed straight for the water without hesitation.  I truly think that had we let Lily wear a bathing suit she would have had her own polar bear swim!

The girls spent the next few hours running and screaming, laughing and chasing each other.  The wind carrying the sweet melody of Lily's giggles to our ears.  They dug in the sand, buried their feet and even stood at the edge of the waves, letting the icy water lap against their ankles.  Never before had I witnessed such utterly pure joy in another person.  There was nothing left for Richard and I to do than hug each other tightly and marvel at our girls, soaking in every ounce of this beautiful, most perfect day with them.

I knew we were enveloped in prayer on this day.  My small group at Bible study, among countless others, sent warm sentiments to us and prayed without ceasing for all four of us.  For the first time, I didn't have to force myself to remember the good parts of Zoe's life, and I was so thankful that I have these moments to remember.  Far too many parents never get a chance to get to know their babies, but for whatever reason, we did.  I didn't have to force myself to smile and laugh, it came so naturally, and honestly, was unavoidable.  The comfort and peace of the Lord washed over me.   I didn't sit in a fog all day, feeling anxious about whether or not I was "acting right" for a grieving mom on the anniversary of her baby's death.  I know I'm still grieving.  Of course I'm still sad, but on this anniversary of the worst day of my life, I remembered with joy and love in my heart and I always keep my ears open for my ladybug whispers.

While I didn't have my own ladybug experience this year, I was happy to hear from a number of friends and family members who had their own ladybug encounters on or near Zoe's angel day.  Some of the stories are quite wonderful and never cease to amaze me that whether or not you believe God or Zoe sends a ladybug down to Earth, the fact remains that when people have heard Zoe's story, seen a picture of her brilliant smile, and know the background of the ladybug symbol, when they see one they smile.  Friends and family who never had a chance to meet Zoe, even preemie parents and bereaved parents across the country I have yet to meet, smile when they see a ladybug and see it as a special visit from Zoe.  How amazing that something so small can have such a far reaching impact.

My ladybug whispers and those of others aren't always in the form of a ladybug.  Sometimes it's Zoe's name.  Like the friend of a friend, named Zoe, who had a premature daughter on Zoe's angel day.  Or when I first finished writing the draft of this post at the library I breezed past their "staff picks" shelf, which I rarely look at, and a book jumped out at me among the 50 or so that were there.  It was titled "Baby names from Aaron to Zoe."

This year though, there was one in particular that sent chills up and down my arms.  Zoe blessed her Aunt No-No, my sister Naomi - named Aunt No-No by the girls when they first started talking and it will probably be her name for as long as they are around.  She lives clear across the country in Oregon and lives a life full of outdoor adventures.  The Saturday following Zoe's angel day, Naomi and her boyfriend Garrett went horseback riding on the beach.  Garrett is a writer for an Oregon paper and gets to enjoy all kinds of activities at no charge to write stories about his experiences.  Kind of like free advertising for the company.  Being the kind soul that he is, he brings my sister along and you will often find a photo of her among his printed stories.

Naomi said the day was perfect.  Now, Oregon is not known for perfect winter weather, usually being grey, rainy, and bone-chilling cold.  But on this day it was cool with a slight breeze and a bright sun to warm their backs as they rode.  The arrived at the beach to meet their guide and their horses only to find out that their guide's name was Zoe.  She was a young woman, full of warmth and kindness.  Naomi said she instantly reminded her of our Zoe's sweet and loving spirit and felt blessed to have this reminder of her niece.

I can only imagine the thrill of this particular adventure - galloping along the sandy beach, with the crash of the waves thundering in your ears, the sweet salt taste of the air, and your hair flowing behind you in the wind.  Magical, I'm sure!  Who wouldn't love to spend a Saturday afternoon like that?

After the ride was over, Naomi and Garrett walked hand in hand along the water's edge, smiling from ear to ear, sharing the excitement of the afternoon, feeling close to nature and to one and other.  It hadn't been long when they both stopped suddenly, jaws dropped, eyes wide open.  There, right before them, written in the sand was the name "Zoe."

Had the guide written it?  They don't think so because they had been with her the whole time and she wasn't anywhere in sight.  Did Garrett write it to surprise Naomi and commemorate a special day for her niece?  No, he had been at Naomi's side all day.  Who could have written it?  We will never know.

I'm sure there is a perfectly good, human explanation, hover, I prefer to believe it was written by the hand of God.  Maybe he didn't stretch his pointer finger down from Heaven and trail it along the sand, but I do believe God has a plan and even the smallest things work together in ways we cannot begin to imagine or comprehend.  Someone wrote "Zoe" in the sand without knowing the significance of the name for my sister and it happened to be on a beach in Oregon my sister had never been to, on the one day she would be there along the path of her carefree walk with her boyfriend.

Naomi was beyond stunned, as was I when she emailed me the photo.  I thought for sure she had written it and sent it to me as a loving gesture.  My heart skipped a few beats once I realized she had no idea who wrote it.  Some people don't believe in miracles or when they think of miracles it involves someone at death's door returning to full health or a child surviving a horrific car crash without a scrape.  Of course those are miracles in my book, but I believe, and have had many experiences since Zoe's death, of the small miracles God leaves in our path to remind us He is here.  I've written about it many times and I know it to be quite true, as our pastor once said "We don't have to wait for the big miracles to find God, it is in the things we consider insignificant at face value, the small things when we truly see the face of God, feel His love, and experience his presence."

My sister was blessed on that perfect Saturday afternoon.  She said she felt Zoe's spirit with her in such a profound way that she ahd not yet felt up until that day.  Cynics and non-believers may refute what I think happened, and that's fine, they are free to do so.  But I choose to hold on to this moment as special, noteworthy, and without logical explanation.  For me it was a Heavenly message meant just for Naomi and a reminder for me from the Lord that he loves each and every one of us so much that he will write a significant name in the sand, for just the right person, on just the right day, at just the right time.  Now who could deny a mother, who has lost her child and all physical bonds with that baby, this intangible sense of comfort she finds in the smallest of moments?

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All time favorite video of Zoe!

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Bible verses that comfort me

"Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord."
~ 2 Corinthians 5:8

"Let the children come to me. Don't stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children....Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them"
~ Mark10:14 & 10:16

"...those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint"~ Isaiah40:31