To Harlynn, With Love

Harlynn love

A week ago would have been Harlynn’s fifth birthday. For months, the weight of the number five loomed above my head, and I felt burdened with an awkward responsibility of having been a bereaved parent for that amount of time.

Five years ago, our lives were forever changed. Five years ago, we said goodbye before we ever had the opportunity to say hello. Five. Years. Continue reading “To Harlynn, With Love”

The Emotional Dangers Of Decorating: Grief & Holidays

I walked into her room and asked if I could talk to her. It was one of my [many] humbled-mother moments.

Earlier, I had been getting the Christmas decorations out and situated, and in her excitement, she wanted to hand-make, and display, her own decorations throughout the house.

I drew the line firmly – maybe a little too firmly – when she brought out a string with pink, purple, and white ribbons stranded across it. Continue reading “The Emotional Dangers Of Decorating: Grief & Holidays”

Harlynn’s Gift To Mama

I’ve really been struggling.

I’m leaving for a business conference, and it’s a high-energy, intense 3-day event. The last day of the event is April 9th, and I leave a room of 1,000 of my new best friends to fly home on April 10th.

Which should have been our daughter’s 4th birthday.

I’ve been wrestling with this, as probably only other loss-parents might understand. And I’ve been wrestling with the fact that I’m wrestling with it.

It’s a little messy in my head with all this wrestling going on. Continue reading “Harlynn’s Gift To Mama”

Happy New Everything

Another year is fresh before us, full of excitement, anticipation, hope, and motivation. For what, though?

Yesterday I had to be at church early to sing. A late night in combination with a head cold and an early morning had me sounding a little like Jack Nicholson after a long drag of a cigarette. I didn’t think I could pull off a morning of singing.

I drove to church, continuously trying to clear my throat, and watching the peaceful frozen, frosty flakes of morning falling to the ground. I had arrived early, so admired the morning flurry and the strange beauty it gave the bare trees. I started praying an earnest, overflowing prayer.

I sense it, y’all. This is the year. This is the year I didn’t even know I’ve been waiting for. I have no idea what it holds, but I know I’m ready. I have to be. Happy new everything.

After rehearsal and some coffee, my voice started to turn around and I sounded like myself again. I made it through church and as Hubs took the kids home to get them fed, I detoured to the cemetery.

I wasn’t going to go. It’s a hard line to walk sometimes, wondering if I’m doing the right thing by going. If I go too long between visits, I’m pained with guilt. If I go too often, I feel like I’m a bit needy. So I try to balance my time there, to where I won’t feel anything other than like a loving mother.

I wasn’t going to start my year with the mental battle of what a visit after church would make me feel like, though. So I wasn’t going to go. But I felt this urgent need that could only be met by a cemetery visit. I made the drive down the snow-covered street, turning in through the looming iron gate, and down the path to her spot.

I sat there, silently wishing her a happy new year. “Get out of the car.” I felt my spirit nudging me. But I was wearing church shoes, and nothing at all appropriate for snow-traipsing.

“Get out of the car.”

I hesitated. Eventually, I got out of the car and walked gingerly over the snow to her spot. Her angel solar light and purple metal flower were marking her headstone beneath the snow. I stood there, unsure of why I felt such a need to go visit, then to get out of the car.

“It’s your year, Mama.”

My stomach fluttered. I know, I feel it, too. But Harlynn… We might move. Far away, even. It’s a possibility.

Tears stung my face as the wind hit them rolling down my cheeks. This was why I was supposed to come. I had to reconcile the possibilities of our future with the events of our past, and the reality of our present.

I can’t take it all with me. And that has to be okay.

I wrestled with that, standing there at her gravesite. It’s become a comfortable spot – a place where I know I’m allowed to let any overflow grief work itself out. No one can judge me if I cry while standing at her headstone.

But it’s a new season. It’s a new year. It’s a new everything.

I have to find a new way.

“Happy new year, baby girl.” I blew her a kiss before carefully making my way back to the car. I drove through the cemetery, feeling less weighty. I wished the deer a happy new year, as they bedded in the trees. I wished the turkeys a happy new year as they strutted across the lanes. I wished the squirrels a happy new year as they scampered around.

Back through the iron gates, I drove away in a state of wonder.

What does it mean? When will it happen? How will we know?

I don’t know what this year holds. I know what I want to happen. I know what could happen. I know what might not happen, or what we might have to do instead.

I don’t have a single answer, and I don’t have even the slightest semblance of a plan.

But I know the start of this year means the start of a new everything.

Whether we move away, or stay nearby… whether we pursue big dreams or baby steps… whether my business succeeds a lot or only a little… nothing this year will stay the same as it always was.

The thief comes only to kill, steal, and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. ~ John 10:10

See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland. ~ Isaiah 43:19

I’m trusting the Lord in a way I haven’t before, and in a way I can’t rightly put words to explain. He’s going to make all things new. This year especially. I feel it.

Happy new year. Happy new everything.

Three Kids, Three Parenting Styles

three parenting styles

I have three children. Two living, one waiting for us in heaven.

All three children occupy my heart to the fullest, yet I respond to each one differently.

Little Miss is my first child, and had her own traumatic entrance into the world, when I nearly died from HELLP syndrome. Six years later, she may be petite in size, but her dreams and goals fill some pretty big shoes.

Harlynn passed away before I had a chance to look into her eyes or hear her baby coos and cries. I still parent her beyond the grave, however. October being Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness month, her legacy continues to inspire and motivate us to continue helping the broken hearts of bereaved parents who have also had to say goodbye to their precious babies, most before ever having the chance to say hello.

Little Man, the little boy I never thought I’d have, requires attention in  his own style. If we’re not reading, playing with trains or trucks, or chasing one another, I’m able to steal some sweet snuggles from my mini-prince-charming.

This week, my different roles as a mother to these three, made print a couple of times.

First, On The Minds Of Moms ran a wonderful feature piece on Michelle’s and my journey in starting Harlynn’s Heart. You can read the article here.

Second, it was my turn to share in The Forum’s Parenting Perspectives column, and I knew exactly what I needed to share this time around. You can read that article here.

I’m one mother to three very special, very unique children. I don’t always do a perfect job, but I’m so thankful our perfect God chose me to be their Mama.

Breaking the Curse of Autumn



I’m a sunshine girl. I love sunshine, I need sunshine, I bask in sunshine, and I feel better when the sun shines.

The sun is not shining today.

However, every now and again, the cloud cover (and in today’s case, the rain), make for a sense of renewal, fresh opportunity, and even some motivation.

I can say today is one of those good gray days. I think it helped (tremendously) I was able to witness an incredible sunrise, turning the sky a beautiful purple, orange, and pink. As the clouds were moving in and before they could block the sun entirely, the sky danced with color as we started getting ready for our day.

I’ve got my curly-hair-rain-gear on (my kerchief), and after a long meeting, I’ll scurry to the kitchen to get to work on some applesauce and apple pie making. It’s September, after all, and apples are the fruit-of-the-month. It’s quite rewarding to pick them yourself, peel them, and turn them into even more deliciousness than they already are naturally. Cooking is like doing magic in the kitchen. You take ingredients and turn them into something completely different, to satisfy those greedy little bumps on your tongue and rumble in your belly. It’s a pretty amazing process.

Sometimes the autumn season is difficult for me. It’s always been my favorite. I love the smells. I love the crisp air. I love the colors. I love the decorations. I love pumpkin seeds and pumpkin pie and apple everything.

But autumn and its drastic change of season carries a weight I can’t aptly describe.  School starts. The wind shifts. The cemetery closes earlier.

Autumn also means winter is coming. I struggle with winter. I struggle with barrenness. Cold. Desolation. Grief.

We had a bizarre spring blizzard that forced us to postpone Harlynn’s funeral a day. It snowed the day she was born and every Wednesday after for a month. Snow is sometimes peaceful and comforting, but it also reminds me, so tangibly, of the worst day of our lives. And it’s about to show up and hang around for months on end.

Winter is coming.

I feel like maybe – just maybe – this year will be different. Since I finally got to process through Harlynn’s birthday in a way I needed to this spring, maybe I can handle this winter better. Maybe it won’t be as gloomy as years past. Maybe it won’t be as bitter. Maybe it won’t be as soul-chilling as I’ve known it to be.

I’m making a determination.

Right now, I’m going to enjoy autumn. I’m going to enjoy everything I can about it. The pumpkin patch. The harvest. The cinnamon. The cider. The apples coming out our ears. The colors, the football, the pies, and the turkey. Rust orange, cranberry red, and the fading green of grass. Whatever this season has to offer me, I’m going to enjoy it, and store that joy away for the months to come.

When winter hits, and there’s no avoiding it, I’m going to retreat to the storehouses where I’ve tucked away the pleasantries I need to draw upon. I’ll warm myself with memories, food, friends, and my favorite sights and smells. I’ll stress-eat on pie and roasted pumpkin seeds. I’ll knit. This year, when winter hits, I won’t have wasted my autumn dreading it’s arrival.

The sun may not be shining today, but the clouds can’t squelch the new dawn coming. Winter may be on it’s way, but it won’t dampen today.

Every season – in nature and in life – serves a purpose. I don’t like it. I don’t have to. It’s going to happen anyway. But this year…. this year will be different. I’m going to will it so.

Be glad, people of Zion, rejoice in the Lord your God, for he has given you the autumn rains because he is faithful. He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before.

~Joel 2:23

Healing: The Misconception



“I just want you to reach total healing.”

His words were dripping with cautious pity. My eyes closed and I let out a heavy sigh. He doesn’t get it. He couldn’t, because he’s never experienced it.

I grow so tired of defending myself. I grow so tired of fighting for my right to feel, experience, or walk in any realm of grief.

I did my best, and gave the most considerate lashing I could conjure. He didn’t understand why I – or anyone – would show pictures of my dead baby. He didn’t understand why after three years, I still incorporate Harlynn into as many areas of our lives as I can.

Honestly, he didn’t understand “total healing”, even though he spoke his desire for me to achieve it.

I know why other loss parents struggle to speak about their experience and struggle to give voice to their children who have died. It’s exhausting to defend the heart’s right to be damaged, let alone broken. Standards and expectations, all of which are completely different depending on who harbors them, are impossible to meet or maintain by those actually walking through the grief journey.

We don’t fit in your box. We can’t. We understand life – and death – on a level we pray you never have to. And we are all but condemned for it.

For three years I’ve come alongside grieving families as they bury their children and watch the futures they dreamed about shatter before their eyes. For three years I’ve been on the receiving end of phone calls, emails, text messages, and outreaches of complete strangers looking for help. For understanding. For validation.

And I’m happy to give it. I know how hard it can be to find any in a world that expects you to dust off and forget.

There is no forgetting.

For three years I’ve leaned into a God I don’t understand, pleaded with a Father I believed would spare us from this, and for three years I’ve allowed Him to walk us through a valley I’d previously pretended never existed.

I had to learn to pray again. To sing. To trust.

And my journey is viewed as my weakness. But I’m here to tell you, there is nothing but strength and conviction in my veins. Even when I fall apart.

You see, friends, there is no healing in denial. There is no healing in avoidance. There is no healing in disallowing myself to experience every step of the journey I’ve been called to walk. I can blaze new trails if I run away and pretend this road is not part of who I am.

But that would be the opposite of healing. That would be adopting a false identity.

I am a bereaved parent. We buried our daughter after her life ended. Every day I wake up, pray up, and hold up another broken heart of another fellow bereaved parent.

And I’m still able to praise God in the storm.

That is healing. And that is a concept those who haven’t lost a child will never understand.

My ultimate healing will come the day I’m called home. The day my heart stops beating and my spirit transcends life as I know it, I will be healed by the standards of the world today. I will not cry anymore. I will not ache. I will not feel sadness.

Until that day, I will continue to trust His leading. I will continue to acknowledge sometimes I still hurt. I will continue to experience exactly what I need to at the exact moment it’s supposed to happen. I will continue to depend on the God who has carried me through every step in this path of life – no matter how small or significant.

And I will continue to defend my right to grieve messy. Three years or 30 or 300 – no matter how much time I have remaining to open my eyes this side of heaven – I will have to remind myself my healing is no one else’s declaration. No one gets to decide for me how well I’m doing.

When I was five, I got the chickenpox. When I “healed”, my scalp, back, and left eyelid were covered with scars. Thirty years later I bear the physical proof of one of the most miserable illnesses I’ve ever recovered from. I’ve got all kinds of scars from all kinds of incidents, and not one single person has ever held it against me. Until now.

I’m not ashamed of scars. In fact, they show just how hard I’ve fought.

Three years later, I’ve figured out how to keep a broken heart beating. It healed. You might not believe me, but I’ve got the scar to prove it.

Turning Pages: Why Moving Forward Is Our Only Choice

Turning Pages-

It was another typical weekday with Little Man. After a diaper change, we walked out of his room and down the hallway. He pointed to the picture in the middle of the wall.

We have three frames in our hallway. One is a collage of family pictures from 2013, after Harlynn had died and when I was barely pregnant with Little Man. The opposite end is a large matte print of our favorite family portrait from 2015. The middle frame houses four wrapped canvas of Harlynn. It was a gift from my sister-in-law on Christmas in 2013, and one of the most meaningful we’ve ever received.

Little Man pointed as we walked by and said, “Hah-winn”.

I stopped.

Wide-eyed, I turned my gaze from his sweet little face, to his pointing finger, to the center frame.

“Yes,” I affirmed, “That’s Harlynn. Your sister in heaven.”

“Yeah.” he quipped knowingly.

As you might expect, my eyes filled with tears and as we continued our walk to the living room, I pressed his forehead against my lips in a grateful kiss. It was the first time he had ever spoken her name. It was the first time he had acknowledged he knew who she was.

He knows. He knows who she is.

We went on about our day, playing with cars and trucks on the living room floor. But oh, how my heart was filled.

It’s been my dream to make sure as many people as possible know who Harlynn is. What she means to us. Why, even after her death, she’s still a very active part of our family. But to have her baby brother speak her name filled my heart with immeasurable joy.

We’re a family of 5 minus 1, but we refuse to let the “minus” carry a negative value. We hold fast to the hope we’ll all be reunited again, and every new day brings us one day closer to that reality.

In an otherwise routine weekday moment, Little Man gave me an incredible gift. I got to hear his sister’s name uttered from his sweet little mouth.


She may be in heaven, but she’s very much a present part of our family.

It’s further proof to me a relationship with Jesus is just as tangible. If Harlynn can be an active member of our family without being on earth, how much more so can Jesus be our active, living Savior, even if we can’t see Him?

He is closer than I realize at times. I lean in further than I thought I could when the weight of the world seems too much to bear. But instead of crumbling beneath it’s burdensome weight, I feel myself standing a little straighter, getting a little stronger, as He takes my suffering as His own.

The other night, I shared with a bereaved family on how it took me so long to be able to trust God heard my prayers. I kept Him at a safe distance, always hoping He heard what I was saying, but not truly believing He did. After all, He was the one person who could have changed our situation, and kept Harlynn alive.

Looking back now, I see it was Him who kept us cared for in every detail and every moment leading up to, and following her death. We were shaken, but we were not forsaken. He not only heard our cries and our pleas, but He responded to them mightily.

I don’t understand why Harlynn had to die. I don’t understand why any parent has to bury their baby. But I understand God loves us intensely through those dark and tumultuous moments. I understand – all these months and months later – He truly was the only one who could change our circumstance….and He did. Harlynn doesn’t get to be here on earth with us, but our lives have been all the more enriched by being her parents.

It will take many more years, I’m sure, before Little Man fully understands who Harlynn is and why her picture takes a prominent place in our hallway. But I’m banking on those several more years to share her story – with him, and others – many more times.

In the children’s book The Monster At The End Of This Book, the entire premise of the story is to prevent the pages from turning, in expectancy of the impending doom at the end. Come to find out – spoiler alert – Grover was the monster the whole time, and was getting in his own way of his story.

That’s how I felt for so long after April 9th, 2013. I didn’t want to turn the pages. I did everything I could to prevent the story from moving forward. There was no point, in my mind, of reading any further into our future.

Harlynn’s story reflects our story, and our story reflects His story. We’re still walking out the next chapters, but I’m finally at a place I feel secure in turning the pages.

April Showers: Tears

I didn’t start off on the greatest foot this morning. I somehow managed to hairspray my left eye instead of my hair. It stung a little, but my eyelashes looked amazing the rest of the day.

It’s little, absentminded things I find creeping into my days making me wonder if it’s a subconscious level of emotional protection. April is just around the corner and I still haven’t quite decided how I feel about it. Or if I want to.

When we lost Harlynn, I developed a love/hate relationship with April. That relationship never resolved. I loved and hated how every Wednesday for the remainder of the month, it would snow, just like the Wednesday I delivered her in the hospital room. The white, fluffy flakes silently falling and covering the ground were delicate, yet painful reminders of the life that was supposed to be, but had silently slipped away.

The hope of spring and of new life was met with tumultuous grief and mourning. New life, new growth, and the robin’s songs were traded for death, continuous tears, and sounds of a mother’s and father’s wailing.

On what would have been Harlynn’s first birthday, we had arranged to spread love and kindness in her memory. We also planned a cake-smash photo shoot as a family, since she never had the chance to do one herself. Instead, I was in the hospital again, drugged up on magnesium trying to stop the premature delivery of Little Man.

I don’t remember much of that hospital stay, other than the look on my doctor’s face when she realized his premature labor was coinciding with Harlynn’s day, and the incredible placement (by God) of our incredible nurse, who was also a loss mom. I couldn’t have made it through those days – or even the weeks ahead – without her care and empathy.

Since Harlynn’s first birthday went nothing like we had planned, and since I was moaning in pain and incoherent for most of it, I didn’t have a chance to experience it, grieve through it, or process it, even. My focus only intensified on getting Little Man into this world safely, and alive.

He was born, two weeks later, on the two-year anniversary of Grandma Lena’s passing. Grandma Lena was Brent’s grandma by blood, and my grandma by every other measure. We both loved her so much, and to have Little Man born on the day that marked her passing was bittersweet.

Last year was especially hard on me. With not having the ability or opportunity to process or cope with the first anniversary of Harlynn’s death, last year was two year’s worth of processing rolled into a matter of a few hours. I stayed up until (and then well past) 12:16 a.m., the time of her delivery. I remembered every single detail as best I could. Her weight upon my chest. Her head of hair. Her daddy holding her, longing and outright willing life back into her lungs.

April Showers- Tears

All of the images, the memories, the emotions – joy, pain, sorrow, hope, ache, despair, redemption – flooded over me. I walked into the hallway in the middle of the night, put my hand on her picture on the wall, and wept. I rested my head against the frame and let my tears salt my cheeks as my shoulders shook against the wall. I was a wreck for a few days, holed up in grief and solitude while I tried to work through how any mother is supposed to function as normal when all of her children aren’t with her.

This year, I’m still not sure how I feel about April. For that matter, I’m still not sure how I feel about bereavement. I still, three years later, don’t understand how to be a mother in two different places at once. Here on earth for my living children, and with Harlynn in spirit.

There are some moments – some triggers – that take me right back to a particular feeling or experience in those first few moments and days after she died. There are other times I feel too far removed from those moments. I don’t live in the past, but I don’t reject any opportunity to remember as much as I can about those too few precious moments we got to spend with her.

I miss her intensely. Every moment of every day. My heart flutters every time her big sister mentions her name. I wonder how her little brother will know her as part of our family as he grows older and understands more.

I wonder if I’m changed for the better, or if the changes I’ve experienced since losing her are simply scars of my suffering. Have I grown at all? Has beauty risen from ashes with anything I’ve done since losing her?

When people see me, do they see any semblance of Val? Or do they only see the woman whose baby died?

I don’t have any answers. Three years later, I’m no more knowledgeable of my circumstance or my situation than I was the moment we learned what had happened. I do have more questions. I’m always asking questions.

But through asking the questions I find I’m piecing together a new picture. I’m using the same puzzle pieces, but they fit together entirely differently now. The picture has changed. It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s simply a different picture.

I still don’t know how I feel about April. Regardless, however, I can’t seem to stop these April showers of my tears.

Making Moments Count: A Manifesto

MakingMomentsCount-A Manifesto

Prior to 2013, I thought I had life figured out. My marriage had overcome some serious obstacles, our oldest daughter had overcome her dramatic entrance into the world two months prematurely, I was (slowly) climbing the corporate ladder, building skills and leadership capabilities, and knew our life was headed toward a picture-perfect happy ending.

Then in April of 2013, our second daughter was stillborn.

No warning. No idea. No explanation. No realization it was possible.

Everything I thought I knew became obsolete and our priorities, dreams, and desires took a dramatic shift.

I quickly realized I didn’t have much of anything figured out and in reality, was barely getting by. I thought I was successful, but I had only fit into the corporate mold others had created for me. I believed my marriage had overcome obstacles, but in hindsight, we had simply dismissed resolving them. I thought I had been working toward the life of my dreams, but instead, I had been working toward the fruition of someone else’s dreams for me.

It took the death of our daughter to make me realize my marriage, my relationship with Little Miss, and any relationship or successful venture I was working on building and maintaining, was a façade. I was ill-equipped to leave any lasting legacy because I believed I had reached my ceiling in my life’s potential.

And still, after my entire world had been turned upsidedown, I was expected to fit into the mold that had been created for me. Life was not certain or guaranteed, and what was supposed to be a celebratory season in our lives was wrought with tragedy and despair. When my world came crashing down, it exposed the weakest points of the foundation I had built my life upon. It also revealed, however, the ways I could strengthen and rebuild.

Life and its precious moments were too important. I realized – after intense mourning, continual grieving, and whole-hearted seeking – I hadn’t been living. None of us had been living. Our family was surviving. One grueling day at a time.

Some things got worse before they got better. I had to learn to fight for a better marriage, rather than accept fighting as the way to be married. I understood my husband and our relationship was the foundation of our family, and of our future. If our relationship was broken, so were the lives of our kids, the legacy of our stillborn daughter, and the promises we vowed to one another when we said, “I do.”

I realized if I claimed to believe God is the giver of life, I needed to start living as such. If I wanted to get anything out of the life He could make possible for me, I had to start investing in it. I might not have the chance to do what made me happy later on – as “later on” may never come.

It became my mission and passion, then, to guide others in seeking and finding the life they were designed to live, embracing the freedom that comes from fulfilling our calling, and making each moment count. I want to equip others to make moments count in the ways I never realized they could. I want to help pave the way for strong marriages, strong families, and stronger faith.

This is what I write. This is how I teach. This is why I’m making moments count.

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