I’ve stared at the blank space of this draft for years.
Last month I finally started to write it out but let the fear of something being too personal keep me from finishing. But what I’ve noticed in the last year of serving together with my husband as campus pastors to our Saturday night community is that the more personal we become, the more real we are.
When we are real and vulnerable and open, we really do create a hospitable space for others to do the same.

It’s not a good idea bear it all, all the time.
However, I know there is a time and a place for this.
Today, on December 28th, 2012 I feel like it’s time to talk about an important part of our journey.

My nephew Uriah turns 10 years old today.
It’s a day of celebration and happiness.
But it ushers in a weight so heavy that I can’t even describe it.

Uriah is one of the most tenacious and courageous miracles that we know.
Born at just 1 pound.
He has fought, together with his twin sister for his life.
And he is winning.

I don’t really know how to go about writing some of this.
Because it’s not really my story.
Since I’m the writer I want to get “it right” but I know that I won’t completely.
I can never know the pain or the joy or the entirety of events but I know my perspective
and it’s one that I’m able to share.

My life is a lighthouse in some ways–in ministry–but also for a few in our family.
I admit though, that there were times, when my light went out, and I wanted to hide under a rock
because I couldn’t fix things and it hurt to much to talk about it all.

I’m also surrounded by individuals who love to be around positive people.
They say it out loud. Truly, I love being around positive people as well.
I don’t want to tell a story that siphons the life out of anyone.
The self asks, “what if mine does”?
But it I know it won’t and it can’t if it’s for God’s glory and His purpose.

And what if the ending isn’t so happy?
There are things that still grieve my heart.
It’s Christmas and no one wants to be balled up in sadness.
But some of us are.
And shouldn’t that be ok?
Not for good, but for now?

Really, this post isn’t for me. It’s for her.
The one whose hurt goes deeper than mine.
My sister, Courtney Beth.

When Christmas is hard for others, I hope we would see and understand that we will celebrate  Immanuel, God with us. And we also, in some moments grieve with those who grieve. Henry Nouwen once said that a wounded healer is someone who can listen to a person in pain without having to speak about his or her own wounds. 

There were too many times early in life and in ministry when my first reaction to hard things, was to try to contextualize the hardship or the pain within something I’ve experienced.
To compare.
To justify.
To give reason.

Lately, I’ve learned the valuable lesson of what listening can do.
So I want to write a part of our story. One that I’ve not written about before.
I want to hear it fresh and feel it again.
I’d like to embrace the hard parts of Christmas with the ones who find it hardest to bear–by saying…

I’m here.
I’m listening.
I don’t understand.
I know you’ll never forget.
You are the strongest person I know.
God loves you.
I love you.
Here are my tears.

8 Days

She lived for 8 precious days… MaKell Jade Alvis

24 weeks earlier, during my first youth ministry assignment, my youngest sister (age 16) calls to tell me that she is pregnant.

I’m serving teenagers with every ounce of energy that I have when my own teenage sister’s life takes a turn that I cannot fix. There is nothing I can do and I feel guilty for leaving. Guilty for not setting her up to succeed. Guilty for being with other teenagers over a thousand miles away from her.

A few weeks later, our family discovers that she is having twins.
I’m excited? I’m scared for her. I am a little bitter.
I’m the oldest and should be having children first.
How did this happen? How exciting to have twins in the family!
The emotions were as polar as the switchbacks in this post.

It was 2001. Just months before my sister gave birth, our nation experienced the terror of 9/11.
I remember sitting in our church with my first pastor. Devastated.

In the spring of that same year, just months before 9/11, I received a call in the same church, with the same Pastor sitting close by, that a family member had been murdered. Not only was she dead, but she was cut with a knife and left to die in the hallway of her home for three days, by a 17 year old teenager who had been in some trouble. I was called on to preach the funeral.

The same thoughts. How am I serving teenagers in Orlando Florida when teenagers in Ohio are devastating our family and my own sister is struggling and I feel like I don’t have much to give? My well was getting shallow. My faith was getting weak.

My husband was in seminary. I was hearing and discussing theology, Bible, ethics on a daily basis.But this, I COULD NOT UNDERSTAND.

On December 28th 2002, after serious and life threatening complications, my baby sister gave birth to two precious premature babies. Uriah and Makell were born at 24 weeks gestation. Not having 2 pounds between them. I could barely think.

A bit of identity crisis started to sink in. When I got the call that the babies may not surive, my first thought was to go. To get on a plane and fly to see them immediately.

But then the deliberating process started.
What if I lose my job?
What if I was taking too many days away from work?
My goal to please held us back from going straight home.
I waited too long.
I arrived shortly after my family..brother, sisters, mom, and dad had just experienced the most heartbreaking loss of their lives. They wept.

Uriah was doing better. MaKell’s lung had collapsed and the news was not good. On her own, my sister had to choose. And my family circled around as she made the most agonizing decision of her life. She decided to take her daughter off of life support.

I was still not there. I had delayed in coming. I never got to meet sweet baby MaKell.
My other sister told me about what happened. The moment they took MaKell from life support. She lived. For 45 minutes Courtney held her tiny body and cried over her. My mom, dad, brother, and sister wept. They cried out to God.

I cried out to God from the seat of a plane.
Days later, we cried out again as I held her tiny satchel of ashes in my hands.
In a small service I led in our living room, we wept.

Her pain.
Her heart.
The strength she would need for her son who was still fighting for his life.

I couldn’t and still can’t imagine.
My mom kept a video camera rolling the last few moments of MaKell’s life.
None of us can bear to watch it.

My sister made a choice that resulted in pregnancy.
And ever since, she has been hurting.
She has had to be strong.

Uriah will be 10 years old today. December 28th.
He is miracle.
When I met him, tiny tubes and barely breathing.
I prayed for God to save his life.

I look at Uriah today and he is still learning to eat solid food.
He has finally learned how to use the potty.
He can communicate with an iPAD!
His laughter is contagious.
He finds sounds and lights fascinating and knows every Veggie Tales movie by heart.

Courtney is a great mom.

It has to be difficult for her.
And for my parents.
And there were times when I think my condescning/ patronizing sweep in for a weekend attitude hurt them worse. I don’t know what it’s like.

So I’ve begun asking.
I’ve wanted to learn more.

My sister found it hard to sleep during those first years. She was able to get some medication to help.
Stress built.
She found herself in situations where she didn’t know how to cope.
She became chemically dependent.
Her dependency led to drug use.
If you asked her, she would tell you, she is an addict.

Last Christmas she was in jail.

All the while, a beautiful little child named Uriah is growing up.
My parents have taken care of him when she couldn’t.

This Christmas we have another miracle.
Courtney is clean and sober.
And she knows Jesus.

The truth is, Courtney prayed for me before I was a Christian.
When she was four and I was thirteen. She cheerily came into the house to
tell all of us that she confessed her broken things and that she believed in Jesus and hoped
that someday we would have him in our hearts too.

Two years later, all five of us in our family had turned around and accepted the gift of grace.

On Christmas Day, I was home. I saw Courtney and Uriah (who we lovingly call “buggy”).
I say to her…

Courtney, when I saw you I wanted you to know that I feel some of your pain and that I’m so sorry.

I want you to know that I wish I had been there that day ten years ago when you saw your children too soon, when you were filled with hope and sadness all at the same time. I know you have never held it against me but I’ve held it against myself and it’s kept me from loving you better.

I’ll never forget those 8 days sis.
The 8 days that MaKell lived. 
January 5th, 2003 is another hard day and I know
you’ll never forget that day and you’ll never forget every day after that.
And that makes Christmastime hard.
 
I can’t fix any of what’s happened and am sorry for the times that I’ve tried. I want to love you like I love the students in our youth ministry, without reservation or judgement. I see such a beautiful light in you, a story that will be told when you are ready to tell it, that will touch many and lead others to Christ as you led me so many years ago.
 
I hope you can imagine MaKell safe in God’s arms. I hope you can imagine yourself safe in God’s arms. I pray for you. I want to encourage, inspire, and uplift you in whatever ways that I can.
I’ve asked to be filled again, with faith that can move mountains.
With faith like you had when you were four.
 
I want that type of faith. You showed me it’s possible and it changed my life. 
I’ll give back forever because I know it exists and it changes entire families and breaks bondages and circumvents cycles. You are my evidence. Christ is my hope for salvation and healing. But you are the flesh and bones example of how faith works and how it stretches over time and into situations and heals things.
 
I pray for you as you raise an extraordinary son. Uriah–a warrior if I ever saw one. In his disabilities I know God sees unbelievable ability. Courtney you have always seen his ability to survive against all odds. And he is a gift. Happy Birthday Buggy.
 
I love you and remember you Court. You’re a survivor too, sober, and sold out to getting back on track. I believe in you and will never give up on the potential I see in you.

We can’t fix everything, but we can present in each moment, allowing the Holy Spirit to work where we cannot. This is the lesson of my life.
If your heart is a little heavy a few days after Christmas. It’s ok. For those who mourn. We mourn with you. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)
Where sadness knocks, our Savior waits. We are not alone, not now, not ever.
And we have each other–wounded healers, listening and “being with” in Jesus name.

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