January 29, 2016

It Hurts Because We’re Pro-Life

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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 conceptionpiece 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

January 15, 2016

This is Not the Cross I Wanted

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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

October 20, 2015

Still At the Beginning {2nd Anniversary}

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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 ๐Ÿ™‚
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


August 12, 2015

Alexandria the Great: The Birth Story

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This week Alexandria the Great turned 6 months old.  I can hardly believe it.  Six months since her grand entrance.  Six months of taking on the adventure of motherhood one day at a time. 

So in commemoration of making it halfway through her first year of life, I thought I would finally share her birth story…mostly for myself and for the ability to hopefully compare this to other Baby Johnston deliveries in the future.

(If birth stories aren’t your thing, you can scroll down to the bottom and read about how we chose her name. )

Let’s rewind 25 weeks….

I was almost 41 weeks along, and I was tired of being pregnant.

This was after walking up and down the most enormous hill we could find in town.  
Sure, I understood that it was called an “estimated due date”, but when February 4th came and went and I still didn’t have a baby it felt like Christmas without any presents. Where was my baby?
Baby Johnston was showing no signs of making an appearance any time soon. 
I was tired. I was sore. Sleeping at night was nearly impossible, heartburn was vicious as ever, and it felt like Baby J was nuzzling further up into my rib cage instead of making the journey south.  I was enjoying Downton Abbey & Gilmore Girls marathons with Mom, but what I really wanted was my baby.  And I was getting impatient.   
On the morning of Monday the 9th we went to an appointment with the doctor to discuss what would be best for me and for baby. We had originally scheduled an induction for that night, but we decided we were willing to wait a little longer.

We asked Doctor P if we could go in on Wednesday evening to be induced, but when he told us he would be gone and would have to request another doctor, we decided to schedule the induction for Tuesday night, with the hopes that we would have a baby by Wednesday morning. Wednesday was the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, and  that actually gave me a sense of peace  as we moved forward. 

When we got home from the appointment I ate lunch, and then slept the rest of the afternoon.  I had felt what I thought were maybe contractions earlier that day, but I wasn’t getting my hopes up.  I was tired.  And frustrated.  And still pregnant.  (Cue violin)

I finally got up around 5:45, and Mom wanted me to go walk the mall with her.  

Before leaving the house, we talked about what would happen if my water broke.  I told my Mom about this article that had been my daily pregnancy email.  

“Oh don’t worry,” I said.  “Only 15% of women’s water break before labor begins, so I think I’m good.”  Mom commented on how surprisingly low that sounded, but we both agreed that the chances of my water breaking were so low that it wasn’t worth worrying about… plus after the appointment I’d had with the doctor that morning I figured I’d be pregnant forever until I was induced.  

Around 6:40pm we left the house, leaving my husband to cook dinner while we drove over to the mall across the street. When we walked into the store I noticed a rack of men’s pajama pants on clearance, and remembered that Michael needed another pair or two.  I couldn’t remember his size so I gave him a call while my Mom went to another section of the store.  

Me:  “Hey!  PJ pants are on sale.  What size do you wear?”

Him:  “Let me check… hold on a second.  Large I think, yes Large.”
Me: “Michael?”
Him:  “Yes?”
Me: “My water just broke.”

And with that, I became one of the 15%!  Feeling particularly grateful that I had changed out of my skirt and into my super absorbent yoga pants, I waddled to the back of the store, found Mom and informed her that it was GO TIME.

I’m not sure if any of the JcPenny employees heard this exciting announcement, but after verifying that I hadn’t leaked all over their floor we got in the car and headed back across the street to pack things up for the hospital.

When I got back in the house Michael was busy grabbing our mostly packed hospital bag, and trying to find little things like chargers, toothbrushes, etc.  I, on the other hand, was having a minor internal spaz attack:

The house is a mess! 

What is the baby going to wear when we go home? 

Heck, what am I going to name this baby?

What if this baby doesn’t get the right name?!

I’m hungry.  I haven’t eaten since lunch.I can’t eat!  I’m having a baby.
But I should eat.But I can’t!

Michael and Mom tried to convince me that I needed to eat before I left, but I couldn’t figure out what I wanted, and I was in “GO mode”.  (This would later prove to be a mistake that will not be repeated with future Baby Johnston Deliveries.)

Right about the time we were packing the car was also when those contractions kicked in.

Oh boy.

We got to the Women’s Center a little after 7pm.  I’m not sure what I expected…maybe I’d seen too many TV shows or movies where the woman pulls up to the hospital and the nurses rush her to the delivery room in a wheelchair.  I was surprised by how calm everyone was.  I waddled my way to the delivery room, put on their ever so elegant hospital gown, got hooked up to the machines, and signed some paperwork.  
Time to get this party started! 
Doctor P came by around 11pm to check on things.  Because Baby Johnston had already pooped in utero, he said that we really needed to get the baby out in the next 22 hours.  This meant we needed pitocin to help me progress, which meant those lovely contractions that I thought I was handling so well were about to get a whole lot more intense.  
And boy did they. 
I remember the nurse asking me, “So what are we doing for pain management?”.  I just sort of chuckled and said “I’d like to make it as long as I can without anything, but we’ll see what happens!”
And on the inside I really felt like:
 and a little bit of 
In hindsight, I really wasn’t prepared to have a “natural” childbirth.  
Sure, I’d read a few articles, glanced at a few books, but we didn’t really have a plan for dealing with the pain.  Yes, I had my bouncy ball.  We did the tennis balls in the sock thing to rub my lower back… And my husband did an amazing of helping me focus and breathe through each contraction.  In fact, without his encouragement and gentle presence I couldn’t have made it as long as I did without drugs.

But after about 4 hours of tears, I knew that the only way we were going to progress was if we got the epidural.  

As the surprisingly peppy for 3:45am anesthisiologist prepped me, I felt really guilty.  I thought about how much the epidural would add to our hospital bill, and I also felt like I had somehow failed by not pushing through the pain.

But then the epidural went in…
And I’m pretty sure the heavens opened.

That epidural was the BEST decision I made for myself that day. 
As soon as the epidural kicked in I went to sleep.  Just like that.  I was relaxed enough that things could move along, and Michael was able to get some sleep as well.  
I woke up around 7:30am and I was still feeling really good and loving that epidural.  My Mom came in to trade places with Michael so he could run home real quick to get something.  Our home is 4 min away from the hospital so it wasn’t a big deal for him to leave.

Let me mention here, my Mom is amazing.

Not only did she stay in the waiting room praying throughout the night for us, but she was affirming and encouraging throughout the entire labor.  And she even held my barf bag when Michael left, so she gets major points in Heaven for that ;). 

The nurses came in to check me and happily reported that I was fully dilated, and it would be time to push in about 30 min.  “We’re going to do a practice push,” she said.  I started pushing and then she shouted, “STOP!  STOP!  This baby is coming!  And that baby has a lot of hair!  We need to get the doctor…DO NOT PUSH ANYMORE.”  
At which point I called my husband and told him to come back now.  It was Go Time. 
Doctor P finally came in around 9am and the team assembled.  
Because of how alarmed the nurse had been during my practice push, I really thought that this baby was just going to slide right on out.  Like maybe 2 pushes and boom, baby.  Right?
Um. Nope.
This is going to sound silly but I had no idea how hard pushing was going to be.  You’d think I would have picked up on that… I mean I was pushing a human being out of me…kind of a big deal.

My epidural was just wearing off, so could feel enough pressure to push, but there wasn’t any pain.

I had two nurses on my left, Michael on my right, and Dr. P ready to catch.  I remember thinking that I had a “good” nurse and a “bad” nurse… but really they were both just encouraging me in different ways, and I needed both of them there.

I pushed.  Nothing.
I pushed again.  Something, but not enough.
About 4 or 5 pushes and I realized this was going to be one of the hardest things I had ever done (Again, silly aha moment).

Dr. P finally said, “If we can’t get the baby out on this next push, I’m going to need to help things a little bit.”  Pretty much all I heard was “I will cut you.”

Um.. call those the words of inspiration that I needed because with that, I pushed like I had never pushed before, and all of a sudden… I could breathe.

The doctor had told me the night before that once baby came out they were going to need to suction the baby’s lungs before handing the baby to me because of the meconium. I’m really glad that he had prepared me for that, otherwise I probably would have been scared and worried that he wasn’t handing me my child immediately

I waited for someone to shout “IT’S A___” but no one said anything.  I remember feeling like things had gone quiet for a moment… then I heard the baby cry… but no one said anything to me.  Finally, I turned to Michael and asked “Is it a girl or a boy?”  “Umm.. I don’t know yet…” he said, and then finally Dr. P jumped in, “Oh I’m sorry!  Not doing my job, it’s a GIRL!”

It took a few moments for them to give her to me, but when we finally met, it was love at first sight.  You can read about that moment over here.  But long story short, meeting my daughter, seeing her for the first time, was like getting just a tiny snapshot of the infinite and miraculous love of God.

Mind. blown.  

Baby Johnston Gets a Name

One of the benefits of not knowing if “Baby Johnston” was a boy or a girl was that I felt like we could go to the hospital with options.  We’d come up with our top 2 girl and 2 boy names, and figured once we met the baby we’d know.  

It took a little while, but we settled on Alexandria Elise.  Alexander is the name of my Great Great Grandfather on my Mom’s side.  I have a male cousin named after him, and I thought we might bring it back with a feminine touch :).  

And Elise?  Well, that was a name that I happened to come across during a meeting with parents preparing to baptize their baby.  I thought it was pretty.  Boom.

The meanings of her names are what I like the most.  When I hear “Defender of Mankind” it makes me imagine how God will work through her as she grows.  And the meaning of Elise, “pledged to God” reminds me that my prayer from day one has been that she will be the woman God created her to be.   

Usually the first question people ask me after I tell them her name is “What are you going to call her?”  Five syllables is a lot for one kid, I know.  Still, we call her Alexandria (the Great).  It’s a big name, but I have a feeling it’s going to fit her just fine :).  Some folks call her Alex, my family calls her Lexie, but her Dad and I will most likely always call her Alexandria….

….at least until we mix her name up with her siblings!

And there you have it, the story of how Alexandria the Great came into the world and got her name! 

Thank you Jesus for our beautiful baby girl, 
and for trusting us with the great task of being her parents.  

be at peace
walk on water
be not afraid


July 9, 2015

What God Can Do in a Decade

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I really like  “Timehop” and the “On this Day” apps.  It’s always entertaining and sometimes surprising to see a snapshot of what I was up to several years ago.

One day I was scrolling through those memories and it occurred to me that a lot has happened over the past 10 years.  If you had told me at 19 years old that over the next decade I would travel to two other countries, live abroad for a year, get a job in Southwest Kansas, teach Theology of the Body in English and Spanish, marry a man I met on the internet, meet the Pope, earn a Masters degree in Theology, and then have a baby…. I probably would have thought you were insane.

There’s just no way I would have been able to process all of that.

19 was a dark time for me.  I was getting ready to go into my sophomore year of college, I was living at home, my Mom was dealing with a debilitating illness (which was hard on the whole family), and I was also struggling through some serious addictions and pain of my own.

At 19, I thought my brokenness was only going to get more broken.  Sure, there were good days.  But I was hurting, and I was looking for happiness, love, and peace in all the wrong places.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that while I thought my wounds were only getting larger, God was already at work doing some major heart surgery.

When I look back at the last decade as a whole, I can’t help but see how God laid a foundation over the years, and how each step had an influence on the next. 

I went from studying Italian to Spanish, which led to a study abroad adventure in Costa Rica.  That experienced inspired me to want to serve as a missioner in Mexico for a year after graduation, which led to a job in Texas.  The highlight of that year in Texas was being exposed to Theology of the Body on an even deeper level and meeting my husband.  That new found love of TOB led to a job in Southwest Kansas, where I’ve been for almost 5 years.  Being in Dodge City connected me and my husband to a MA Theology program, which is how we ended up in Rome with Pope Francis over our honeymoon.  And our graduation present?  Baby Johnston ๐Ÿ™‚

Of course, those are just the major highlights, but I know that there were even more moments and experiences that God used to draw me closer to Himself over the years. 

Now here I am at 29… a married mother in ministry

God used some of the darkest, most challenging, and most inspiring experiences lead me to where I am now.  I’m still growing, I’m still in formation, and God is still faithful, even when I’m at my worst.

There’s a song by Gungor called “Beautiful Things“.  The entire song moves me.  The beginning of the first verse goes:

All this pain,
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way,
I wonder if this life could really change at all.

Then refrain and bridge articulate exactly what comes to mind when I reflect on the last decade:

You make beautiful things… out of the dust. 
You make beautiful things…out of us.  
You make me new, you are making me new.

God’s plan for our lives is more incredible than anything we can imagine for ourselves.  If I’ve learned anything over the past decade, it’s that God will make something beautiful out of our brokenness, but we have to let Him into it
Sometimes it is really difficult to see the “bigger picture”, and it is easy to forget that God is at work in each and every moment.  I still struggle with this. 
I don’t always remember to look at where I am in my journey or actively discern what the next steps might be.  Yes, God can do so much over the years… but am I open to what He is doing in my life right now?  Do I realize that if I’m willing to give God each day, one moment at a time, He can do the impossible?  
Maybe you’ve experienced a dark moment in your own journey.  Maybe that’s where you are right now, and it’s hard to see hope or how God could possibly bring healing into the situation.  If I can give any encouragement, it would be to be patient with yourself and be patient with God.  God loves us too much to leave us exactly where we are, and He really can make something beautiful out of the darkest and most broken pieces of ourselves.  

While I may not be dealing with the same things I was ten years ago, I know God is still healing my heart and preparing me for even more adventures that will lead me even further out of the boat.  More than anything I hope that I can continue to learn to give God one moment at a time, and to cling to His promise, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev 21:5)

be at peace
walk on water
be not afraid