Friday, July 29, 2016

Open the Door

Sometimes when I think about fall arriving (I know, I know it's still JULY, but I am already craving infinity scarves and hot Starbucks bevis), I think: THANK GOD. This season of life has been a rough one and I'm ready to wave bye and kick it out. There was great stuff, too (like buying our first house, wonderful times with family and friends, and seeing two pink lines on a pregnancy test) but there was also a lot of junk. This school year made me question and doubt my teacher heart. We spent way too much time in hospitals the past few months between AJ's mom's sickness and my water-breaking induced bedrest. Oh....and our daughter died. Even typing those words, I sort of still can't believe it's true. A year ago, heck, even 8 months ago, the word "daughter" was not even on my radar. And "died?" Forget about it. Life can change so very fast. It's a wonder our hearts are still beating. AJ asked me yesterday, "Will life ever be the same again?" I looked at him and gave him the answer we both knew: No. It won't. Pastor and author Levi Lusko describes life after the loss of his daughter as one in which he will always "walk with a limp." That is the best description for life after loss I have found. You're still moving forward but something is always different and odd about it.

   The day we buried Hadley I woke up early and furiously wrote in my journal. I wrote that I feel like I'm living in the waiting room. There's something to all this, but for now I can't see that so I just wait. And if you know me, waiting is torture for me. Pausing is a challenge for me. Stillness is difficult for me. Patience is tough for me. While I reluctantly wait, I look back.  I look back at the storm, at the hell that was June and July. Thank goodness we're out of that. Thank goodness we don't live in the hospital anymore. Thank goodness Hadley is free from suffering and pain. But one of the thousands of lessons I have learned recently is that just because something is in your rear view mirror does not mean it's not existing in the present in your heart and mind. It's important to look back, to think back, to remember. But I do not want to pitch my tent and live there, I think. Too much pain there, too much heartache, too many desperate pleas with God and guttural cried from my soul. No thanks, let's put summer 2016 in a closet and slam the door.

    Last night AJ and I made our Fall 2016 "Bucket List." We had a few laughs over what constituted a bucket list item. I added things like "clean the fridge," "buy a fire extinguisher," "go meatless once a week." He added things like "day trips," "go to a concert," "lose 15 lbs," "try a hard hike." I think he is much more aligned with what a Bucket list actually is! The point is, we are hopeful and excited about the future. Summer 2016 is going to be packed away tight, behind that door. Let's add a lock, too, for good measure. People have inquired (in respectful ways of course) about our future as parents. About Hadley's beautifully prepared room. I will say this, physically and mentally, we are not ready to get pregnant anytime soon. That's tough. Remember when I said waiting was hard for me? I asked my doctor, in my hospital bed, my C section incision burning with pain, "So, uhh, can we try again, like soon?" My answer: Wait. Ouch. And her room? Well, it's beautiful and perfect. I won't post pictures because for now it's sort of a private little space, but my pinterest-y vision came to life perfectly and it's fit for a princess. I told our counselor, through frustrated tears that I wish I could just chop that room off our house. It's supposed to be behind that door, remember, locked tight with the rest of the summer? She reminded me (and I've reminded myself a thousand times since) that Hadley's room was lovingly prepared for our child. It was an act of parenting before our child was born. It was meant to be Hadley's but I know she wouldn't mind sharing it one day in the future with her little brother or sister. That room is "for someone" That mysterious "someone" is meant just for us and all our hopes and dreams and fears and future are tied up to that special little someone. We have hope for the future, but for now, we must heal. Healing and hope go hand in hand I've decided.

Lately I've been  making sure the "door" to the past is firmly shut. I test out laughter and find it comes easy. I snuggle with AJ and find it feels like home, when I was convinced a mere few weeks ago I would never feel home again. I can be silly, and me, and think about desk arrangements for next year. I try on contentment and peace and even joy, too, and find they all fit perfectly. I look in the mirror and see the physical scars healing (not as quickly as I would like, go figure) and I smile knowing the inside scars are healing up nicely too. I jiggle the handle. Yep, still closed.

But sometimes the door is loud and big. It's not easy to ignore the door. After all, I know what's inside. It taunts me, and sometimes I see or hear something like a baby's cry or the countdown to my due date on my phone (18 days) and the door jiggles and even though there's a lock on it, I fear that what's inside will come crashing through and attack me. And sometimes it does. The hot tears fall and I curse the universe, I look at her pictures and my heart and mind and soul cry out "WHY?" The pain is palpable. I crave feeling her in my belly, soft kicks, and reassurance of life inside. I swear I can still smell her soft head and her silky skin. I can feel her tiny hand gripping my finger and it's then that I realize, yep, the door has swung wide open. When I finally calm and hold tight to platitudes, verses, prayers, and really amazing people, I quickly and quietly shut the door again.

I've found that at times instead of crashing open and breaking the lock, the door invites me to look closer. There's light coming from the cracks. It breaks into the room in odd shapes and sharp lines. Light? How can that be? There's just a load of hurt, tears, and suffering in there. It's supposed to be dark. Me, the girl who is impatient and on a constant quest to move forward, purposely added a lock, prepared to walk away from the door and never return. But the light is gripping. I know instinctively where the light comes from. It comes from the immeasurable love I felt holding my daughter tight and looking at her perfect face. From the wonderful people in our lives, our strong families and the pure goodness I have seen exhibited this summer. People have blown me away with kindness and have been the hands and feet for Jesus. It comes from the dozens of miracles we felt and experienced. It comes from my heart as a wife and how my love for my husband has grown and matured and deepened. It comes from the gratitude I have for memories. Whatever happens in my life from this point forward, I have known true, enormous, unconditional love and I have been forever changed.  It comes from a deep well of abundant grace. Yes, there's light there. Even in a scary place. I twist the doorknob and walk forward letting the light consume me. To the girl who wants to move forward, I know that the only way forward is through.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Whole Lotta Random

Hi There,
    There's a whole lot of random in this post. We are back to school in just a few weeks and while I will enjoy getting back into a routine, it's an odd feeling to return to "real life" after this summer of ups and downs and highs and lows. Many people have asked how we are doing and I can sum it up in one word: Okay. We are doing okay. We have our moments and my heart aches to hold Hadley one more time, but we are surviving. Together. We truly have been leaning on one another and slowly slowly slowly feeling more normal. It's a matter of coming to grips with the fact that there will always be a Hadley sized hole in our heart and discovering that it is in fact possible to live with a missing piece. Nothing will ever fill that void so we've got to make nice with it and learn to let it into our home and be with it.

I'm resorting to a good old fashioned list because that's how I roll....

1) I made homemade hummus yesterday and it was good, guys! I basically just eyeballed some chickpeas, olive oil, handfuls of spinach, lemon juice and garlic in the blender. I refuse to buy that tahini stuff to make real hummus but my modified recipe turned out well. The Steeles are trying to eat a little cleaner during the weekdays. Much more on that to come....

2) Back to School! I bought my teacher planner last week and turned up some tunes and sat with my sharpened pencils for a few hours and filled in the dates (and the breaks too, obviously). I don't want to jinx it, but I don't need to buy too much stuff this year, but was wondering if ya'll had the scoop on deals on Crayolas? I like to give them to my class at Christmas because by that point in the year, the paper is peeled off and we're coloring with nubs. Unacceptable.

3) Sunday morning we were planning on sleeping in but I woke up early and just felt like we needed to get ourselves to church. The message really spoke to me and I heard a quote I never heard before but it nearly knocked me out of my seat:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” -CS Lewis

I mean, come on! AJ and I had a plan drawn up for what our "house" would be like, but yes yes yes to all that figurative "remodeling." It's not an easy process, but I know the end result will be worth it. I'll be turning that quote over and over for a while. I just resonate with it. 

4) BOOKS! I have a few pages left in "Eligible" and I love love loved it. Perfect for a trip or a poolside read. It's a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice. I've never read the original, but now do I have to? (sorry Austen fans). I have two books in my queue to begin next. One, "Through the Eyes of a Lion," was recommended by our counselor about a pastor who lost his young daughter. It'll be an impactful read and I can't wait for it to speak to me. After that, I figure I'll need a light novel so "First Comes Love" from Emily Giffin is on deck. 

5) Pokemon Go: Ok so I've never played and I won't knock those who do. You do you, I don't really care. BUT.....twice now I have seen Pokemon Go players stomping around my daughter's cemetery. I just cannot. Really?! I cannot imagine any of my sweet blog readers would do such a thing, but if you happen to see something like this, people politely remind others about manners and sacred spaces. Sheesh.

6) Married at First Sight begins again this week and thank goodness, because this season of The Bachelorette just isn't doing it for me. Jojo is boring and the amount of teasing and hairspray on male hair this season is just disturbing. 

Have a happy week! 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Mountain Healing

Every summer AJ and I plan a getaway. It usually involves a road trip to Oregon and the coast (our engagement and our honeymoon), and last year we went to Lake Tahoe to celebrate our one year anniversary. This summer has been....different. My plans involved taking long walks, watching an unhealthy amount of netflix, and eating popsicles all day while I grew Hadley in my belly. But, as you know, life's plans don't always match our own. After our world crashed down, my first instinct was to get away, to run away. But honestly, traveling far wasn't really a good idea (sometimes I forget I'm recovering from major surgery) and we didn't want to spend a bunch of money and I've been hesitant to be too far from home lately. We decided to go for 2 nights to Heber/Midway area for a change of scenery. I've never really spent much time in this area (one night for a wedding a few years ago) and it's only about an hour away. We stayed at the Zermatt Swiss themed hotel and we had a really nice time relaxing and being together. It felt nice to celebrate our relationship and be in the peaceful mountains. We ate good food, read by the pool, slept in, took pretty walks and hikes, and discovered some cute shops. I will definitely go back and am thankful for the chance to recharge a bit in a new setting. It feels nice to heal together. This grief thing is a journey and we are discovering that happiness must be cultivated. So that's exactly what we plan on doing.

  Here are some pics from our getaway:

Our deal was a couples massage with me and I'd go golfing with AJ.  Ha! The massage was heavenly. 

We ordered this dish called "hillbilly nachos." Oh my. Potato rounds with all sorts of toppings. I would drive back just for these. 

Banana bread in the lobby each afternoon....don't mind if I do! 

Our room view 

We drove to Strawberry Reservoir 

I look goofy here, but AJ looks adorbs 

I actually had a great time golfing 

For all your caddying needs! I had way too much fun driving this thing around 

The letter "H" will always have special meaning in my life. Talking about our girl on a walk and suddenly we see this! Love you, baby girl! 

On a pretty hike 

I posted on Insta how I was nervous to wear my swimsuit with my pregnancy stretch marks but I did it anyway and it felt damn good! 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Memories & Macchiatos

I wanted to take this chance to tell everyone thank you, thank you, thank you for your support love and prayers for AJ and I during all of this. Truly, saying "I don't know what to say" means more to us than saying nothing at all. We have witnessed the goodness of humanity and generosity in ways we have never imagined. We are surrounded by love and it holds us up daily. We have our moments, our times when things "trigger" our sadness and anger, but we are okay. We will be okay. And that's because of the people in our lives. I don't like to use the term "blessed" anymore (if tragedy strikes, does that mean you are not blessed?), but I will say we have abundance in our lives and we are thankful. Thank you.

We are in the dog days of summer and I am cherishing this time to rest and relax. Usually every year I'm jazzed for the new school year and already have things planned and ready to roll. This year I'm just not there yet and that's ok. I'll think about it in August. Although I may make a visit to the teacher store this weekend because nothing gets me pumped for school like coordinating decor. And starting to fill in my teacher planner always makes me excited #nerd.

I've visited Hadley's grave site a few times and love just sitting in the warm sun hanging with my girl. We have ordered her grave stone and I am looking forward to its arrival. I know as time goes on we will do more things to commemorate Hadley and celebrate her life. Our wheels are already turning for how we will honor her on her birthday every year. We hung some mirrors above our dresser and added a floral arrangement (Hobby Lobby, I love thee) and AJ had the idea to add a single pink lily in memory of Hads. We also ordered a canvas of our hands stacked up and I just love it. The hospital also did wonderful things to help us remember. Just yesterday I went through some items from our hospital stay (yes, it took me that long to go through was an emotional process) and I found her little pink hat, her hair bows, her hand and feet molds, some hand prints and things too. The NICU nurses also made us an adorable scrapbook. I smiled through my tears enjoying the fact that my little gal "made" crafts for mommy and daddy without us knowing. Thank you, baby girl!

We celebrated our 2nd anniversary on Tuesday. We toyed with the idea of going to a fancy dinner, making dinner, or having a picnic. We settled on an easy picnic at Memory Grove park where we were married. It was a much cooler evening than it was on that day two years ago. We strolled around and just enjoyed being together. I am so passionate about marriage and this year even more. We were both amazed as we looked at our picture together from our one year anniversary (we are doing the picture in a picture thing every year, thank you pinterest) and how much life had changed since then. In a year we bought a house, AJ turned 30, his mom beat a major illness, and of course, we got pregnant and had and lost our baby girl. What a difference a year makes.

I am rediscovering my love for a good strong cup of coffee. I know they are super sweet and not great for you, but I am loving an iced caramel macchiato. YUM. I had to laugh at the way my name was spelled on the cup this week, "Lesleigh."  Speaking of coffee, I've gotten into "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" with Seinfeld. It's light, fun, and I've finished every episode this week! Also AJ got me into the show "East Bound and Down." It's an old show from HBO and it's filthy but hilarious. We appreciate the comedy these days.

This blog is officially one year old next week! It started out as a random place to document recipes, books I'm reading, and our weekend activities. It has turned into such a special part of my life. I love writing and I appreciate you reading. Sharing in life together is powerful and I just love it.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Life Lately feels weird to write a post in an AH world (After Hadley). Umm, does anyone really care what we're watching/eating/reading/doing? Do I even care? We are knee deep in this "grief cycle" business and we will be for a good long while. And that's okay. It's all okay. Being where we are and feeling where we are is all okay, it's normal, it's natural, and there are no apologies in the AH world. I am thankful beyond belief that AJ and I have the summer off together. Our days have been busy with doctors appointments, counseling appointments, long walks, naps, and learning to wake up from the numbness. We've laughed and smiled and relaxed and had fun. We've also cried, and melted down, and withdrawn from each other. This grief thing is a mixed bag. We're in a place of being "I'm still me" but also "I am radically changed." I've been working hard on Hadley's photo memory book and can't wait to order it and will treasure it always. We've gone to visit her grave a few times and I bought a picnic blanket to keep in my car for when I want to swing by and spend some time with my Princess. AJ and I both agree that if we had known what was to happen we would have chosen the card we were dealt instead of never having known Hadley at all. We felt love from her. She felt love from us. It's been so so so hard but rich and beautiful too. Life is funny like that.

Here's some glimpses of our life lately:
4th of July: In true Leslie style, I needed a project to distract me so we threw a BBQ for our family. We got cute decorations and BBQ'd brats, burgers, made some sides and I had my first post-baby beer (yum). We went for a long walk around the lake at Daybreak and just enjoyed time together with family watching fireworks.
Health: I had my post-op visit and all looks good. I am officially off pain meds and slowly getting back into working out (very low-key to start). You know what's weird? A postpartum body but no baby. Learning to love the skin I'm in and being proud of what my body did/is still doing is something I work on daily. All part of that healing thing (physically and mentally).
Summer: I am obviously not taking maternity leave so I will be going back to school next month. That was a tough pill to swallow, but I know I need the distraction and a return to "real life." I love the hope and spirit of 1st graders and am looking forward to surrounding myself with it soon. I did tons of prep before I left so I really don't have too much to handle when I do end up returning in a few weeks. AJ and I have some local area getaways planned and we try and do something fun every day. I am enjoying the sunshine and have been cleared to go in the pool now so I hope to enjoy swimming at our new place. I just finished reading "The Coincidence of the Coconut Cake" (cute but predictable) and am starting 'The Power of I Am" by Joel Osteen and "First Comes Love" by (my fave) Emily Giffin this weekend. I've seen a few movies and pampered myself with some mani pedis. AJ is taking an AP teaching class next week and I think that'll be good for him to get semi back into the swing of things. His students rocked their AP test and getting their great scores this week was a highlight in our summer of bad news. We'll take any victories we can get!

So that's us lately: the same, but different. We both hope people don't feel uncomfortable around us. I know, baby death is not exactly something people want to discuss. I get it. But Hadley doesn't make me sad. She is my greatest pride and joy and yes, I'm hurt. I'm damaged. I'm broken. I'm devastated. But living with all those things also makes me an overcomer. Of all the things I am, being an overcomer and a mom are my two favorites. Have a great weekend, everyone!