The Dream of Hope

IMG_1754What began as a discussion among 3 grieving couples about how great it would be to have a cabin they could share as a place to “get away” has quickly turned into so much more.  These couples knew first-hand how overwhelming is was to deal with the loss of a child, and realized the peace and solace a private retreat location could provide.  It didn’t take long for those couples to realize that what they wanted for themselves, could minister to countless couples and families in Central Illinois.  

A little over a year ago, with initial plans in place, a larger group was brought together to provide feedback as to the feasibility of this dream.  The idea was well received, and the group embarked on a mission to share the dream and spread word throughout the area.

The dream of having a cabin, set in a tranquil, rural setting, that families could use as a retreat from everyday life, was the goal.  To establish this retreat location, that would be provided to grieving families at no cost, would take a great deal of work, but as the vision is spread, the dream is quickly becoming reality.  Choosing the right building site is key to the success of such an endeavor.  Finding a site that is easily accessible, but provides the needed tranquility, was not an easy task.  Through months of careful searching and prayerful consideration, just a location came available.  

In the late fall of 2017 an official offer was placed on a beautiful 7-acre tract of land that provides not only the perfect balance of level ground for the construction of an easily accessible home, but also pristine, wooded ground that will provide for a place for calm reflection.  The offer was accepted, financing secured, and in January of 2018, the papers were signed for the official home of Hope House.  

To date, no formal fundraising efforts have taken place, but thanks to others who believe in the mission of Hope House, adequate funds have been gathered for the down payment on the land.  The next step is the formation of a committee to plan the capital campaign to raise the funds for construction and operation of Hope House.  Thanks to a generous, local grant from the Duncan-Kendrick Ministry Fund, funds are in place for the construction of the foundation of the house.  During the fundraising drive, plans for construction will be finalized and the potential to break ground in the spring of 2019 is the goal.  

The Hope House committee, volunteers, and supporters are excited to be able to provide such a significant ministry here in Christian County, and to be able to serve families throughout Central Illinois.  For more information, and to follow our progress, please visit hopehouseofcentralillinois.org.

We Have Land!

PurchasePhoto

Special thanks to all the private donors, churches, community organizations, and businesses who have sponsored Hope House of Central Illinois and made it possible for us to purchase the land where Hope House will be built! We have officially purchased seven acres of land south of Taylorville (two miles west of Lakeshore Golf Course). We especially thank the sellers who helped us find the perfect place to help grieving families for many years to come.

We look forward to continuing to make plans and break ground in God’s timing. We’ll kick off our capital campaign soon. Stay connected with us here and on Facebook. We continue to appreciate your prayers.

 

October 2017 Hope House Update

written by Michael St. Louis, Hope House of Central Illinois Board President

update1I remember walking in the winter woods as a youth. The bright shining sun reflecting off of the snow covered boughs and ground, not a breath of air moving, all created a surreal atmosphere. One could say it was a “wonderland.” Time stood still; distance and direction seemed to float away. Your progress was only traceable by looking backwards to see the footprints in the snow. There may be a straight path or maybe meandering, but you know where you have been. Or maybe you tracked you child’s growth on a door or wall in your home. Either way, you are marking progress by looking back.

Much is the same with Hope House. We have been very focused on growing and now it is time to look back to see how far we have come.

As a completely new, unestablished non-profit, I believe we have made great progress in the past 6 months.

We have:

  • presented our vision to over 400 people
  • presented to 10 different community organizations
  • collected 80% of our down payment for land
  • received support from over 100 wonderful donors
  • received committed support for 2018 from 2 organizations
  • spoken with and comforted 3 families after their loss

So what is next? That is a great question I hope to answer. There is more to the wall or door to continue to mark growth, just as there is always more forest to explore.

We are presently:

  • forming a capital committee
  • negotiating the purchase price of land
  • applying for local grants
  • scheduling presentations to more area churches and organizations
  • working toward more long-term funding for sustainability

Of all the great things Hope House has already accomplished, it has only been possible by the generosity and support of so many private individuals and businesses. The hard work of everybody involved has led to extraordinary results. We are not there yet. However, I am confident that as we continue down this road, we will exceed our goals. The many families experiencing loss will be able to find refuge with us because of your support.

Thank you all,

Blessings,

Hope House of Central Illinois

Our Miracle

by Teresa St. Louis

We tried for 20 years to have our children. Finally, at the age of 40, we had the opportunity to do IVF. With much encouragement from dear friends and financial decisions that most financial advisers wouldn’t recommend, we moved forward. We, in hope, believed and on our second attempt with IVF, we became pregnant with our twins Samuel and Selah. The pregnancy was going smoothly even though I felt sick most of the time. Then suddenly at 23 1/2 weeks, my water broke in the middle of the night. Our babies were born the next day, January 23, 2013.

It was a painful three days of life for Samuel and eight days for Selah in the NICU. It was also painful for us to see that their brief life was filled with so much agony. And the guilt I felt because I failed to carry them and protect them like a mother does was heart-wrenching.

We and many others from around the country from what I heard were praying for them, praying for a miracle. To overcome all the obstacles of a micro preemie and grow up and live a full life. But we didn’t get our miracle…

Or so we thought.

The days passed after their death, after the visitation and funeral. Life settled back into our new normal of being a mother and a father but no evidence of it except the pile of baby gifts from our church family baby shower just three days before they were born.

God began to show me that we did get our miracle. He answers our many years of prayer for children. He gave us Samuel and Selah, brief as it was. Their lives were the miracle.

I read in Beth Moore’s Living Beyond Yourself Bible study: “If only we would release God from our preconceived notions of what a miracle should be. Our eyes would be opened to so much more! All it takes to behold a miracle is seeing God do something only He can do.”

Well, only God could allow this aged womb to carry two babies for 23 1/2 weeks and still give them life for three and eight days. To touch many lives in that brief time. And fill our hearts with love like we never knew before.

Thank you, God. That’s what I call a miracle.

Your “one day” could be today.

one-dayOne day there will be no more sorrow. No more heartbreak. No more weeping.

There will be a day these are permanently gone. There are days in my life now where I am filled with joy and laughter. In those moments, my heart knows no sorrow because the joy before me overwhelms it.

There will be a day or moment after loss (whether it be the death of a child, a parent, a spouse, or even the loss when a relationship ends) in which you will find yourself smiling and have so much joy in the moment that your cheeks hurt from it, and you may even find yourself experiencing a nice deep belly laugh.

These moments are all the sweeter for the heartbreak and sorrow from which they are birthed.

Yesterday was one of those days for me. What a gift. What a treasure.

Keep looking ahead. Keep giving life and love another chance.

Because your “one day” WILL come.

The birth of a dream

The years 2013 and 2014 were life changers. We and our friends became part of this unorganized and unofficial  club no one wants to be a part of, Parents of Loss. While the dreams of life with our children had died, we were hopeful that there was purpose in our individual losses. 

Shortly after our loss, Jon and I took a trip in late July 2013 to the Smoky Mountains in the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg TN area with Michael and Teresa. I was personally having trouble with being in public places.  I think social anxiety is a common thing for grieving parents. So, away we went for a little get away. It was a time of reflection, quiet contemplation, expressions of fears, anger, hurt, rejection, and a whole host of emotions. We spent time talking, eating, and playing games in the cabin. We spent time hiking and sight seeing in the great Smoky Mountains. There were moments we cried but there were also moments we smiled and even laughed again. 

That trip was an essential part of our healing process. It reminded us that although there are moments we can’t imaging living without our children, life is still worth the effort of getting out of bed each day if only to see the sunrise or help a fellow parent of loss know they aren’t alone. We were working to help each other find our lost hope and joy.


Once back in central Illinois, we continued to heal, spending time with friends and family. The memories of healing and time spent at the cabin in the Smokies kept us encouraged. 

Shortly after Christmas 2013, our little Yorkie, Phoebe, became very sick. We spent days visiting her at the vet’s office where Randy and his staff were working diligently to make sure she came out of her illness. During some of the visits, we spoke with Randy about our time in the Smokies with Michael and Teresa. That area has always been special to Randy and Gina. We discussed how nice it would be to own a cabin down there and joked about the three couples going in together to buy a place. As 2013 moved into 2014, we continued to discuss this idea whenever we would get together. Once Michael made the comment that it should not just be a vacation home though; it should mean something more, and maybe we could use it as a place to send grieving parents for a short time of healing like we had experienced.

The end of 2014 brought tragedy to Randy and Gina as they lost their twenty-four year old son Danny. He was home for the holidays and the beginning of 2015 found them taking a trip out west to handle his affairs there. While on the road one morning, they saw a rainbow which they received as a sign of hope. The idea of finding some purpose in the loss of our children, bringing something good out of these tragedies, was continuing to take root in our hearts and minds.


By the end of 2014, the birth of a new dream for each of us six parents had begun. The gestational period has been long and full of craziness but here we are boldly daring to dream. We dare to dream that although life can be difficult, there is always a reason to hope. We dream of being able to touch the lives of many other hurting families in the coming years by offering them a place of refuge during their first days of grief. We dream of finding land here in central Illinois where we can build Hope House. We dream of working with other organizations and services to provide the best resources for grieving parents. We dream……


Contact us to learn more and join us in this dream of Hope House.

Painful Endings…..

December 2012 was an exciting and scary month. We were excited to be pregnant but scared of another miscarriage. Nonetheless, our dreaming began. We were hoping for a healthy daughter. Michael and Teresa had found out their twins were going to be a boy and a girl. We imagined all types of shenanigans for them to get into. There was no doubt in anyone’s minds that this was going to be an exciting journey. Teresa’s sonograms and doctor visits showed healthy babies. Jon and I had decided to keep the pregnancy pretty quiet until we were around 20 weeks just to be sure everything was going well. We planned to start sharing in February.

In late January, Michael and Teresa’s dream came to a devastating end. Teresa’s water broke early. They rushed to a local hospital where she was evaluated and flown to Champaign NICU to give the babies every possible chance of survival. They were unable to stop her labor, and Samuel and Selah were born at 23 weeks on January 23, 2013. They were fighters. Samuel lived on this earth for three days and Selah for eight days. Our hearts were broken for our dear friends. This was not the end we had in mind for our dreams of parenting together.

I could not imagine Michael and Teresa (especially Teresa) wanting to be around us following the passing of Samuel and Selah. I especially did not want to go to the visitation with my little baby bump pushing my shirt out even though it was slight at the time. How do you face your friend who has just lost her children and you have not? In fact, your dreams are still very much alive, yet so altered. There was such a sadness and loneliness to my pregnancy the next few weeks. This was not the plan. This was not the dream. I was not supposed to go through this late in life pregnancy without my friend Teresa by my side going through the same thing (although, yes, she is a bit younger than me). I very much wanted to have our baby but it was not going to be the same without Samuel and Selah. Through tears of grace, our friendship remained constant through the tough first stages of Michael’s and Teresa’s grief.

9BC85B6B-As our pregnancy progressed, it was finally time for our sonogram around 20 weeks when we were to find out the sex of the baby and check the growth and development. Although we received the exciting news that we were expecting a little girl, we were told they could not view her heart as clearly as they wanted, so we were referred to another facility and provider for a more specialized sonogram. I lost my 5-year-old sister to a heart condition years ago. Hearing there was a question about our little girl’s heart was like a black knife of fear being birthed in my soul. I fought it. I celebrated with my family at the gender reveal all the while hearing those words echo over and over: “We can’t view the heart clearly. Her heart. Her heart.”

9C7AC66C-On March 4, 2013, after being on a bed for over 2 hours with a sono probe pressed to my belly here and there, I had a few beautiful 3-D photos of our little girl’s perfect face with a little turned-up nose and probably 8-10 photos of her feet which she continued to press against the probe no matter where it was. She definitely did not like it invading her space! Once the tech was finished and the doctor spent another 30-60 minutes reviewing the images, the doctor came into the room. She wanted to check just a few more images. Being a nurse, having had the genetics counselor talk prior to the extended sono, and having the fear grow inside me the longer it took, I had a dread of what was coming next. We were told our daughter had significant heart issues, a herniation in her diaphragm which was allowing her abdominal organs to go up into her chest cavity and cause an issue with lung development. All of this was further complicated by her small size for gestational age and the excess of amniotic fluid. Chances of carrying to term were considered highly unlikely and her heart and lungs were not compatible with life outside the womb. Basically, I was not expected to carry to term and she would not live long once she was born. To say we were devastated is an understatement. I am not sure how we even got to the car. I think we had to stop somewhere so I could throw up. I had so many missed calls and texts from Jon’s mom and my own mom. How were we supposed to tell them this news? How were we even supposed to deal with this?

Before we got home, I had plans to go shop for a pretty little premie outfit to bury our little girl in. I was trying to talk about who would do the funeral service and where she would be buried. Jon was having none of that. He was not giving up. God did not bring us this far to leave us with no hope. We weren’t even supposed to be pregnant so we had to keep hoping until there was no reason to hope.

We got through the first devastating days of the prognosis and continued to see different specialists including fetal cardiology in Springfield and then St. Louis Children’s Hospital. We were at one place or the other every 2-4 weeks for repeat sonograms to check Lucy’s development and weight. Honestly, at every sono and doctor’s visit, something positive was reported. The best day for us was when the fetal cardiologist at St. Louis Children’s told us that although the left side of her heart was smaller than the right, it was functioning properly. We were just dealing with lungs and diaphragmatic hernia now. There was hope.

Through all of this, Michael and Teresa were two of our biggest supporters and sources of encouragement. Randy reminded us of his and Gina’s own daughter’s health issues early in her life. Everyday we had encounters with people or physicians who encouraged us to keep our hope and faith alive. I remember a friend who years ago had struggled with infertility for years and finally had gotten pregnant telling me that she was going to enjoy every minute of her pregnancy no matter how long it lasted because it was a miracle she was even pregnant. I adopted her mindset. With every doctor visit, every kick of Lucy’s little feet, and yes, even every episode of morning sickness (which never ends for me during pregnancy), I was thankful for every pound I gained, every cramp I felt, every day that I got to keep my little girl inside me one more day.

C0B4A5FE-We made it to 35 weeks and four days. The plan was to not let me go past 38 or 39 weeks as long as Lucy was 4 pounds. We had some time to go as she was still just under three pounds at 34 weeks. I went into labor on June 18 and was flown from St. John’s hospital to Barnes in St. Louis. Lucy was born a little after 4 o’clock in the afternoon. She was so tiny. Her tummy so flat. I got to see her kick her legs once they had her intubated and were breathing for her.  One of my favorite photos of her is when she is wrinkling her nose and forehead as they are placing the g-tube in her nose. They rushed her to the NICU. Her lungs were unable to handle the pressure of breathing and collapsed multiple times. They were unable to keep her lungs working.

Once I was able to be with her, they placed her in my arms, and we watched another dream die.

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Dream Boldly

IMG_1782Randy Thompson wrote and shared this at the Hope House kick-off dinner in April 2017.

Years ago, in the days of your youth, did you have bold dreams? I did. I wanted to be a race car driver and win the Indianapolis 500. Oh, the glory that would be mine. Sadly, my Dad wasn’t overly supportive. He told me to hitch up the disk to his Allis Chalmers tractor and race it across the fields. And I did. I spent several race days sitting on that tractor tilling our good southern Indiana family farm ground, listening to the 500 race on the radio. The tractor averaged about 4 MPH, but I have a fertile imagination and could see the track, hear the scream of the race cars, and envision the spectacle of the 250,000 fans lucky enough to be there. I could feel the thrill of side by side racing and of just beating out my hero AJ Foyt to the finish line by mere inches. Maybe your bold dream was to play in the World Series for the St. Louis Cardinals, or to be a singer adored by all the world, or even to be president. Most of us had childish dreams that never materialized, but I hope that doesn’t stop you from dreaming boldly. Perhaps life’s experiences have tempered but, I pray, not trampled your dreams. You have been invited here tonight so that three couples, bonded by common tragedy, can share their big bold dream with you.  

Your hosts tonight are Mike and Teresa St. Louis, Jon and Monica Wamsley, and I am Randy Thompson and Gina is my wife. We are bonded in friendship, but also in the agony of loss of a child. Our situations were each different. Mike and Teresa lost twin babies, Samuel and Selah, born prematurely and living only a few days. Jon and Monica lost Lucy, born early, only to live a few hours. Gina and I lost Dan who lived 25 years. Our common response to the loss of our children was of hopelessness. That and doubt. What did I do wrong? Could I have prevented this? Is God punishing me for past sins?  

Our three families have mourned our losses in solitude, with each other, and with friends and family. Good support has proven essential for a healthy recovery. Our pain has diminished but will never go away, nor should it. As for myself, I constantly wrestle with one basic question: How can I turn the awful tragedy of losing my son into something good? We have a dream. We call the dream Hope House. Like my childish dream of winning the Indianapolis 500, this is a big dream. But that dream was self-centered. Hope House is about helping others. Hope House is about helping families who have experienced the loss of a child to find hope again. Sometimes the Hope House dream seems too big, perhaps even impossible. And it would be if it were only our dream. But we three couples believe in a big powerful God that can do anything through His people. Please allow us to share our bold dream with you.

Click here to access the videos and other information presented at the Hope House kick-off dinner.

The Beginning…

It would be the epitome of conceit to believe that we at Hope House (and especially me, Monica, as a writer) could be the voice of every grieving parent out there, so we won’t even try. What I will do, as I write on behalf of Hope House, is tell you a series of stories, our stories from my perspective, showing you how they have intertwined and brought us to this vision of Hope House of Central Illinois. In sharing our stories, it is our desire to bring hope to other grieving families even in the darkest of days.

Our story begins with a mission trip to New Orleans to aid with recovery efforts from hurricane Katrina.

In early 2008, a couple gifted in construction (Michael and Teresa) led a missions trip to NOLA to aid in recovery in St. Bernard Parish. My husband Jon and Randy, a veterinarian friend, went as well. Shortly before the missions trip in February, Jon and I found out we were expecting a baby. I was 39 at the time. Michael was encouraged by our somewhat late-in-life pregnancy and mentioned to Jon his desire for he and Teresa to “throw their hat into the ring” and try again to have a child. They had struggled for many years with infertility.

A few nights into the mission trip, I was at home in Illinois working my night job as an ER nurse when I began experiencing early signs of miscarriage. I left work and miscarried at home. Communication with the mission team in St. Bernard Parish was unreliable at best. Once I finally reached Jon, he didn’t know if he could get home, because he had driven Randy’s truck (and Randy had flown). When Randy found out what was going on back home, he immediately offered his airline ticket, so Jon could get to me quickly. I was thankful Jon was able to fly home to be with me as I recovered.

We continued to pray for another pregnancy for ourselves as well as for Michael and Teresa. I specifically prayed for years that Teresa and I would get to experience pregnancy together and raise our kids together in our community and church, encouraging one another in parenting.

A few years passed. Randy and Gina had children graduate high school and go to college. Jon and I had our boys from my first marriage who graduated high school. Michael accepted the call to ministry and enrolled in classes at Lincoln Christian University. Life was rolling along, not exactly as we had planned but it was good. Michael and Teresa had attempted to foster some children, looked into adoption, and contemplated in-vitro.

They got the exciting news IVF was successful: Michael and Teresa were expecting twins in May 2013!

Winter 2012 brought the surprising news that Jon and I were expecting a child in July 2013. We had really given up the thought of ever having a child together, but here we were, pregnant. And at the same time as Michael and Teresa! We were all very excited.

What do you see?

We have all seen them. Those social media ink blot type photos that you are  supposed to stare at for 30 seconds then look away, blink three times, and see an image like Jesus or a bunny. Maybe a flower. The life of a grieving parent can be like an ink blot. You see one thing but after careful attention and then a glimpse from another perspective, you have a whole new picture. We grieving parents have buried a very very precious part of our lives. What would happen if we found a way to change that picture from having buried something precious to having planted something precious? With soil and water, things grow. With our tears we have watered what was planted at the burial of our children. What grows from that is up to us to some degree. Will it be a more loving and compassionate person in ourselves? Or will it be something not quite so pleasant? Don’t be too hard on yourself if what grows from your grief isn’t always pretty. After all, one of the most beautiful and well known flowers has thorns.