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The Long Journey

photo-1534330207526-8e81f10ec6fcThe journey of Hope House has been a long one, and we are still in the early stages.

We have experienced deep loss. We have sat in pits of disorienting darkness. We have felt the joy of being surrounded of friends and have been annoyed by their presence at times. We’ve seen sunrises and butterflies that remind us of life and hope. We’ve wrestled with doubts, anger, and faith. We’ve prayed, we’ve cursed, we’ve laughed, we’ve cried.

We’ve felt horribly alone, even when people have been around. We’ve pushed away people we love. We’ve blamed ourselves. And we’ve glimpsed beauty among ashes.

And we’ve dreamed. We’ve dreamed of a place where parents like us can step away from their everyday lives and retreat to a beautiful setting to relax and heal. They can’t step away from their grief; we know it is always present. But we can provide a brief respite as parents and families struggle into a new normal.

We invite you to partner with us. It is a long journey, but could you walk a few steps with us? We hope to break ground in 2019. To find out more and get involved, visit our campaign page.

Thank you.

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.

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.

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. 

Lessons In Heartache #4

Written 8/22/2013

Lesson #4)  Learning to Live With Realistic Expectations

Hope and sorrow. Two words you never expect to tie together. They seem to be polar opposites, in fact. Some days the correlation between the two is very difficult to find. This has been the case for me in the last few weeks. Some days I am full of hope that I am making progress in this journey. Some days I believe that brighter days are ahead and we will get through this. Then the darkness seems to overwhelm. Something triggers a memory that brings the sorrow back. It’s like the knife is not just stuck there in my heart, but is twisting to make sure it hits as big an area as possible. Some days it feels I’m making progress and others it feels like I’ve taken giant steps backward.

I have these expectations of myself that are probably a bit unreal. Some examples include: If I were truly surrendered to God, I would not be hurting this much. If I really believed that God is taking care of me, I wouldn’t struggle when memories hit. Sometimes it is just telling myself I should be further along in my grief. I should be able to make small talk at family gatherings like I used to. Being in crowds shouldn’t bother me. Social settings shouldn’t bother me. Being away from home for a day shouldn’t bother me. I should not be so wrapped up in myself and my loss. The pangs of jealousy I feel at times should not be present. By now I should be past the anger. Maybe other people don’t want to hear about Lucy anymore. I should probably not talk about her because it makes other people uncomfortable or increases the pain I know they are still suffering. She was not just my little girl, she had a whole family that was excited to have her  and I don’t want my grief, my sorrow, my dark moments to cause anyone else more pain. So I carry it myself.  Well, at least the parts that I don’t emotionally dump on Jon (or my ride-to-work buddy).

Looking at it realistically, I think the expectations I have for myself are too high. God didn’t mean for me to carry this burden alone. There is a verse in Psalms that I have been meditating on.

Psalm 63:8  My soul follows close behind you; your right hand upholds me.

The thought always comes to me, “why the right hand?”.  What is so important that the scripture specifies the right hand and not the left.  I researched and found that the right hand represents strength. Usually that was the hand holding the sword in battle while the left was holding the shield. Spiritually speaking, when I am upheld by God’s right hand, the shield of faith is held in his left protecting me from the onslaught of fear and doubt. The very words of God are the sword of the spirit so that leaves his right hand free to hold me.

Since coming home from the hospital I have used exercise as a form of therapy. While on a walk the other day the sadness began to overwhelm me again. This scripture came to mind and it spoke to me. God brought me to this place. He allowed this loss to touch our lives. I know how big he is and that he does hold me in his right hand and I know that the shield of faith protects me. I need the very words of his mouth to go on the offensive and defeat these feelings that seem to overwhelm me at times. I know that ‘the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit….’ And I know that because of the faith I have in who God is, I can ‘approach the throne of grace with confidence so that I may receive mercy and find grace to help me in my time of need’.  (scripture quotes from Heb. 4:12 & 16).

I still struggle sometimes. However, we are only 3 months into this journey of loss and grief. Realistically, what should I expect of myself?  What does God expect of me?  I’m not 100% sure. I do know that to take the first step, I just need to continue to get out of bed daily and breathe. To live each day the best that I can.  And let God hold me when I can’t seem to take the next step.