Four years and forever

A few lifetimes ago, in the fall of 2008, Rod and I were parents of four kids – two in high school, two in diapers, we would count.1924028_107157033521_2892837_n

Based on prompting from friends, our environment, and the Holy Spirit, we decided to have another baby. We named it Branson; short for Branson Gospel Music Convention.

During three and a half years of learning something new every day, many wins and losses, meeting all kinds of people (from pianist and cake-maker extraordinaire Dino to the Oak Ridge Boys, from Branson innkeepers who liked us to gospel bloggers who didn’t), working our tails off, and chasing with all our energy the dreams we felt God had given us, we were the proud parents of something that felt groundbreaking: a Spirit-led southern-ish gospel event that sought to unite and encourage artists and minister to the audience.

It felt like the world to us. And then all of a sudden, it was over.

The third convention, renamed “Revival” and moved to a perfect location, was a peak in several ways. We left that week feeling victorious and energized and grateful.

But it also come on the throes of Rod and I moving our family to Myrtle Beach, SC for what we though would be a “Branson every day” kind of experience that never actually came to be. So not long after, those feelings were replaced by fear, confusion, and defeat.

Rod hasn’t “had a concert” per se since that year. Our bus is gone. Currently, the only events we promote are dinners and holidays at our house. Life sure changed quickly.

Even with the ease of Facebook, we lost touch even with some of our closest of friends. While logic and embroidered pillows and memes tell us that “Friends come into your life for a season, a reason, or a lifetime,” without so many people’s voices in my circle, I just felt alone.

And also, forgotten.

When we put our whole selves into obeying God, because we are human, we also have expectations. Part of me expected that once we started down the path of full time ministry/concert promotion/working in the music industry, we would remain there. It gave me a severe case of whiplash and then probably depression when I realized we did not. We were not. And we don’t know if we will go “back.”

But thanks to our loving Father, there are markers. There are monuments. There are reasons to believe that those three and a half years of toil and investment were not in vain.

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If you are reading this, you are likely a reason.

– Because some people met their future spouses at Branson GMR.
– Some people made true, lifelong friends.
– Some people made business connections and therefore gained bookings, studio dates, and invitations.
– Some people were ministered to in such a way that the very direction of their lives changed – and the funny part of this is that most of those occurrences didn’t happen on stage, but behind it, in the exhibit hall, or in the parking lot.
– Some people were called into ministry, were set free from addictions, guilt, or oppression, or were healed.

This past week, as we mark 4 years since our last Branson GMR or even since we stepped foot in the town we loved, God has seen fit to remind me very tangibly about our time there and what it meant and what it means.

Every once in awhile, I feel so sad that it’s over. And I wonder if it mattered.

And just like the loving Father He is, God reminds me: it wasn’t about fortune (LOL!), fame (haha!), or anything fleeting. It was about uniting a family for a season and sending them back out…

It means the same things we dreamed about before we ever got to Branson, the same things we talked about in interviews and from the stage and in those hallways, and the same thing we still strive for now:

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Connection with other people, encouraging one another in the grace and goodness of Jesus Christ.

Thank you to the people who have remained in our lives, whether for a season, a reason, or a lifetime. Thank you to the ones who share where you are and who you are with, because there are days, without you knowing, that you bless me because I look and say, “They met in Branson.” Thank you for those who encourage the Burton family as we still chase after God in a variety of ways, by raising our babies, working in our local church, opening our home as a safe haven of fellowship, and constantly asking Him, “What is next?”

Thank You, Lord, for the opportunity of a lifetime that, in spite of all odds, existed in Branson from 2009-2011.

May the spotlight continue to shine on that message. Amen.

 

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On flags and opinions

facebook opinionsEvery once in a while, in this social media age when we’ve all become “published writers,” I have to sit back and ask myself whether the “world” really needs to know my public statement on any one particular issue.

When it comes to some issues in particular, I do steer clear of the SYNDROME of posting my opinion. The fact is, many of the issues that incite people are much more nuanced than they are given credit for in statuses or 140-character posts that have become the bumper-sticker theology of our time.
Mostly, I can only take a platform based on who I am:
I believe in Jesus.
I believe in love.
I believe in the Bible as God’s holy word.
I believe most people have mostly pure intentions and don’t set out to hurt others.
I believe humans make mistakes – in interpreting God’s word, in their own behavior, and in how we treat others with whom we disagree.
So when it comes to the confederate flag or gay marriage or gun laws, I do have very strong opinions. I am pigeonholed to some expectations because of the labels assigned to me. I don’t post about my opinions. I do, however, enjoy conversations about them.
I will say this today:
The law of the land and the law of God are two different things. I find it an exercise in futility to expect one to mirror the other.
– The law of God was FULFILLED by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. No man or woman could live up to the law as it was handed down. That is why we need Jesus.
– God is God, and He doesn’t need me or anyone else to “defend” Him. Through His son Jesus, He instructed me to love Him and love my neighbors.
Behind the flags – with blue crisscrosses or rainbows on them – are peopleEach of those flags represents different life experiences. We cannot assume to know the hearts behind a cause or a symbol. To most southern people I know, the confederate flag does not equal hate. And to every gay person I know, the right to be married is not a rebellion or a conspiracy.
I wish before people MADE THEIR OPINIONS KNOWN, they would consider the value and affect of said opinion. Does it show love? Does it help anyone? Indeed, does it matter?
The best way we can affect change in our world, regardless of our opinions, is by our behavior and our treatment of others. Words are words. They can tear down or build up, but at the end of the day, it is our actions that speak.
Let me speak love.

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Last Time Mom

take pictures in your heart

In the American birth industry (oy ve, it is an industry) a woman who gives birth over the age of 34 is considered “advanced maternal age.” Some statistics say that 20% of babies are now born to women over 40.

So there are a lot of “us.”

I first encountered “AMA” after the horrible appointment in February 2014 when I was told my baby had no heartbeat. My doctor wanted me to schedule a D&C that day, but since I was experiencing no miscarriage symptoms, I chose to wait.

Note: I do not regret this at all. Based on research, it was very possible that my tilted uterus was obscuring the view of the fetus and things were fine. However, God “helped” me out in that 5 days later, I began experiencing pretty severe symptoms along with another ultrasound that showed the fetus was shrinking. I inevitably had a D&C, but I would have never rushed to one.

Anyway, when she sent me away with follow-up paperwork that day, I had to look up everything it had said: “Threatened AB” (which means threatened abortion – potential miscarriage), “AMA.” I am not sure what my age had to do with anything since I had never had a miscarriage nor had any pregnancy complications, but alas. I was labeled.

My granddaughter Nora and me
My granddaughter Nora and me

It became clear to me early in my subsequent pregnancy with Jack exactly what AMA meant. You want to know my unprofessional summation?
It’s a marketing scheme. Surprise! We are in ‘murica, where one of the most natural processes on Earth has been turned into a sanitized and overly-scrutinized-by-insurance choose-your-own-adventure with very little adventure unless women happen to know they can take ownership of their own stories (that’s another post). And being AMA did not mean a darn thing in terms of my pre-natal care or experience, other than I was offered and encouraged to have optional genetic testing done, including an amniocentesis, to determine whether my baby had any genetic defects… even though there was no history in my or my husband’s family to put us at risk for anything other than Celiac disease, dry skin, and chronic stubbornness. 

I declined all the tests.

Please understand my heart. I understand and empathize with why these tests are valuable to some people. I have heard the song “I Will Carry You.” I personally know people who experienced the tragic outcome of trisomy 13 or 18 or have had babies born who needed immediate critical care. But I also know people who did everything preventative in their power, tests, precautions, and were still surprised by a diagnosis in their child that was devastating. And even when we are “prepared” with knowledge, what can we really do in instances of tragedy?

So my heart here was… We are going to get the child we are meant to get. He or she might be in perfect health or might have something severely wrong. Either way, we will care for that child with all the love and resources we can. We would not terminate a pregnancy based on genetic testing because basically, all of them have more than a small chance of being wrong.

Thankfully (and I thank God daily), Jack progressed beautifully. I had a bonus ultrasound at 16 weeks which I thought was only going to tell us his gender (he was, ahem, All Boy), but when the tech took us through indications and markers that I didn’t even know existed and showed us that we essentially had nothing to worry about, my exhale turned into tears pretty quickly.

In a previous post, I mentioned how I compartmentalize my fears. Yeah. I had done that. And I didn’t realize how scared I was that my age or some other factor was adverse affecting my baby until I was told that he was fine.

A few weeks before my due date, I felt like the oldest woman in the world!
A few weeks before my due date, I felt like the oldest woman in the world!

So what good was it to be AMA? Well, here are my thoughts:
A few weeks before my due date, I felt like the oldest woman in the world!

– as a 37 year old with 2 previous births, a miscarriage, and having raised 2 step kids from puberty to adulthood, I had…well, the wisdom of experience. I don’t ever consider myself wise, but at this point in life, I do consider myself experienced. So when other expecting mothers (and I was blessed to be around a lot of them while pregnant with Jack) had concerns and questions, I was able to be That Mom… the Titus Mom…not the voice of expertise, but the voice of experience and encouragement.

I was very clear about what I did not want. I did not want any interventions I didn’t need. I didn’t want to gain unnecessary weight. I didn’t want my baby to have bottles or a schedule.  I didn’t want to fuss with things that didn’t matter or try to take care of anyone outside my immediate family. These were all things I did differently when my girls were born… I had an unnecessarily clinical aftermath of Kaity’s birth (and probably an unnecessary C-section, but that is also another post), I had a hard time losing weight, I didn’t know enough about breastfeeding and gave up for the wrong reasons, and I tried much too hard to take care of more than what or whom I needed to.

I also knew what I wanted. A gentle C-section (thank God this was a readily available process at our local hospital and with my preferred doctor). On-demand, relaxed breastfeeding. Not too many visitors (I lost on this one a little, but only because our baby is so loved).

– I knew what to expect. This mattered on so many levels. I knew what to ask for during all the pre and post operation procedures. (Rod got to be with me during most of my pre-op, not because I was nervous, but because it is boring! If only I had asked for this when I was getting my D&C..)! I knew how to cope with the surgical pain. But more importantly… I knew time was going to fly. I knew Jack would look like a different person in a week. I knew those blurry, mostly-sleepless first nights would not last forever. I knew it was just as important to take pictures with my heart and mind as it was with my camera. And so I savored every single moment. And I still am.

I can espouse on and on about the privilege of being a “last time mom.” I guess that’s a more applicable and less smart-aleck way of reusing the term Advanced Maternal Age. Even though my hair is graying and 40 is only a year and a half away, I don’t feel advanced about much of anything. The longer we are raising kids, the more questions parenting brings. That is why it is important to be a community that shares with love and encouragement. I hope as a mama and stepmom and grandma (this still makes me smile and shake my head), that is what I will always do.

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Life After Loss

IMG_7650Let me put this disclaimer out there: I cannot even pretend to touch the subject of grief. It’s big and it’s personal, and from my standpoint, it suffers by comparison. In recent months, I have had friends who lost a infant, lost a young child, lost a husband. All these losses blow my mind and my heart. I can’t speak to them. I can only speak to my deepest grief thus far…

“I will trust and not be afraid. I will arise and go forth by His name.”

Recently, I had a conversation with some friends about a mutual friend who is pregnant. The theme of the conversation was fear. It was, “Yikes. That news is out there early… what if something bad happens?”

It is a reference I understood. When I first confirmed I was pregnant with Miranda (April 12, 2006 lives in infamy for me!), I had NO intention of waiting to share the news. In my spirit of storytelling, I’d certainly shared my monthly disappointments with people (& this was before Facebook). Why wouldn’t I share the good news? That whole “wait until the second trimester” thing was far from my mind.

Rod told me later how worried he had been. Miranda was my first pregnancy after a diagnosis of infertility. She was my first pregnancy ever. Chances were good (about 20%-ish) that we’d have a miscarriage. And in a moment of celebration at Aurelio’s Pizza, a moment I told few people about, there was spotting. At our first doctor’s appointment, after I had taken 1-2-3-4-5-6-SEVEN tests at home, there was a faint enough line to cause the doctor to put me through a blood test and a 24-hour wait.

You know what I did after we left that doctor appointment? Went to Babies R Us and made a registry.

Please know, it wasn’t because I was not scared. If I paused to think about it, I would have lost my mind with doubt and terror. I am a story gal – I have a pretty large and intense imagination. Because of this, I am at times forced to compartmentalize. It is all too easy for me to vividly imagine the worst, to put myself in different shoes. I have to selectively ignore possibilities sometimes. It’s not me being naive; it’s rescuing me from me.

As the story goes, the blood test was positive, the spotting was nothing, and Miranda Rose arrived in all her glory 7 months later (ironically, by the time I knew I was pregnant, I was almost in my 2nd trimester).

Perhaps that is why a miscarriage eight years later knocked me down so hard. Miscarriages, in my vague frame of reference, happened to young women, first-timers, people in accidents… not to older moms with previous perfect pregnancies. The idea of pregnancy #3 resolving that way was not something I had considered for one single second.

So what do you do when you get pregnant after that?

Let me back up. David, the baby we lost, was not planned. He was a huge, amazing surprise. Jack, however, is the only baby we ever “tried for” and got. With Miranda, I did not think I could get pregnant. With Kaity, who was conceived when Miranda was 6 months old, I was mentally in a place of “it happened once but it probably won’t happen again.” (Irony is the story of my life, y’all). With Jack, there were calendars and stuff. Apps, because it was 2014. In fact, I know the day he was made (I’m not gonna write about it here, but if you ask me, I will tell you something about Disney World and pixie dust…)

On the Sunday before Memorial Day in 2014, a new friend of mine announced on Facebook that she was pregnant. She also announced a due date in February 2015. Because I was tracking dates and possibilities so closely, I looked at that and said, “She must be like… 1 day pregnant!” I was in awe of her anyway, already a mama of 4, a champion, and a wealth of knowledge who’d already helped my confidence about pregnancy and birth and mama-ing. Anyway, I went to bed that night and dreamed of her. Nothing specific, just my friend and babies and a blur that held when I woke up (When a dream stays with me, I tend to know it has meaning). And so that day, I knew I was pregnant too.

Rod said I should wait to take a test. It was really early, and though he didn’t say it, he was really worried. We’d told ourselves we’d give it 2014 to get pregnant again, come what may, but I had already confessed how unsettling it was to think we wouldn’t have another baby. I did not want my childbearing chapter to end with a miscarriage…

I am normally pretty submissive to my husband, but that Tuesday, on the way to work, I stopped and bought a pregnancy test. My heart was racing. I needed to know (I’m an information addict). There was a five minute drive to the church. I played one song: Crystal Lewis, “Lord I Believe in You.” Crystal’s range is far higher than mine. I sang along anyway. I might have shouted.

“Lord, I believe in You
And I’ll keep my trust in You
Let the whole world say what they may
No one can take this joy away
Lord, I believe…”

Because once again, I found myself in a place where I needed to choose to believe. Even if this story didn’t play out how I wanted, Jesus loves me. Even if I don’t see a joyful ending or a hopeful next chapter, even if my childbearing years end with loss instead of life, God already performed amazing miracles – giving an infertile woman *3* babies, 2 on earth and 1 in Heaven. It would be ok.

And it was ok. I walked into work, stepped into the public bathroom in the empty lower level, took the test. I wish I could say I was surprised when it was POSITIVE, but somewhere in the midst of the last 9 years, from infertility diagnosis to two babies to miscarriage, I’d become a hopeFUL person instead of a cynical one. God had already confirmed in that dream about my sweet pregnant friend that I was pregnant too. I hung up and called Rod (who also wasn’t surprised I’d taken the test and who laughed with me on the phone), I called my mom (she is so used to me. Thank you for knowing me, Mama), and then I marched upstairs and told all my co-workers, who had loved me so well through my miscarriage (oh, you guys… I am so grateful for you).

I was something like… 3 weeks?… pregnant at that point. Common sense and a million pregnancy articles would have told me to wait to tell anyone. Crystal Lewis and amazing grace told me to SHOUT THAT OUT. God was giving me life after loss. LIFE.

I will tell you that the following weeks were a battle of my mind. There were some days of spotting, and even one night of some bleeding. There were moments I could not stop my imagination from running wild. There were days of not only fear but of guilt and grief – I still very much missed and mourned our David (I still do!).

uncle jack
Ultrasound/Celebration Meme by Allen :)

I had some amazing people pray with me (including an impromptu “call down the fire” at my Pampered Chef party. Thank you, Chris. I will never forget that, or the early baby gift of bedding you gave me). I had a sweet surrogate dad send me Bible verses and songs right when I needed them most (Junie. I love you!) I had a prophecy of a pea-pod, sprouting forth with life (Kelli! Thank you, thank you <3 ). I had a playlist I put together of songs to affirm me, which I listened to over and over again. I had a husband, my champion, tell me over and over again that no matter what, I was going to be ok.

On June 26, I had an ultrasound scheduled.  For the 24 hours before, my heart raced and my stomach churned. I was relieved that my girls were in Illinois with my parents. I flashed myself forward to scenarios of celebration as well as grief. I prayed and declared victory and life. I thanked God for the person inside me, even as I held that little person at a distance.

My first ultrasound with David had been a nightmare. At first, Dr. M. couldn’t find an embryo at all (turns out my uterus was tilted). Then there was a baby who was smaller than he should have been and whose heartbeat wasn’t visible (in the years since I’d had Kaity, that process had changed. Before, we were only waiting to hear the heartbeat and that wasn’t until 10-12 weeks). I was confused and angry and quite quickly broken.

This time… oh wow. I have told people about the song in my head in those seconds leading to the ultrasound:

“We wait for you.
We wait for you.
We wait for you to fill the room.”

The song talks about the Holy Spirit. I was, of course, waiting to see my baby, but it was both of them who greeted me the moment I looked at the screen. Now an ultrasound veteran, I immediately saw a heartbeat flashing beautifully. I immediately felt the reassuring presence of a life-giving God fill the room. I cried and said, “Thank You, Jesus” over and over again.

I was something like 8-9 weeks along at that point. I could go calculate but I don’t care anymore. There was still a long way to go in my pregnancy, and there would still be battles of fear and worry to face, but I declared life.

And I would do it all over again.

To the friends I referenced earlier, who were sweetly concerned about sharing baby news too soon, I said, {paraphrase, because I am rarely eloquent on the fly}, “Sometimes you have to battle fear by calling it out. For me, I had to declare life quickly and loudly and to everyone.”

Our faith does not change situations all by itself. I could have just as easily lost another baby. In fact, that friend, the one who I dreamed about, lost one of her precious twins, born 6 days before my Jack, at 9 weeks old. Loss and life are intermingled in ways we cannot even fathom. But God made us to persevere, to live, and to love even through the darkest tragedies. When I see my friend smiling at her children, functioning through her grief, I am in awe of her spirit and of the God who sustains her.

There will always be loss. But there will always, always be life on the other side.

 

 

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