let me be/ your breath

let me be/ your breath
a poem by Grace Kelley


grow in me—


all that is
new & tender
the unseen seems
more real with each
fluttering sign
of presence.


(the flutters 
gave them away
 after all)
—how I knew
they were two
& not only one. 
Now my desires
are more refined
than ever.


so grow in me—


until the pain
makes it hard
to rise from my sheets


until I’m 
stretched & marred 
far beyond
my capacity


until red stripes
mark my belly
full & heavy 
with the weight 
of the glory 
of you.


grow in me—


until sleep
becomes 
a stranger


until breaths 
feel hard to take—
for the crowding 
of my lungs
is no less Holy
than singing 
praises to the God 
who made you.


grow in me—


until you are ready
to breathe 
with fresh lungs—


until the sweet echos
of your first cries 
tear open places
always meant 
for loving you. 


Until then
Dear Ones,
grow in me—

& let me be
your breath. 

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

The Twin Pregnancy I didn’t see coming

I didn’t see this coming. 

But when I saw the two of them on the ultrasound monitor, kicking and waving, dancing and playing—I felt like I had known them all my life. 

Willy and I were talking last night about taking a trip sometime after they are born, and as we talked about taking “the whole family”—all SEVEN of us, instead of feeling only the over-whelm of having not one, but two tiny babies in the car along with our older three kids, all I felt was a sense of rightness—of completion. 

“This is our whole family,”I said, “these babies are who we have been missing all this time.” 

My husband nodded wordlessly, with a slight mist in his eyes, and I knew he felt it too. The sense of rightness—of an adventure on which not one of our members would be missing.

I should have gotten my first hint from my mother-in-law; but I wasn’t at all ready to hear it. Upon telling her that we were expecting for the fourth time, she almost immediately said, “This time, I think it’s twins.” 

I wheeled on her with shock and probably a little bit of anger and said, “Don’t say that to me!” The overwhelm was immediate, and all I could see in that moment was the birth center birth of my dreams crashing and burning in the wake of a high-risk pregnancy. (Not to mention the fact that these babies were conceived naturally, in my 29th year, and we have no history of twins in my family that I knew of.) 

Northern Colorado has needed a free standing birth center for as long as I’ve lived here. Eight years ago, when I was expecting my first child, I even considered driving to Denver or Boulder to have that midwife led, natural birth experience I had always longed for—but in the end the drive was too daunting, and those centers filled up very quickly. Last year when I saw they were making the final preparations to open a birth center in the middle of my town, right next to our favorite coffee shop and brewery no less, I knew I was ready to have a fourth baby with the kind of compassionate and personable care that would never say to a woman in labor—“Well, do you want to stay pregnant forever?” 

Yeah that happened. 

I don’t know who said it first, but I’ve read it many places—the way a woman in labor is treated will impact her for the rest of her life. It’s a vulnerable place that can very easily become traumatic or ecstatic, depending on the kind of care the woman receives. 

My first born daughter came just 30 minutes after my gentle female doctor with the soft voice and the long brown hair streaked with grey had to go to the clinic for her regular office rotation. I was at the point in my labor when I really couldn’t care less that some guy I had never met would be delivering my baby instead of the doctor that I loved, but the way he came into the room filled me with a confidence I didn’t know I was lacking. He admired me, he encouraged me, he made me laugh and lit up the room with his joyful demeanor. When my daughter emerged at last, he encouraged me to pick her up and lift her to my chest myself. When he knew she was small and would need to be checked for IUGR, instead of making a big fuss, he said, “she doesn’t look too big,” with a kindly smile. And even though this very doctor ended up needing to do some extremely unpleasant things to me within those next thirty minutes to help my “pain in the butt placenta” detach and make sure there was none left inside my very-unmedicated-body—I still have a tender feeling towards this man who delivered my daughter, because he treated me like a person worthy of dignity and respect and not just a body with a baby in it. 

My second two experiences were not nearly as pleasant as the first. My second child born via an un-planned and borderline emergent c-section after ten excruciating hours of labor; my third via a successful VBAC with a doctor who seemed more like she was making fun of me than cheering me on as I pushed with all my might against the fear of what would happen if I didn’t do things her way. I carry these experiences with me; the good and the bad. Whether I want to or not, each of these births has left its scars on me, just as each baby has left me with a few new stretch marks and a few extra pounds.

I brushed off my Mother-in-Law’s well-intentioned comment, until at 18 weeks pregnant, I knew for sure something was different. My belly button had already begun turning inside out, and my uterus wasn’t even supposed to be that high in my abdomen at that point. Then I started feeling the flutterings—those welcome signs of the new life within me—on complete opposite sides of my abdomen, at the very same time. For a baby that was supposed to be the size of a sweet potato, that seemed unusual to say the least. Then, I had a dream of a boy and a girl—twins. The girl was smaller than the boy, with a sweet and mild demeanor. The boy was a bright burst of exuberant sunshine. And when I woke that next morning I could feel it in their kicks; the differences between these flutterings on opposite sides of my abdomen, like the differences between alternative rock and classical radio stations. Two nights later I woke up at 5:30 with a start—and I couldn’t go back to sleep until I had decided on a name for the boy baby. 

I heard it in the silence and the dark—from the mouth of God, a name for the son I still wasn’t even completely sure I had suddenly emerged. A name I had never considered, but loved immediately. Finally settled in my mind, I went back to sleep. 

A few more weeks went by, with days in which I was sure there were twins in my womb, and more days in which I wondered if I had just really messed up my dates somehow and that’s why I was so much bigger than I thought I should be. My sweet husband tried to comfort me by saying; “It’s just one really big baby.” Somehow though I didn’t find this at all reassuring.

The week of my ultrasound finally came, and Sunday morning I woke up full of emotions about what this week would hold. My parents had our other three kids for the weekend, my husband was going to be drumming at our church, and I myself planned to attend the first in person service I had been to in over a year. As I rested and prepared that morning I spent some time praying about the pregnancy and in the depths of my heart I heard the Lord chuckle to me;

“You’re just waiting for science to confirm what you know I’ve already told you—”

The fear welled up in me, but then I heard him again, “I am giving you a double portion.” Like a lightning flash my perspective shifted—not to the weight of the burden I was already beginning to waddle while carrying, but the weight of the blessing. A double portion of children—where I had only expected one. And with it I knew would also come a double portion of provision from the God who gave them to me. 

The peace that enveloped my heart that morning carried me into the week, but by Wednesday evening I was anxious just to know for sure. Then came the text message from the receptionist at the birth center—something had come up with the tech, and they needed to reschedule my ultrasound appointment. 

I felt like an overtightened harp string that had been plucked on a sour note, and the melt down ensued. All that evening and the next day I walked around in a fog, hoping upon hope that the midwives who would be doing my regular pre-natal appointment would be able to tell me something. Just something to confirm that I wasn’t in fact, losing my mind thinking that I might be having twins. After having spent the whole previous evening being angry at God and feeling like he was pulling a prank on me, I felt him inviting me once again to trust him—that I would know what I needed to know, when I needed to know it. 

I have never been more grateful to be in a practice where they actually listen to me and care about my heart. Hearing my whole story, my lovely midwife examined me and confirmed that, yes in fact, I was measuring at 29 weeks, when I was only 21. Yes in fact, it did seem like there was an awful lot of baby in my belly for 21 weeks. And yes in fact, it did seem like there were two heart beats when we used different dopplers on different sides of my belly. 

I felt affirmed, but without an ultrasound, how could we say for sure? 

That’s when the lovely midwives decided to just use the ultrasound themselves, not for anything technical, but just to see if they could see two babies. A short parade down the hallway, some cold jelly and a thousand button presses later—there they were. Two babies, in two sacs, kicking separately from each other. The child on the right, which I was pretty sure was my son, squirming and kicking up a storm with his tiny feet. The child on the left, who I was pretty sure was my daughter— mild and placid, sucking her thumb. 

I wept tears of relief and joy, said something along the lines of “I’m not crazy!” and looked at these babies I wasn’t expecting and felt my heart grow big enough for two more. 

A mother’s love knows that there are things worth giving up your dreams for, things worth fighting for, things worth dying for. And as much as I mourned the loss of the birth I had been hoping for, I rejoiced that in the span of four more months, we will have not one, but two more beautiful babies, God-willing. And whatever comes, I know already that they are worth it all. 

Courage Dear Heart

If you’ve been around the blog for a little while then this piece may look familiar to you. It’s been two years now since Piper’s diagnosis, and just about two years since I first wrote this piece and got my own “Courage Dear Heart” tattoo to remind me to be brave, right there where I can see it on my skin. I hope the revised version of this story meets you where you are today.

-Gracie


I was being strangled. Pulling out of the parking garage, I reluctantly left the hospital and turned my car towards home. It was only then that I noticed the sky. Are you kidding me? How could the sun shine on today of all days? My heart was hammering like a racehorse in my chest, the anger welling up like asphalt in my throat. Yet, I knew even in that moment that this reaction was far from dramatic or over the top; in fact, it felt like the only way to react. After all, I was pulling away from a room of the Children’s hospital, where only a few hours ago my best friend’s 18 month old daughter was diagnosed with cancer.

There’s been some mistake. I thought to myself. They mixed up the results. They brought back the wrong chart. They’ll realize it soon enough, that there’s been some mistake.

But I knew it wasn’t true, as much as I longed for it to be.

Piper had cancer. A deadly disease. Without terrible and painful interventions, she would die. Even with them, there was no guarantee.

WHY, GOD WHY??? Over and over I asked him, my heart leaden with despair. But there was no answer. 

When I arrived home I poured myself into things I could control. I organized people to meet the practical needs of my friends who would now be spending the next week in the hospital with their youngest child, while their older two stayed overnight with grandparents. I made chicken enchiladas. I bought food for their fridge. I helped another friend clean in preparation for their return. But the asphalt in my throat turned to cotton in my brain, and when I got all the groceries home from Costco, it took me a half hour of staring at the the pile on the kitchen table to figure out how to put it all away.

I kept putting on my strong face for my children. Or at least I tried. But at the sink you’d find me weeping into the dishes when I thought no one was looking. I was giving God the silent treatment. And somewhere in the back of my heart, the old me was playing stone mason, and desperately building a fortress around my heart. All of me felt like a harp string, tuned too tight, till the notes were sharp and sour. The slightest touch could snap me in half.

The tender me was prisoner in a back room somewhere, but I could hear her trying to scream through the walls of the ever growing fortress:

“God is still good. He makes beauty from ashes. Turns despair into laughter. You can trust him!”

Mostly I ignored her. I slept fitfully, and dreaded waking up each morning and realizing that this wasn’t just some horrifying dream. Then one evening, a few nights after Piper’s diagnosis, my husband began to draw me out. 

“You know what’s true” he said. “You need to talk to God.”

“I don’t want to.”

“But you need to.”

“I don’t even know what to say.”

“Just talk to him,” he said.

I don’t remember the words that came out of me, face down on the pillow. I’m sure there were mumblings and groanings and unintelligible words. I’m pretty sure I mostly talked about how mad I was at him. But towards the end I came to this:

 “God I know that I’m a toddler, throwing a giant tantrum, because I don’t know what you’re doing. But you’re doing something…even though I don’t understand it!”

Surrender made way for peace to come. Not in overwhelming waves, but in small chunks that began to knock down pieces of what the old me had been building in the back of my mind. Little pebbles of peace chipping away at that fortress, and a still small voice that kept chipping and tapping away at me; You don’t need this… You don’t need this… You don’t need this…

As the vines of hope began to grow again.


It’s been a little over a month of Fridays since Piper’s diagnosis. A week after the original results, we found that instead of just ALL, a childhood cancer that is relatively easy to treat, she has a rare genetic abnormality in her leukemia cells which made it significantly more aggressive and difficult to treat, and made it even more likely that if cured, she could have a relapse.

The first month was horrible. The medications obviously poison. The once spunky little girl turned into a zombie by steroids. Almost all her hair fell out in a matter of two weeks.

Then last week, they had another bone marrow aspiration that would tell them whether or not the treatment was working; if she would be in remission or if she would need to go on the bone marrow transplant list. When the results showed that she was in remission, cancer free for the moment at the very least, you would think I would have been thrilled. 

But you know what? It’s hard to hear the bugle of good news behind a fortress of stone.

That’s right. I’m still in there. Desperately trying to escape. The voice of the tender me, the soft me, the me that’s sensitive to what the Lord of hosts is doing; that me was getting louder and easier to hear through the holes that the hope vines were tearing. Through the holes that the peace was beginning to peck away.

But I realized on receiving this good news how afraid I am to hope. How desperately afraid I am to trust God. Because I feel like hope is a trap and a lie. And I was expecting more bad news. I had decided to expect it, as a way to try and protect myself from the painful surprises that life seems to keep throwing my direction like so many fast balls over the past six months.

I was trying to control it. And once again, this surprise, though good, had undermined my shallow attempt to pretend to be in charge of life. To pretend to be able to predict things, and by-proxy, to control them. The old me trying to take over; shouting at the tender me;

 “Get out of the way! YOU are going to get us KILLED! Your hope is foolish and the love you claim to believe in is a lie.” The reality is I cannot actually control or predict the future. I am not in charge. I am not the boss. 

There’s a toddler in my house; she’s three years old and three feet tall and she’s angry because I’ve given her a bowl and not a plate for her to eat her lunch. She’s raging mad. She’s screaming. Throwing herself down. Insane with the desire to control, and devastated at the perceived loss. She looks exactly like me.

Tender me in the tower is peeking out through the cracks; shouting till she’s hoarse, 

“He is good! He is good! Hope is not a lie! It’s freedom! All is grace! Everyday is gift! Every day is joy! Rejoice! Rejoice!”

I want to let her out now, but I’m afraid of the rawness; the gaping wound of a hole in a tower wall that I’ve built to keep me safe. The vines would wreck and break every last part of that self-protection until not one stone is left on another, and then I would be well and truly naked. Out in the open. Vulnerable.

Everyone could see the scars on my heart; the trust I’m afraid to hold on to; the faith that’s so thin, it seems like a paper cloak at times when I know it could be thick as velvet.

But the truth will set us free.

And the truth is that God loves my friends, and their daughter, more than I do. He’s the only one able to work for their good and his glory in all things. He is the only one who always does exactly what he says he will do. He is the only one who has the power to make all things as he sees fit.

He calls the stars out one by one…and because of the word of his power, not one of them is missing. (Isaiah 40:26) Then there’s the verse I first tattooed on my skin:

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of these will fall apart from the will of your father. And even the very hairs of you head are all numbered. So do not be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:29-31

He knows every hair that has fallen from that sweet little girl’s head. He knew all the days of her life before there was yet one of them. And he knows mine.

He knows the days that I’ll build towers of fear because I’m choosing not to trust him—even though he’s never given me a reason not to. He knows the days I’ll come running back—a prodigal into her Daddy’s arms. Safe and held and deeply known. He loves me. Even me, in my faithless, wandering, orphan heart. He loves me. He loves me. He loves me.

And around each bend, and each corner I can hear his voice whisper; louder now than my fears or my demands to understand; “Courage….courage, dear heart.”(C.S. Lewis’ Aslan) 


Not too long after I originally wrote this post, I got my most recent tattoo. A picture of Aslan the lion from Narnia, with the above quote. It has served me often these past two years, which have continued to be full of various trials, to remember that God has, and will continue to bring me through whatever comes. He will carry me.

Kelsey Brown is my tattoo artist and she is located in Louisville, CO. You can find her on IG @kelseyknown.

The Gift of Presence

Ann Voskamp once shared on her blog about what it means to minister to those who have suffered so deeply, that is seems like there is nothing you could possibly say or do. She spoke about listening to the stories—about making eye contact—and then she used the phrase that has become a part of my own vocabulary: being a witness

So often when we see those that are suffering deeply our first response is to try and fix it. We want to make it all better, to make the pain go away. But these attempts are often not only futile, but damaging to the one who suffers. Like giving a makeover to someone with a bullet wound.

You would think that being one who has suffered, I would always make the right choice in this department, but I don’t. I am a controller by nature; a fierce and loyal protector. My first instinct is to make the pain just go away. My second is to go “mama bear” on whoever has hurt one of my precious ones. And if the thing is something you can’t actually punch with fists, like cancer for instance, then if I’m not careful my perceived helplessness can turn to apathy. As you may imagine, neither of these first instincts is particularly helpful.

But when I remember what it meant for someone to hold space for me: to be a witness to the way I was suffering and had suffered, to look me in the eyes and say, “I’m so sorry that happened to you.” Then I come back to the power that is present in my presence alone: I get to be a witness.

As someone who walks often through seasons of suffering with others, this can be a dark task at times. But I don’t believe in a God who cannot take the darkest night and turn it into brightest day; so even as I stare into the black of present difficult circumstances, I imagine what God may do. Not to try and predict the future, or control it in any way, but, as Emily P. Freeman says, “to cast a hopeful vision for the future.”

With tears in my eyes, and my hands in yours, Dear Reader, I stand on tip toe and whisper words of hope: what might God do? How might he begin to redeem every broken piece of your shattered heart?

I am the little girl hiding in her closet, wondering what it would be like to be a “normal” child; wondering if God will keep his promise to work all for my good.  I am the little girl who at seven years old already felt like “damaged goods,” though I couldn’t have put it into words. I am the little girl who was hurt not only by the abusive actions of one, but by the silence and apathy of many, many, others.

Sometimes the wounds feel too deep for words.

I have been the one holding the box of tissues for the heartbroken wife. I have been the one sitting across from a friend discovering piece by piece, an abuse that so damaged her life that her mind tried to erase it. I have been the one in a hospital room, hearing the words, “it’s as we suspected. She has leukemia.” And how in the world do we go on living in a place where babies get cancer?

Sometimes all you can do is sit with a person. To hold their gaze. To not be embarrassed by their grief, but to enter in with them. To hold your friend in your arms and tell them that you love them. And though you don’t know what the future will hold, or if you should ever make any kind of comforts based on your assumptions of the future (I.E. “she’ll be fine,” “he’ll come back,” “that probably won’t happen”), you do know who is holding you both. The Lord of hosts. Who doesn’t promise us a pain free life, but does promise us always and forever, His Holy Spirit presence with us. 

I find it terrifying sometimes, the places God asks me to go, both personally and with others. But one phrase continually comes to mind, like a mantra and a command: Stare into the black, and refuse to be afraid.

I’m not sure where it came from, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t me. I don’t find myself all that bold or particularly daring. I’ve got fear riding like a tiny hitchhiker in my back pocket. Insecurities like radio static in my ears. My hands shake on these keys sometimes, and I am far from adequate for the task.

But God. How wonderful that He does not call the qualified, but qualifies the called. It’s humbling. I pray it may always be so.

For you, dear Reader; I stare into the black and refuse to be afraid. Because you are suffering, either personally or through choosing to enter into the hurt of someone you love, and it’s painful, and you need to know there is hope. You are not alone. While you mourn the loss of normal. While you suffer in the presence of pain, both that belonging to you and that which you bear with others. While you grieve the very existence of death, and sin and suffering; I stand with you. I weep with you. I groan with you and with all creation for that day when all will be made new. Wrong will be made right. Every tear will be wiped away from our eyes…oh how I long for that day.

Until then, I stand as a witness. I refuse to remain indifferent or apathetic, and instead choose to practice the with-ness of Jesus, trusting that it will be enough. I practice the presence of God with me, and with us, and I practice also giving the gift of my own presence. It is my greatest honor and privilege to hold space for you here in this corner of the internet. So come as you are. With all your broken pieces. With the darkness you feel that surrounds you. You are not alone. You have never walked alone.

Now I leave you with the words of the Apostle Peter. May these words point you to a hope greater than the worst thing that life could ever throw at you

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more previous than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

(1 Peter 1:3-7 ESV)