Angel Babies

“Oh, Joanna.”

“The baby stopped growing at five weeks. There is no heartbeat. I’m so sorry.”

Andy and I stared at the ultrasound screen, searching for hope. But there was nothing. The strangest part is we were devastated, but we weren’t surprised. Instead of being filled with joy about my pregnancy, I had been consumed with worry and fear for eight weeks. I couldn’t sleep at night. When my doctor told us the news, it almost made sense.

I couldn’t stop the train of self-blame running through my mind. Was it something I ate? The thyroid test I put off too long? A work out I tried? Stress? Weak prayers?

Fear and doubt followed soon after. Would I be able to have more children?

There were bouts of total calm and random attacks of uncontrollable crying. There were waves of gratitude. For Carter. For Andy. For an early not late-term miscarriage. For those who prayed for our family. For Christ and the comforting touch of the Spirit.

The miscarriage happened when I was at the EPAPA graduation, celebrating with former students and colleagues. Between speeches, hugs, pictures and laughter, I ran to the bathroom every few minutes as my body bled. Though the clash of conflicting feelings was jarring, this timing felt like a tremendous blessing.

The EPAPA community of students, parents and teachers became my second family when I worked there. My students will always be my babies – even if they think they’re so grown –  and my colleagues became my closest friends. Graduation was a reuniting of family members in a celebration of dreams fulfilled. The love and joy of the occasion lifted my heart and spirits. I was genuinely happy. It’s crazy, but having a miscarriage during graduation gave me the love, hope and strength to endure my heartbreak. God truly works in mysterious – and perfect – ways.

He blessed Andy and me in other ways as well.

When Carter was a newborn, he used to smile and babble up into the corners of our room, gazing intently at nothing my eyes could see. I think he was talking with angels.

A few weeks before the devastating doctor’s appointment, Andy and I lay in bed trying to put Carter to sleep, but Carter goofballed around. At one point, he played at our feet laughing hysterically and babbling toward the corner of our bedroom. Andy and I laughed, flabbergasted because we had done nothing funny. Carter Bao Bao, I remember asking him, Are you playing with your baby brother? He’ll be here with you soon.

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Carter told dad the big news with his Big Brother shoes. We will save them with hope it will happen one day.
I believe we live as spirit beings before we are born to gain our physical bodies. I felt sure that the baby’s spirit had come down to pay his big brother a visit.

After the miscarriage, I couldn’t stop thinking about this bedtime moment. Was it the baby coming to say hi, I’ll be with you soon? Or was the baby saying goodbye, see you in heaven? Had his spirit entered the embryo developing inside me? Did the baby I lost have a spirit? Or was it just a collection of dividing cells?

One day, Andy hugged me and whispered, Our baby’s spirit didn’t come down yet. We didn’t lose one of our children. A feeling of peace washed over me. I knew he was right.

And like that, I began to heal and feel hope again.

I know I have a Father in Heaven who watches out for me. He sends me angels. I have Carter. I have Andy. I have family and friends who lift me with love. I have so many people to love. Even in times of deep pain, God finds ways to ease the burdens and give me peace.

I hope that my angel babies are still up there waiting to come down to join my family. They will come when the time is right.

The Angels in Our Lives

Last Friday afternoon, I was wandering around Union Square when I saw a homeless man approach a group of holiday shoppers in an attempt to sell his copies of Street Sheet, a street newspaper published by the Coalition on Homelessness. Street Sheet vendors are given copies of the paper free and keep all their earnings. They are trying to build better lives for themselves. The women who acknowledged this man looked at him with deep suspicion while the others turned their backs and walked away. I approached him as the last woman, arms laden with shopping bags, made her excuses and began to turn around. I told him I wanted to purchase five copies.

After pulling out my wallet, I realized that I needed to make change for my $20, but the nearest retail store wouldn’t do it. When I emerged from the store and explained I needed to look elsewhere for change, he asked if he could walk with me. We walked a few blocks together and I learned about his family, his hopes, his current living conditions and the training programs he has joined. I bought him a meal at Burger King and five copies of Street Sheet. I told him I wished I could do more. In my heart, I felt like one meal and $10 of newspapers would not make any significant impact in his life and I felt overwhelmed with sadness.

But, he thanked me over and over. He couldn’t believe I would buy him a meal and purchase a few copies of the paper. He told me multiple times I was a blessing. I was a gift from God. An angel.

IMG_3187I didn’t feel worthy of the gratitude or the generous descriptions. There is so much more to be done; what is fifteen minutes of time, a fast food meal and $10 of newspapers? But, as I pondered this experience, I realized that I often get so focused on the big picture, on working toward systemic change that I don’t stop enough to acknowledge the power in these small human interactions. Perhaps a conversation, a meal and a sale were what he needed that day.

Each of us can have eyes to see clearly and ears to hear distinctly the tender mercies of the Lord as they strengthen and assist us in these latter days. May our hearts always be filled with gratitude for His abundant and tender mercies.  – Elder David A. Bednar

The Lord has been particularly generous in His tender mercies to me in the last few weeks. It has been a challenging period of time professionally; I’ve felt myself destroyed in ways that have left me questioning my abilities and even my identity as an educator. I’ve been praying to be reminded who I am and what I am capable of and my prayers have been answered in abundance. Heavenly Father has been sending me angels of my own.

  • Andy and Carter: They have been my haven of love and joy. Our home and family feels like a ship, “tight like unto a dish,” that is tossed by mighty winds and waves, yet remains full of laughter and light.
  • Mom, Harv and Dave: After an extremely difficult period of work, I was able to spend almost a week with my family in Kauai. We don’t always talk about personal things and we are all quite different in personality and perspective. But, there’s nothing like the healing power of the love my family, in their own quirky ways, can enfold around me.
  • Katie and Lea – Hadn’t seen either of these two dear friends and former co-workers in several months, but was able to have an impromptu lunch with Katie and then see both at Lea’s birthday party soon after my tough week. They remind me of who I am as an educator and person and they do it with great love.
  • Marlena – One of my bestestestestest friends for almost ten years now. I call her 姐妹 or “sister” in Chinese. We’ve been able to take the train to work together multiple times in the past few weeks. I can’t think of a better way to start the day than being with someone with whom you can talk to about anything and who understands everything that is unspoken too.
  • Melissa – Another close friend and my former coach, she has always been a source of wisdom and support. Though she lives in a different state, connecting with her frequently over the past few weeks has helped me to see things with brighter hope and a fuller perspective.
  • Suzy: Our neighbor who recently sent Andy and me this email, “I’m unexpectedly home this evening and would be happy to come over and take care of Carter if you two would like to get out for a date.” Who does that? Oh, yeah. Angel people. Once in a while, she also brings us soup and cookies. She probably doesn’t have any idea how much we appreciate her gestures of kindness and love. Andy and I often feel like tiny satellites floating off in space in the solar system of our ward; Suzy helps us feel cared for and connected.
  • Alice: A new friend from the ward who has been inviting us on some awesome adventures. In addition to being an incredibly fun and thoughtful person, she is also an insane baker (Heavenly Father knows what we need in our lives!). Last week she dropped off some homemade chocolate toffee amazingness – and I immediately devoured it…grinch-style without sharing. Our budding friendship is like a ray of light that has come at a perfect time.
  • Mrs Paugh – I’m supposed to call her Kaye now, but I’ve been calling her Mrs. Paugh since my sophomore year of high school and the transition has not happened in my brain. She was one of my favorite teachers and my high school advisor. She’s known me for a long long time. Last Sunday, she passed me in the hall at church and paused to tell someone how amazing and wonderful she thought I was. It was a small thing, but it lifted my spirits. Sometimes you just need to hear it from someone you know really means it.
  • Mr. Mac – He taught me English my freshman year of high school and is one of my all-time favorite teachers. I still have the notes he wrote me at the end of my essays. He’s one of those teachers that makes every student feel like she or he is his favorite. Last week he messaged me on Facebook for last minute advice on WordPress and we met over hot chocolate a few days later. I don’t think I was much help to him, considering my technological ineptitude, but as always, he was an uplifting force to me.

I don’t get to see these beloved people nearly as often as I’d like, and God, in His miraculous and tender way, arranged it so that I’d see or speak with all of them in the last few weeks. Some people might call it coincidence, but I know it is much more than that.

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I believe in angels. Both the ones we see and the ones we don’t. Heavenly Father has been sending an army of angels – only a few of whom are mentioned here – to watch over me and they are filling me with love. They are reminding me who I really am. They show me that He hears and answers my prayers. He is always aware of me and He blesses me more than I deserve. I am so incredibly grateful.

Sometimes it is the small things that make a big difference. A conversation. A meal. An invitation. Sometimes these things are an answer to prayer, a reminder that God is still watching over us. He sends us angels and allows us to be angels in the lives of others. I need to be better about remembering this.

I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.
– Doctrine and Covenants 84:88