We’ll start at the beginning with Faith and Grace….
Tim and I were married in March of 1994. We had a son, Timothy. Two years into our marriage, I was expecting again…and there were many surprises. First of all, everything was different with this pregnancy…there was more fatigue, more nausea, more belly, and more “stretching pains.” At our first ultrasound appointment around 6-8 weeks, the doctor confirmed, after a series of disconcerting “Hmmmms…” that we were expecting TWINS. I had a slight panic attack on the table, immediately overwhelmed with all the additional concerns and possible complications that could come with a twin pregnancy. Tim’s twenty-year-old face was covered in shock, bewilderment, and stunned excitement. I staggered my way off the examining table, and once safely behind the curtain, I began to change out of the napkin gown we ladies wear at the OB, and the fears started to emerge in the form of tears, which gave way to sobs.
Tim asked if I was okay, and I told him in my twenty-year-old voice that I was afraid. We talked, and soon the excitement overrode the doubt and fear. When I shared the news with my mother, she picked me up (with her little 100 pound self) and spun me around in her driveway. We had plans to make…plans that involved two of everything…how fun!
Fun soon gave way to constant vomiting which led to many hospital visits, medication and IV therapy. My stomach continued to grow at an alarming rate…which we thought was just a normal part of being pregnant with twins. I had barely kept any food down…so it certainly wasn’t fat! I needed help with the housework…and Timothy spent a lot of time with both grandmothers.
My friend Ginny and I were at Wal-Mart with our toddlers when I started to feel contractions…after a stop at Wendy’s, we concluded that I needed to go to the OB as the contractions and back pain continued. They hooked me up to the monitors and said that I was contracting regularly. I was about 20-22 weeks gestation…my uterus was measuring about 40 cm ( the size of a full-term pregnant uterus).
The doctors instructed me to go straight to the hospital because I was in labor. I stopped in the hallway, leaning against the wall…crying, praying, trying to catch my breath. I didn’t want to go any further…I didn’t want to face what was to come, but Ginny said something to convince me to take the next step, and the next until I found myself in a hospital bed, which would become my home for more than a week. They administered magnesium sulfate to stop the labor…it was a miserable poison which intensified my wretched vomiting and soon I needed medicine, IVs, and other pleasantries. I laid there, listening to each laboring mom and praying for each little baby. I would cry with relief at the sound of each new baby cry…wondering in my heart if my babies were born right now, if they would even be able to cry. The days passed in a blur as I continued to lose everything that entered my stomach until my throat was raw and torn. But, finally…after about a week, the contractions stopped and I emerged from the fog of the medicine.
It was time for my ultrasound. I’ll never forget the yellow walls of the room…chatting light-heartedly with the nurses as they wheeled me down the hall…I’ll never forget the smothering doom as the countenance of the technician’s face darkened when she saw my babies and she turned the screen away. She wouldn’t say anything, but I knew…something was wrong.
We were sent to a high-risk specialist (perinatalogist) the next morning. My day began with losing the contents of my stomach, as usual. This morning it happened to be a red popsicle. Tim arrived to help me put on my shoes, since the swelling and the size of my giant abdomen prevented me from finding my own feet. He drove me to St. Vincent Hospital.
The specialist performed an ultrasound, and within minutes of our arrival, we knew that we were having identical twin girls and we had a name for the evil thing that threatened our precious children: twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome. That moment held both joy and sorrow as we went from expecting twin “babies” to expecting twin “daughters”. Immediately, whether in danger or not, we had dreams for them. We now had a vision of who they would be. We named our daughters Faith Elizabeth and Grace Katherine. We chose those names based on the scripture For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift of God… – Ephesians 2:8
The condition known as twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome is, in simple terms a situation where one baby gets too much nourishment, fluid, and blood flow and the other baby does not get enough. To help remedy the situation, the doctors performed several amniocentesis procedures to remove excess fluid from the sac that carried the babies. I remained in the hospital for several more days. People prayed fervently for me and our babies as we all three were in a fight for our lives. The constant vomiting had done great damage to my stomach and esophagus. I had a hyetal hernia that was irritated by the size of my girth, my heart was palpitating, my lungs struggled to get in enough air as I continued to grow and my liver wasn’t working properly. And we prayed for the lives of Faith and Grace, desperate to believe that our babies would be among the 20 percent who live through this condition unscathed.
During the many ultrasounds performed, we would watch as Faith sucked her thumb and Grace swam wildly about. I watched and learned about them as they were nestled safely in my womb, yet to meet the world. And I knew them because they were my own.
At twenty-six weeks, an ultrasound showed that the hearts of Faith and Grace, who had struggled so to survive, were no longer beating. The pain and shock of that loss, the word stillborn, the labor and the funeral plans were all a blur, as if happening to someone else.
The voice that emerged from me was an unrecognizable, agonized cry from the deepest part of my heart. This couldn’t be. Both of them were gone before I met them. There would be no bedroom with a canopy crib and pink lace everywhere. No daughters for my husband to dote over and protect. No sisters for our two-year-old son. No little girl giggles and Easter bonnets. This couldn’t be…but it was. They were ripped unexpectedly from us. It was as if the world stopped. For me, time stood still. My world, in an instant was a horrible nightmare that I had not even allowed myself to dream, but had come true anyway.
During my labor, I looked out the window and watched giant snowflakes falling silently, so perfect and beautiful, just like I imagined our daughters would be. When they were born, we held them and wept, and I sang Amazing Grace. Although they were bruised and broken, all I could see was their indescribable beauty. I had prayed that God would save them and I realized that He had saved them, just not the way I had in mind. They were in heaven, perfect and without suffering, complete and safe. The grief that followed was a relentless roller coaster. My physical and emotional health were in desperate need of healing. I questioned the strength of my faith. I didn’t yet realize that God’s strength is made perfect in my weakness.
The Story of Our Thomas
A year later, we conceived our fourth child. We were filled with apprehension and hope. An ultrasound in mid-pregnancy indicated an inadequate amount of amniotic fluid. I was sent to a specialist who confirmed through a variety of tests that our baby probably had a fatal condition known as Potter’s Syndrome, where babies have a lack of amniotic fluid due to the absence of kidneys. The low amounts of amniotic fluid leave the baby’s lungs unable to properly develop, and they cannot function. There is no chance of survival.
We felt forsaken. The darkness of that rainy day was consuming and hideous. I remember standing by the window in the hospital hallway, looking out into the pouring rain. I watched the raindrops trickling down the window in unison with the tears trickling down my cheeks. I didn’t want to take another step. Maybe, I thought, if I stayed right here in this spot, I wouldn’t have to face the ugly truth of what was to come. Maybe I could just make time stand still. Only then that would mean never moving on past this day. Sometimes the only way out is through a situation. All the way home, a terrible voice echoed in my head as I struggled to resist feeling forsaken, asking, “Where is your God now?”
In the middle of the night, I cried out and poured over scripture, searching for the answer to that awful question. I clung to the promises of God that He will never leave us nor forsake us.
Doctors use the words “incompatible with life” to describe a fatal diagnosis. We were given a choice to induce labor early, terminating the pregnancy or to continue, knowing what outcome we would face, barring a miracle.
After a Holy Week filled with tears and searching scripture, we chose to continue the pregnancy despite the bleak diagnosis. The next four months tested our faith constantly. We prayed fervently for a miracle, hoping and wishing, fearing that staying pregnant could be causing physical harm and deformities to our baby because of lack of amniotic fluid. It was a great strain on our family. I spent time planning his funeral and yet, still somehow hoping that God would give us a miracle and save him. I lived from ultrasound to ultrasound, so that I could catch a glimpse of this quiet little child growing within me, knowing that this was my only time to mother him. I wanted to cherish every gift, every moment.
We chose the name Thomas for our son because through this journey, we learned about believing God without seeing. (John 20:24-29) We learned that being faithful doesn’t mean not feeling doubt or fear. Faith is believing God’s promises, clinging to His truth anyway, when you’re most afraid and filled with doubt and questions…still believing when the answer is not what you want to hear or when there seems to be no answer at all.
When the moment came for me to deliver Thomas, it was clear that God’s grace truly was sufficient for us. While a team of experts worked to save Thomas, I prayed and cried out to the Lord. I was immediately filled with that peace that surpasses all human understanding. I could feel the presence of the Lord, so close, as if I could reach out and touch Him. Although God did not work the kind of miracle that I had asked for, there were miracles that day. Thomas was beautiful! He was with us for six hours. We were able to hold him and pray over him. There were no scars on him and his limbs were intact. There was no evidence that remaining pregnant without amniotic fluid had harmed him in any way.
During the last moments of Thomas’ life, I rocked him and began singing to him. As he left this earth, it occurred to me that I had been given a great privilege. I had been chosen to sing to this beautiful baby as he went straight from my arms to the arms of Jesus. I was bathed in peace and an indescribable joy. It was worth a lifetime of being Thomas’ mother to be the one who held him and sang to him on his way to heaven. I have never felt closer to Jesus than in that moment. I knew that He existed in a way that I never had known before. His promises are real, and He will not leave us or forsake us.
I could never have envisioned in my limited human mind that He would have such an experience waiting for me at the end of this journey. I was truly blessed among women that day, blessed among Mothers.
It has been several years since that day (ten to be exact!), and our journey of healing has continued. We were tossed about in the sea of grief for a time. We struggled through our questions, our pain, our tears, our anger, and our bitterness. We believed that someday, somehow, God could and would restore our brokenness and turn our tears to joy. And He did.
In the beginning, I felt as if I were drowning. The sea of grief was relentless. Soon, I learned to tread water, though, and the sea became less rocky as I stopped resisting the waves. One day, I realized that I had learned to swim in this sea. The waves of grief still rushed in at times, but I was learning to be a stronger swimmer.
The old saying “Time heals all wounds” has some truth to it, but I would like to elaborate on that concept. Yes, in time, wounds do heal; however I believe that what’s really happening in that time is that God is working in us to heal and restore us. You may have heard the analogy that although we cannot see the wind, we can see the evidence that the wind exists as it blows the leaves on the trees. We can feel the wind on our face and hear the sound of it blowing past. I think God works in those invisible ways. We cannot see Him, but we see evidence of His work in our lives. We feel the comfort of His presence.
My friend Dinah gives a great analogy of how God mysteriously works. She likens it to the changing of the seasons. In the autumn the leaves change colors. Often though it is so gradual, so subtle that we don’t realize it fully until one day the trees are orange, yellow, red and brown instead of green. In the same way as winter approaches, the leaves fall from the trees. One day, we notice that the leaves are gone. We know they must have been falling for some time, but it was so subtle and gradual that we hardly noticed until one day when they were all gone and the land was stark and bare. When spring comes, everything brings forth new life. What once was dead is alive again. And one day it happens. You wake up and the leaves have returned once more- green and shiny and new. You can’t point to a time when they began to bloom, exactly. You may have seen a bud or two. But it seems that it is sudden. Suddenly, the leaves have returned.
In reality it was happening all the time, subtle, gradual, unseen, changing and restoring life. That is the best illustration I have heard of the way the Holy Spirit works in us to heal and restore. How subtly God works in us to change and heal us until one day what once was, is no more. One day, we were no longer struggling. We have overcome what once held us captive, be it bitterness, pain, grief, or sin. God had been healing us all along, working while we struggled.
Where once there was sin, now there is forgiveness. Where sorrow once lived, now joy dwells. Where once there was death, now there is life. Once the trees were barren. Now they spring forth green leaves and beautiful, life-giving fruit. I don’t know exactly when or how He took the tattered ashes of our broken hearts and made them into something beautiful, but one day the pain was gone. (We still have tender moments when our memories take us back, and we may shed some tears. We will never forget!) In reality, though, it wasn’t one day. It had been happening all along. God had been using every tear, every moment of brokenness to make beauty from ashes, to turn our shame into a crown of glory, to heal our pain and restore us- turning even our deepest sorrow into our most exuberant joy.
Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. – Psalm 126: 2-5
In May 2001, our fifth child was born…our little bundle of energy and joy…James. He is our miracle child, and we thank God for both of our sons that are with us and for our daughters and son that are in Heaven, daily.
We share our story with you because of the scripture in 2 Corinthians 1: 3 & 4 – Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received.
We feel blessed that we have been comforted through our loss by a loving God, and we would like to offer that same comfort to you. That is how our ministry began. My friend,Tracy lost her baby, Kelly on March 12, 2003. While searching for a memory book for her, I discovered that there were no memory books that allowed the mom to adequately honor the life of a precious baby…something lasting and beautiful that said a loved and wanted child was here. That’s how the Dreams of You Memory Book was born. Parts of the above story are written in the Dreams of You Book as well as places for grieving parents to journal there own journey of loss, hope and healing, record the dreams they had for baby, footprints, handprints, other memories and details of babies life, write letters to baby…in addition, the book is filled with inspirational poems and scripture reminding us of the hope of heaven.
We began Sufficient Grace Ministries – the legacy of Faith, Grace, Thomas and Tracy’s little Kelly – in 2004. Today, thousands of lives have been touched because of the brief little lives of our little ones. They were here…they mattered…and God used them to fulfill a beautiful purpose…to offer comfort and hope to those whose hearts are broken. For more information about the products and services offered, to receive one-on-one support, to order materials, or to express a prayer need, please visit our website: sufficientgraceministries.org or email me (Kelly) at firstname.lastname@example.org . We are a 501 (c ) 3 non-profit organization and we do not ask bereaved parents to pay for our materials. The costs for materials is covered from supporting members, individuals, participating hospitals, churches, and other organizations.
You can read more about the faith journey of the Gerken’s and their story in Kelly’s book, Sufficient Grace.
Read more about SGM and how we’ve grown here.
Faith Elizabeth Gerken — November 3, 1996
Grace Katherine Gerken — November 3, 1996
Thomas Patrick Gerken — July 14, 1998
Kelly Michelle Sponsler — March 12, 2003
For all the precious children whose footprints are forever ingrained in our hearts – We still dream our dreams of you… until we meet again.
…See I will not forget you. I have carved you in the palm of my hand. – Isaiah 49:15b & 16