1. This past March, just minutes after giving birth, your sweet baby boy was swept into Jesus’ arms and home to Heaven. What has Titus’ life taught you about hope?
Oh my goodness, so many things. How many pages do I have?
One of them—and it seems so simple—but Titus’ life has encouraged a daily awareness of the hope I have. One of the ways this manifests itself is that I am crazy excited for heaven. In this world, we’re only able to experience a shadow of the real thing. Our hope is always battling against pain and sorrow and grief for our attention. And oh, how my heart longs for the freedom to experience it purely, to see the hope that I have, perfected in heaven. It brings a smile to my face that my son gets to live in that reality right now.
Titus’ life has also taught me the absolute necessity of hope. From the first minute we found out he wasn’t breathing, my husband and I had to exercise that muscle of faith, urging us to trust God with our son’s life. And even though God didn’t give breath to Titus in that moment, he promises us that Titus is alive and well, heartbeat strong, and lungs filled with breath for eternity. We’ve had to press into that hope and believe that what God promises is true.
He’s taught me to impart hope to others—and what an important calling that is! I consider it my partnership with Ty, spreading the hope of Jesus everywhere we go. Through painting, through writing ... every piece I write or paint I pray over, that God would infuse hope into the hearts of those who see it. My dad gave me a picture a few months ago of Titus up in heaven; he sees someone in need of hope and he starts jumping up and down, waving his arms, shouting to Jesus, “Put me in Coach! Put me in!” It’s an image that’s really stuck with me. Titus is working beside me to bring light to dark places.
2. In the months since Titus’ birthday, how have you learned to hold both your grief and your hope together and live with both at the same time?
Oh man, this is such a huge tension! My husband, Kent, and I run into this every single day. It is one of the hardest, most complicated parts of our journey since Titus passed away. We call it “jorrow,” joy in sorrow. I remember we were driving home one night talking about this tension and how it needs its own word. You know, like when you’re hungry and angry you’re “hangry.” Well, nothing we came up with sounded good, so we settled on “jorrow.” It sounds super awkward, but so is this experience, so in a way, it fits.
I think what we’ve learned so far is that IT’S HARD. It’s exhausting and incredibly confusing to feel two completely opposite emotions at once. One example is that I was pregnant at the same time as many of my close friends and both of my sisters. So it’s been especially difficult to try to hold joy in our hearts for them and with them, while our hearts are, at the very same time, torn wide open with grief. Seems impossible. And sometimes it is. And on those days we stay home and we nurse our wounds and retreat from the battle.
But we’ve also learned that grief, for us as believers, actually encourages hope. Sadly, it’s hard to fully understand the expansive power of the hope we have until we’re forced to look extreme loss in the face. In those moments, we so desperately need to believe that there’s more to life than pain and suffering and death. And so we seek out hope, wherever it can be found.
This is one of the simple graces of grief: that we notice Jesus everywhere because we are looking for him everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, it’s easy for me to focus on the pain, what was taken from us, what we aren’t able to experience. And that promotes some ugly things in my heart. And some days, I have to admit, I don’t feel so full of hope. Some days I’m just sad, disappointed, frustrated, and overwhelmed with sorrow. But that’s what happens when we live in a broken world—we’re broken. And thankfully, my Savior understands and is not surprised by the depth of my sadness. It is safe with him.
I guess that’s a long way of saying that for every sorrow there is joy. For every moment of grief, there is hope. Jesus died for me so that I could experience more than just pain and suffering. He died so that I could experience hope now and then joy forever with him in heaven. But until that day comes ...“jorrow.”
3. How has painting, writing and pursuing creativity been a part of your healing process?
It has been really, really instrumental. I’ve always loved writing. For years I’ve used it to process life in all its nuance. Putting words to those things is a great joy for me. But watercolor, that was pretty unexpected. Probably about a month after Titus was born and before I’d gone back to work, a good friend of mine invited me over to paint for an afternoon. She taught me some of the basics and a couple weeks later we took a class from one of our favorite watercolor artists we follow on Instagram. I was hooked. I think the biggest thing for me is that it gives my mind a break. While I paint, everything fades away and all I think about is water and paper and the movement of my brush. There’s always a point right in the middle of a piece where I think to myself, “This looks horrible. What was I thinking? I don’t like this.” But I keep going and usually the end product amazes me. And I guess in a way, I believe that is what life is like. We’re moving forward and even in those moments where we think to ourselves, “I don’t like this,” God promises us that in the end, HE will make something beautiful out of it. He will restore everything. And we’ll look at the end product and be amazed. That’s what hope is to me—moving forward, even when things are ugly, because deep, deep down you believe that there’s something better ahead. Watercolor, writing, creativity helps me to act out the hope that I have. It reminds me that I’m a work in progress and that God promises me that someday it will all work out for good.
4. What inspires you: as a wife, mom, and artist?
Well, this community of women, for one. Coffee + Crumbs has been one of those unexpected bright spots in my healing. Surprising, since you’d think that talking about motherhood would be hard for me. But I think it’s given me a safe space to acknowledge my own motherhood. It might look very different, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to talk about it and learn about it and be encouraged in it, just like any other mama. The grace you pour out on moms of all kinds encourages me so much.
I’m also greatly inspired by music. I have so many songs and albums that have carried me through very specific moments of grief. The beauty and emotion in music encourages me to create something of my own. I listen to music every time I paint.
Lastly, other writing or art (really anything creative) inspires me to do what I do with greater purpose and passion. Sometimes I go to the bookstore and look through cookbooks or crafting books (Year of Cozy is one of my favorites!) just to regain that spark for beauty. The photography alone in those books lights a fire in my heart. Other art and writing also encourages me to get resourceful in my marriage and pursue my husband with creativity, which is a whole different topic, but so important!
5. Do you have a scripture, word or mantra that guides your work?
There are so many! But consistently it’s been Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Since Ty was born, and actually throughout my entire pregnancy, we’ve had to attack many hard things with bravery. I tell people that he’s the little boy God is using to teach me courage. But my favorite thing about this verse is that it doesn’t say, “Gather up your own courage and strength and good luck with life!” It tells you to be strong and courageous, to not be afraid or distressed, “for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” That’s been a powerful reminder to us. It’s actually given us a lot of hope because there’s nothing about this loss that we’ve been able to handle on our own strength. And God doesn’t expect us to! I’m amazed when I look back and think about everything he’s carried us through. What a relief that he’s ready and able to provide all the strength we need. And that doesn’t just apply to us or to those who’ve experienced unimaginable loss. It applies to everyone, wherever you’re at, he is with you. What a game changer.
Because this is something that’s been guiding my life recently, it’s also guided my work. There’s such a temptation in the process of creating to question and diminish our work. To think it’s not good enough, or even to believe the lie that no one is interested in what we have to offer. A lot of art is very personal and it takes courage to put yourself out there. But I believe so strongly that it’s incredibly important to do this very thing—put ourselves out there. It’s important to learn from each other, to feel that “me too” moment, to know you’re not alone. And how else are we going to accomplish this than to be courageously sharing life with each other, especially through artistic expression? So every time I question something I’ve written, thinking that no one wants to hear what I have to say, every time I look at a painting and think, “What am I doing?! I’m not professional,” I take a deep breath and remember that it’s not about perfection or approval. It’s about being authentic and sharing what you have to give with the world, for the benefit of the world. Be courageous! Share life with each other, in all its messy, wonderful complexity. You’ll be better for it.
6. While your journey and the impact of Titus’ story are far from over, what is something you have learned in the past year that you are taking in to the new year with fresh eyes?
I think this last year has taught me that I’m not in control and to take one day at a time. I’m walking into this new year with open hands. I have no idea what comes next. And that’s crazy difficult for me. We’ve become painfully aware that even when we do plan, life doesn’t always turn out the way we expect. So I’m holding my plans loosely. I’m walking forward in faith, not knowing what could come next, but having hope that it’s something good.