On This Day

The clock read 6:04 am. I laid on my left side with most of my body uncovered by blankets. It was September 17th, and our temporary rental home was hot. Maybe it wasn’t that hot in the house, but I was always hot at 39 weeks pregnant with my fourth child. My eyes squeezed tightly closed, and I knew that I had no chance of sleeping any longer. I was uncomfortable, my belly was enormous, I wasn’t having contractions, but my abdomen felt constantly tight. “I won’t make it an entire week. I can’t be pregnant another week”, I lamented in my mind.

I got out of bed with tremendous effort and began slowly getting ready for the day. A couple of hours later, while readjusting the position of my stance and rubbing my back, I started pouring bowls full of cheerios for my older children. Robert had graciously already made me a cup of coffee, and our usual Sunday was beginning without event. We left for church, and I prayed I wouldn’t have to do much in the preschool class that we taught. It was an uneventful morning. I don’t recall the sermon, the songs, or the many faces we passed. I thanked the good Lord that a small toddler fell asleep in my lap, allowing me to sit for the entire Sunday School hour.

At home, we sat for lunch. Well, my family sat for lunch. I kept standing up and sitting back down. Occasionally, I would pace and rub my stomach. Robert’s gaze followed me studiously. “Are you ok?” he asked gently.

“I’m fine. I’m just uncomfortable.” I sat back down, proving a point. I grimaced slightly.

“It’s possible I’m having some contractions, but they are really irregular. I’m fine.”

We began clearing the table and helping wipe sticky hands. Emma, at age five, was happily chattering away about everything she had done at church. I smiled and nodded, but I wasn’t really hearing her. Leah, age three, and George, not quite two, played as we ushered them towards their rooms for nap time. Robert’s glance lingered on me occasionally as he would ask, “are you sure you’re ok?”
The kids were tucked into bed and resting quietly for their nap time when Robert met me in the hall. “Casey, we need to call a babysitter. I think you’re in labor.”

“I’m totally” there was a long pause as I closed my eyes, held one hand to my belly, and grabbed a nearby door frame with the other. “fine!” A single bead of sweat rolled down my face.

“Casey. You haven’t been finishing your sentences. You’re squatting in the hallway right now! Sweetheart, you have had three other children; I think you know you are in labor. Call the babysitter.”

Three phone calls later, a grandmother on the way, a neighbor coming through the door, and a husband insisting he “was not delivering this baby!” I reluctantly grabbed my hospital bag and followed my husband to the car. I turned to tell my neighbor something about the kids’ snack when Robert shouted, “I’m going to the hospital with or without you. Please get in the car.”

Just a couple of hours later, with barely enough time for an epidural and just two pushes, I held one of the most beautiful baby girls in my arms. Out of five children, Jane Frances Martin still has one of my favorite birth stories. There is much more to the story. More moments that are comical now but were anxiety-inducing then. More memories of how she entered this world, bringing joy and ease. So much more that could be said and has been said. It’s a sweet story, and it’s mine.

This morning, I woke up, and the clock said 6:54am. I was on my left side with blankets covering me. I wasn’t too hot. We built a beautiful home and moved into it almost four years ago with a six-week-old baby girl. My belly isn’t enormous, but it does bear scars of holding the life of five precious babies. I squeezed my eyes tightly shut, not wanting to go back to sleep but instead wanting to wake to a different reality. I knew that too was impossible. “I can make it the entire day; I’ve made it this far.” I recited to myself.

Today, I sat with my big kids, Emma, now 9, Leah, now 7, and George, almost 6. We talked about how today is the anniversary of Jane’s birth. That’s really what all birthdays are, but the difference is that we aren’t marking growth; we are only looking back. It’s a day worth celebrating. What a joy and privilege it is to have been Jane’s family. To know her was to love her; it is still to love her. The kids picked balloons, we’ve eaten our fill of sweet treats all day long, and we’re watching Jane’s favorite movie tonight. It’s a celebration of sorts. But it’s just an anniversary now, and we have to make room for the grief permanently invited to our table.

Is she four today? I’m not sure. Has she grown-up or stayed the same? It’s a thought that doesn’t matter to someone until it matters.
“Jane loved Minnie Mouse, but she might not have liked Minnie anymore. Right, Momma?” The voice of the child gets smaller as reality dawns. “I wonder what Jane would have liked now.” says another child. I wonder that too. I see the little sister playing with balloons; she never met the one whose birthday we celebrate.

I almost didn’t make it to the hospital four years ago because I can’t stand being thought dramatic. If you have read anything I’ve written in the last year and a half, that probably surprises you. My apologies. I don’t want to be dramatic; I want to be honest. I won’t wallow in self-pity; I will talk plainly about grief.

On this day, we hold joy and grief. It’s an exercise we have repeated numerous times throughout the last year and a half. We are better for it. Our heart has grown, our compassion has increased, our knowledge has expanded, and our gratefulness is immense. Our grief has not gotten smaller; our lives have grown larger around it. Our joy is not dependent on circumstances; it is supplied by the Giver of all good gifts. It seems complicated and simple all at the same time.

Today I grieve, and I wait. I celebrate, and I mourn. I remember sweet times, and I remember horrific moments. I acknowledge a gracious God who gives and takes away. Today is the anniversary of one of my favorite birth stories. Today is Jane’s birthday. And on this day, I am thankful the story and little girl belonged to me.

Jane Loved Church, An Open Letter to Church Preschool Volunteers

Dear Faithful Preschool Volunteer (or soon to be volunteer),
You come every Sunday; sanitizing toys, updating phone numbers of parents, sing Jesus Loves Me, rock a crying baby, change diapers or help the potty training child. Your service can be thankless and far less glamorous than the Sunday School teacher who leads a class full of middle-aged adults. You rarely get a chance to share a cohesive Bible lesson and rarely get to sit down. But I see you and I want to say thank you.

I have five children and they have all graced the preschool department of our church. Some of them excitedly ran to their class and some needed to be walked, rocked, and occasionally a parent called. My fourth child, Jane, passed away at two and a half years old. Two days before her funeral I was tasked with writing what we would like to say about her and her life. The first words that ran through my grief-stricken mind and graced the page were: Jane loved church. It was true and it was also fitting that our preschool director should read what I had written during the funeral.

At only two, Jane loved going to church. She never sat in the sanctuary and she never heard a sermon. She never took part in a well-planned Sunday School lesson and she never passed an offering plate. She didn’t walk an aisle or share prayer requests. Jane still loved church. She loved seeing her teachers and she loved playing with her friends. Jane knew that good gifts come from God, even if those gifts were just goldfish crackers. Jane learned the song Jesus Loves Me not long after she began talking, and we played a video of her singing that song at her funeral. Jane knew Jesus loved her, and she knows it far better now than any of us. It was you that helped grow Jane’s love for church and God. Thank you.

Jane knew that good gifts come from God, even if those gifts were just goldfish crackers.

I know, and so do you, that it is a parent’s responsibility and honor to raise a child in the way they should go. In our home, we pray and strive to point our children to Jesus seven days a week. We want our children to love God, and we also want them to love others and His church. The church isn’t lights and music. It isn’t the sermon or the announcements. The church isn’t the programs or the traditions. The church is the body of Christ. The church is God’s family. The church is you. And for a couple of hours every Sunday morning, you love children and point them to Jesus in seemingly small yet profound ways. Thank you.

The week that Jane died we had an influx of people in our home. People brought meals, cleaned, entertained our surviving children, prayed, and many helpful things that I will never know this side of eternity. Many of those gracious people were preschool volunteers who didn’t know me very well but knew and loved my children. On our wall, we have three posters hanging with handprints of my childrens’ church classmates with the Bible verse, “A friend loves at all times.” They were the idea of a preschool volunteer and delivered to heartbroken siblings just a week after losing their sister. Thank you.

Many of those gracious people were preschool volunteers who didn’t know me very well but knew and loved my children.

For our first Christmas after losing Jane, I was heartsick about having an empty stocking with her name. I asked for anyone that knew her or had fond memories of her to write a letter that could be placed in her stocking and read on Christmas morning. Her stocking was full, and at least half of the letters we received were from preschool volunteers. Thank you.

My fifth baby has terrible separation anxiety. And to be fair, I have a broken mother’s heart that doesn’t part with my children well anymore either. She’s been welcome in our worship service and adult Sunday School class for the last year. I’m grateful for the ease of keeping her with me and the understanding of those around me. But she likes to crawl and play, and I know she would be happier in class with children her age. So this morning I took her to the nursery. For two hours, servant-hearted preschool volunteers rocked her, pushed her in a stroller, and gave her cheerios. Because of you, she’s learning to love church like her big sister.

So while it can be a thankless and tiring job, please let me offer you this small piece of gratitude. We are called to follow Jesus, his example, and his commands. Matthew 19:14 says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When you joyfully take care of children each Sunday, you are following Jesus. Preparing crafts may not be glamorous and you probably won’t receive much praise this side of heaven for changing another diaper. But the Lord sees your heart and your service. And as a mother of children that love God and love church, I see you too. Your work and care are not lost on me. Thank you.

I Want Less

“So what are you hoping has changed since this time last year? What differences do you want in your life?” They were thoughtful questions from my dearest friend who is truly gifted in asking questions and even better at genuinely listening to answers. I knew the answer but struggled to articulate it. “I don’t want to add. I want less.” That’s how my answer came out, but after some thought, that’s exactly what I meant. Grief, loss and a pandemic stripped my family utterly bare last year. Slowly, the Lord is gathering us back and clothing us with fresh garments. The scars remain and the sadness dwells in our home, yet we are growing and learning. And it’s true, I don’t want to add, I want less.

But the temptation and the guilt are present. As we drove to worship with our church on Sunday morning, I told my husband, “I know it’s not true, but it feels like we aren’t doing anything for church anymore.” We no longer teach a Sunday school class, for many different reasons. I don’t feel comfortable caring for large groups of children anymore. We don’t greet people at the door, sing on stage, pass an offering plate, nothing “behind the scenes” or any of the kindhearted volunteer work that is generally considered serving. My sweet husband kindly reminded me of the things we are doing and truths I already knew, the most important being that through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are striving to “do all things to the glory of God” even the seemingly mundane.

My personality type leans towards legalism and a works based ideology. I like lists and schedules. I thrive having a plan and I don’t rest well. While we aren’t a family that has ever been constantly on the go, I am the person that doesn’t say no very often. I take that back, I say no to a lot of things, but usually the wrong things. People generally ask me to do things, in part, because I often say yes. Need a helper? Sure. Volunteer? Ok. Something completely outside of my gifting, but still a need? Count me in.

This was me and then an interesting thing happened. There was no one asking me for anything and there was nothing that needed to be done. When you lose a child, people catch on pretty fast that “now’s not a great time to ask them for something.” And rightfully so, because I couldn’t have done anything. Early on, a kind woman reminded me to accept the help people were offering. “It’s ok,” she said, “you’ll be the helper again one day.” It was kind and such an encouragement. At that point, we were surviving and that was ok. Then came a pandemic and no one needed me to do the traditional things, because the traditional things weren’t happening. This was not only ok, but a gift. Now before I go any further, I want to be clear that people asking for help or volunteers is not wrong. It is no one else’s fault that I felt compelled to do so much. I also do not believe that God was trying to teach me a lesson by ushering forth a pandemic or taking my daughter. That would be incredibly small minded and arrogant. I do believe that God is gracious and sometimes allows us to grow and learn from even the most tragic circumstances.

The expectations are returning. The schedules are getting full. We are adding and we aren’t settling for less. It’s not what I want.

Fast forward a year and a handful of months. I sense it, do you? The expectations are returning. The schedules are getting full. We are adding and we aren’t settling for less. It’s not what I want. I want to take time to talk to the grandmother at swim lessons. I want to learn that she is concerned for her son’s safety at his job. I want to hear her and be able to offer hope if possible. I want to go to the library with my kids, only to discover there is a magician performing a show. I want to enjoy watching the amazement on my kid’s faces and never look to see how long our trip is becoming. I want to read my Bible for the sheer love of God and what He has to say, not to check a box on a reading plan. I want to pray because I have the privilege of sitting at the feet of God and communing with him, not simply voice a laundry list of requests. I want to serve others out of love, not obligation.

Jesus doesn’t want to add to our burden, he wants to lighten it.

Some will protest that I am coming from a point of privilege. That I can’t possibly understand what your schedule demands of you. How could I know what it is like being a single mom working three jobs? Or someone caring for chronically ill parents? What must it be like to have a special needs child that demands your constant care and attention? You are right. I can’t know and I won’t pretend that I can relate. But I would like to take the time to listen and try to understand. There have been so many times in the last year I have felt that people just couldn’t understand my suffering, or my pain. Truthfully, most can’t and I’m grateful for that. But Jesus knows. He knows my heart and life and he knows yours too. And Jesus doesn’t want to add to our burden, he wants to lighten it.

Matthew 11:28 says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” What a beautiful promise. His yoke is easy and his burden light. We aren’t meant to constantly be stacking on more and more, but letting go and following Christ. Of course to follow Jesus, means to live like Jesus, but that’s another post for another day.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

Margin. It’s a bit of a buzzword. The idea of allowing time and space for rest, contentment, joy and above all for the Holy Spirit to move and work. I want to create space for what Jesus has for me and far less of what others might be promoting. Less obligation, less expectations, less scheduled serving and less stress. And I guess I do want to add more. I hope that the Lord adds more joy, more peace, more patience, more humility, more kindness and more self-control. I hope that Jesus will lead me to serve him and others in the ways he has gifted me to serve and that I will be a blessing to others, not a burden. I want to add rest, true rest, that can only come from Jesus and I want far less of what this world has to offer.

The Day That Changed Our Life

“Do you have a pastor we can call?” If I had not already come to terms with the fact that my daughter was gone, this should have been the question that confirmed the truth. Just thirty minutes earlier our life was normal, comfortable and predictable. Now the future was bleak and uncertain.

It was Monday, February 24, 2020. My husband, Robert was at his clinic where he serves as a primary care sports medicine physician. I had just dropped off our oldest daughter, Emma, for her weekly piano and drama lessons. I was on the way home with our three youngest children and my emerging baby bump. Five children. In less than five months, we would have five children in our home under the age of 8. It was an overwhelming blessing. 

As I drove home, the sun was shining and astonishingly it wasn’t raining. It had been a record breaking month of rain. The weather was cool and crisp. The kids were singing in the car and asking what we were having for dinner. It was the most typical Monday and we were content.

When we pulled back into our driveway, the kids were making plans to play dress up and perform plays before we had to go back to pick up Emma. Leah, George and Jane adored playing dress up, as most children under the age of six typically do. It was about 4:20pm in the afternoon, and I knew I would have just enough time to sit down with a book before I needed to start dinner. It was one of my favorite ways to spend a winter afternoon. The fire was on in the living room, the kids were singing and playing on the rug in front of me and I had a good book to muse over in between elaborate songs and performances from my children. 

My youngest, Jane went to retrieve another dress up costume from her room at the same time I got a text message from my husband. It was 4:37pm. The text read “Do you want me to pick up Emma from piano?” I responded, “if you can.” At that same time, Leah and George began to bicker about something insignificant. In an attempt to stop the fighting and change the subject, I sent Leah to find Jane. “Go find Jane and make sure she isn’t getting into your stuff,” I said. It had only be a couple of minutes since I had seen her, so I wasn’t concerned, but I knew it would pull Leah away from the argument with her brother.

Within minutes Leah returned, looking concerned and said, “I don’t know what’s wrong with Jane.” She was pointing to her own neck and said,  “She might be asleep or,”  I didn’t catch the last part of her phrase as I was already up and running, screaming, “Where is she?!” Maybe it was mother’s intuition, or the sheer moving of the Holy Spirit, but either way I knew the matter was urgent. I found Jane lying in her closet unconscious. The next several minutes were a blur.

CPR was performed and 911 was called. There was crying and fear from George and Leah, who were huddled together on the living room couch. I screamed “God please, no! God please save her!” while performing chest compressions and listening to the 911 operator tell me that help was on the way. I yelled to Leah, “Unlock the front door! People are coming to help!” A trooper from the sheriffs department was the first to enter the room, followed closely be EMS.

I retreated to the living room. I was sobbing, still crying out to God and occasionally dry heaving. At some point, I picked up my phone and called my husband. In my memory, even through sobs, I was being coherent. He told me some time later that he couldn’t understand anything I was saying. A kind trooper asked who I was talking to and took the phone from me. Into the receiver she said, “Mr. Martin, this is Kelly from the sheriff’s department. You need to come home immediately.” She hung up the phone and immediately pulled me tight into a hug. I know now, this was the moment they were transferring Jane out of the house and she didn’t want me to see.

A first responder took Leah and George into their rooms, and distracted them from the trauma that was unfolding. They sat me down in a dining room chair and I stared out of the open front door. I was still praying, “God please.” Our nearly quarter of a mile long driveway was full of first responder vehicles. I noticed a friend, our neighbor, standing in the driveway too. The sun was setting and it had begun to rain a miserable drizzle. Someone asked me if there was someone near that could take our children, so that we were free to go to the hospital. I pointed to my neighbor in the driveway and a trooper went to retrieve him. Someone helped Leah and George with their shoes and then they went next door to our neighbor’s home. I kept staring out the front door, waiting for Robert, waiting for a miracle. I was surrounded by people, but I felt utterly alone.

I was surrounded by people, but I felt utterly alone.

Robert got home and came straight to me. I looked at him and through tears, said “I think she’s gone. I tried. It’s awful. It’s awful.” He was calm, but clearly overwhelmed. He asked me if there had been a pulse. I shook my head no with tears streaming down my face. Robert then asked the first responders for more information and called another friend to ask if they would please pick up Emma from piano lessons. “We’ve had a family emergency” he said into the phone. At some point in this exchange, I received the question, “Do you have a pastor we can call?” I responded with our pastors name. Deep down, I knew what this all meant. Then Robert and I were ushered to a trooper’s car to be driven to the hospital.

It was a ride that I will never forget. It was gray outside and the rain running down the windows felt like an outward expression of the emptiness and sorrow I felt inside. Robert sat behind me and his hand never left my shoulder. The car was quiet with the exception of radio calls back and forth between law enforcement. The calls may have pertained to us or they might not have, it was a series of disjointed words muffled in my ears. 

We arrived at the hospital as the sun had nearly set. It was the same hospital where I had given birth to Jane almost two and a half years before. On that day in September, the sun was shining brightly and we pulled away from the hospital with a new bundle of joy. The future was bright and joy was sure. On this day in February, I would be leaving the same hospital in the darkness of night and gloom of rain, without my child. The magnitude of this opposite reality hadn’t settled on me quite yet.

As we were shown the way into a private family waiting room, I noticed a few familiar faces. Friends lined the hallway. They looked concerned, upset and distraught. Why were they here? How did they know? The situation felt baffling. Our pastor met us in the private room. He gave Robert a hug and we all sat down. At this point, time didn’t seem to exist anymore. I don’t know how long we waited, but I don’t think it was long before a doctor and nurse entered the room.

The doctor, clearly burdened, walked towards us and introduced himself quickly. He then bent down to be eye level with us and said, “I’m sorry, it isn’t good news.” That was a fact, it wasn’t good news. Jane, my two year old had died. He explained they had done everything and tried everything, but she was gone. I cried, Robert cried, our pastor and all the professionals in the room cried. Robert has had the unfortunate experience of relaying tragic news like this to families. I know it is never an easy task. But we had never been on the receiving side of such catastrophic news. Robert and I said something along the lines of “Thank you, we know you did everything you could.” We were left with our pastor again and I asked for a Bible. Hands moved to pockets and I quickly interjected, “No, not a phone, I need to hold the Bible in my hands.”

A Bible was provided and my hands fumbled over pages to find the Psalms. I kept smoothing the pages beneath my hands, finding comfort in the solid and tangible Word of God. I sat and read quietly with my husband. To this day, I’m not exactly certain what we read, but it was what we needed in the moment. I kept whispering the same prayer, “Jesus, please be near.” Jesus answered and He was near. I have never felt the presence of the Almighty as strongly as I did in that moment and for the remainder of the evening. 

Again, time was irrelevant at this point, but over the course of what I assume was a couple of hours, people came in and out of the room. Someone came in to ask us registration questions, but they were asked to leave and please come back. Someone told us they would come back to get us in a little while to see Jane, but they didn’t give an approximate amount of time. The county coroner, criminal investigator and troopers came to ask us questions about what had taken place. I answered their questions, told the story exactly as it had happened, through sobs and anguish. 

The criminal investigator, explained that they didn’t suspect any foul play and they felt confident the entire situation had been a terrible accident. Jane had slipped, fallen and struck a toy basket just right. I remember thinking “You should take me away. You should arrest me. What kind of mother am I?!” I’m sure this is part of why the term “freak accident” was used multiple times that evening and for the next couple of weeks. It was an attempt to alleviate my own personal blame. It was an attempt to explain the unexplainable, the improbable.

Eventually, Robert and I were allowed to see Jane one last time. It’s an experience you never anticipate and hope will never transpire. We knelt down next to the hospital bed. I stroked Jane’s hair, traced her fingers and asked to see her feet. This was it, and I knew it. Soon all I would have were photographs and memories. Robert was beside me and did the same thing. How could this be? Jane, our perfectly healthy, full of life little girl, was now just a shell. Lifeless and cold. I was holding the same hand that hours earlier she had begged me to trace on a piece of paper. I’ll never regret tracing her hand. But now her fingers weren’t clutching my fingers in return. It felt as if the life had been drained from the entire room. Everything was quiet with the exception of occasional sobs and sniffs.

Her fingers weren’t clutching my fingers in return. It felt as if the life had been drained from the entire room.

After we had been given what a professional determined was enough time, we were taken out of the room. Robert made calls to immediate family, while I let tears stream down my face. The tissue in my hand seemed insufficient for my eyes, but I rubbed the edge of it repeatedly between my thumb and forefinger. It was soft, I could feel it and it was real. The entire situation was real. Someone told us that the hardest part would be leaving the hospital without our daughter. It was going to be hard, but the entire experience was horrific.  We left the family waiting room and walked down the hall towards the exit. I saw more faces I recognized, more sadness, more questioning eyes. The gaze of strangers even felt sympathetic and uncomfortable. Then we left the hospital, empty handed. 

Our pastor and his wife drove us home. It was another dark and quiet drive. At the entrance to our driveway, our pastor stopped the car. “I know this may sound hard, but I think it is important to try to stay strong for your kids. We called your friends and neighbors to bring the kids back to your house, but they don’t know anything yet” he said. I knew we needed to be strong, I knew we were about to deliver the most devastating news and I knew we were completely incapable. Our flesh was failing, but Jesus was still near.

We made our way down the driveway and met our surviving children at the door. It was near bedtime now. The kids had pleasant demeanors, but the questions were written all over their face. Never in my life have I understood more what Jesus meant when He said “My power is made perfect in your weakness.” My flesh failed me that day repeatedly, but the Holy Spirit helped and moved us. Here we were with our children, sitting in the same place we did every night, about to embark on the same bedtime routine, but everything was different.

“Where is Jane?” It was the first question. I don’t remember specifically what was said. I know we explained, through tears that Jane had passed away. I know I said a phrase I speak often in our home, “Who made you?” Without missing a beat our children replied “God”. I went on, “Does God make mistakes?” Unwavering, they said, “No.” Then our tradition, our bedtime routine, our family worship began. Robert read from our Bible History book, it was about Timothy. Who was taught from toddler hood to hold on to the Christian faith. It included reading 1 Timothy 1:17 that says, “To the King…. the only God, be honor and glory forever. Amen.” We sang the Doxology. Through tears the words came broken and in unison. “All praise to Thee my God this night, for all the blessing of the light. Keep me, O keep me King of Kings, beneath Thine own almighty wings. Forgive me Lord, for Thy dear Son, the ill that I this day have done. That all the world, myself and Thee, I ere, I sleep at peace may be.” We sang the last verse with more certainty. It was familiar and how we closed nearly every evening as a family. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him all creatures here below. Praise Him above ye heavenly host. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.” At the conclusion of our song of praise, we prayed as a family. “God you are holy and you are sovereign. God please forgive me for my doubt and unbelief. God thank you for Jane. Thank you for letting us be her family, thank you that she is with you now. God please help us, please be near.”

Does God make mistakes? Unwavering, they said, No.

People started to arrive at our house. Dear friends helped get the kids dressed in pajamas and we put them in their beds, thanking the Lord for his strength. I have no recollection of all the people that came to our home that night. I know many were friends from church, neighbors and some family members that lived near by. I’m sure many prayers were offered in our home that night and around our community. At one point, some women sang Amazing Grace.

I sobbed on shoulders and looked around utterly perplexed by my present reality. Robert found me in the sea of friends, sat with me for a little bit and then took me to our room. He helped me get dressed in pajamas and get into bed. I assume someone saw everyone out of the house and locked the door. The rest of the night was a horrific blur of tears, panic attacks, prayers and shock. I slept maybe a couple of hours and dreaded every passing moment. My cell phone continued to ding through out the night, but I couldn’t bring myself to look and read all the messages.

Our life that was once predictable, normal and comfortable just hours before had been permanently altered. The only truth I knew was that Jesus was near and God was still good. He alone would sustain us. 

This is my story

About this time last year, I woke up one morning with an urgency to write down our story. Specifically, the events that transpired on February 24th, 2020. I wasn’t sure why it seemed so neccessary. Was it likely that I would forget the horrific and beautiful events of that day? Probably not. Would I write a book one day? Not likely. Would this account ever be shared with others? I didn’t know. The reason was unclear, but I was sure about the task.

As I wrote, I cried. The story unfolded painfully, but quickly. I shared it with Robert and he wept as he remembered the scenes of that day. His own vantage point of the day is slightly different, but mostly the same. I have shared the story with maybe two others in the last year.

In the last two months, I have felt a compelled to share this story, but I protested. Being vulnerable is difficult. Remaining private has purpose. I needed to take time to explain why I haven’t readily shared all the events of that day. You can read those explanations here and here.

Yesterday it became clear that it was time to share this story. While I don’t know what the Lord means to do with our story and this specific narrative, I am convinced that He will use it for His glory and our eternal good. The story I’m about to share is tragic. It is hard for me to read and relive. It aches and weeps. It is filled with bad news and trauma. There isn’t a happy ending or a welcoming resolve. That will come one day with the second coming of Jesus and the new earth. But I share it with hope, because though the story God has given us may be difficult and full of suffering it also radiates His glory and majesty. Sometimes the most painful stories produce the most powerful testimonies of God’s goodness.

We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

C.S. Lewis

This is our megaphone.

How Exactly? The Question of Curiosity

Sometime in the 1970’s we entered the Information Age. The increase in access to information continued in an upward trend as we moved into a world of computers and the internet. I find it ironic, that so many people are concerned about technology “tracking” them, when in the next moment, they will ask the phone that never leaves their side, “Can cats eat pancakes?” But I digress.

As with most morally neutral things, there can be both wonderful attributes and horrific evils  intertwined with technology. It’s our sinful or redeemed heart that affects the outcome. We are thankful for technology when the information suits us, and damning when the product isn’t to our taste. But, regardless of how you feel about technology, it is here and it is here to stay. Our access to information has become a way of life and something that we feel is deserved. If I can look up the most arbitrary facts with the tap of my fingertips or at the beckoning of a robotic device, why shouldn’t I be entitled to any and all information? Why shouldn’t I be privy to the details of someone else’s personal story?

Many people have asked me how Jane died out of pure curiosity. Many more people have asked my husband, our family and close friends. If prompted, most would claim concern or care. When pressed, the truth would be curiosity.

Unfortunately, with the influx of information, entertainment, constant stimulus and lack of face to face interaction, we struggle to read social cues or understand what information doesn’t belong to us. We have also become desensitized to death and the pain that surrounds it. I’ll go one further, we have become a society that is entertained by death. 

We don’t want to talk about our own mortality but don’t mind casual entertainment provided by another’s death.

Don’t believe me? You can stream shows dedicated to the topic of death, listen to a number of “true crime” type podcasts and attend murder mystery parties. I’m not trying to bring down an industry, but I am trying to bring clarity to what is hiding in plain sight. We don’t want to talk about our own mortality but don’t mind casual entertainment provided by another’s death. Much like bringing light to certain situations of safety, I appreciate the brave parents that share truth surrounding their child’s death for the good of others. Do you wonder why gun control is an impassioned argument? Every time a civilian or public servant is senselessly killed in a shooting, a mother has lost a child. These are not just facts, statistics and news stories. These are people’s lives.

In the past few months I have spoken with parents that not only tragically lost their children, but also had to watch their children’s death flood the news. I won’t ask you to imagine what it is like to bury a child, because your imagination wouldn’t suffice. The pain associated with the death of a child is horrendous, paired with the nosiness of acquaintances, strangers and social media, it is unbearable. But the entitlement to every piece of information, whether relevant to us or not, is what the world has taught us to recognize as normal. 

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is- his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2

Not all information seeking is wrong. Reading is one of my favorite pastimes and I also enjoy learning new things. Knowledge is a gift, but there have been times I have sacrificed the commands of Christ for the sake of knowledge. The world also loves knowledge and information, but are we supposed to look just like the world?

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

John 13:34-35

If you aren’t sure how this effects the way you talk to people and inquire of certain information, ask yourself these questions: 

Why am I asking for this information?

If I paused to ask myself this question before inquiring of others, I would honestly ask less questions. If we are truthful and insightful enough to see our own motive, most of the time we will find our true intentions lie with curiosity, not loving concern.

Am I seeking this information for the person’s safety and well-being? 

There are times that someone you know or love may be in a dangerous or harmful situation. There might be instances of abuse or addiction. These are times we may need to ask hard questions, in love. These questions are not fueled by curiosity, but genuine love.

Is this information that would be better shared with someone else? 

Even in times of loss it’s important to be able to share our stories. I needed to and still at times need to talk about Jane’s death. I don’t need to share that information with everyone though. There were times that it would have caused less pain and demonstrated more love if a person had not asked how Jane died, but instead asked if I had a good support system. What if instead of asking people to talk to us specifically, we ask if there might be another trusted person they felt comfortable talking to instead?

Ultimately, we need to ask is this information that I need to know in order to love this person well?

It is possible to show care and concern without having every detail. I appreciate people that ask thoughtful questions. I will always be impressed by my sweet friends that not only ask well thought out questions, but genuinely listen to the answers. It is a true gift. Taking time to really know a person is taking time to really love a person. Sometimes it means letting a person offer information without requiring it. Sometimes it means asking a question and letting them know it’s ok if they don’t want to answer. And sometimes loving a person well means sitting in unknowing silence.

Note: I do not expect people to walk on egg shells around me. While things might be said by others to potentially cause hurt, it would be unrealistic for others to know and avoid all such possible conversations and topics. That being said, the above post is speaking specifically to direct questions of my loss (and perhaps relevant to the loss of others). Ultimately, be kind, think before you speak and show abundant grace. When in doubt, you can always just sincerely say, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

What If? The Question of Fear

I have had a few concerned parents ask to know the details of Jane’s death out of what I believe is fear or anxiety. We live in a society where we so badly want control. We want to know that if we do the right things and/or avoid the wrong things we can ensure our children’s, our spouse or our own safety. To these people, the details of Jane’s death are incredibly uncomfortable and anxiety inducing. To these people there is suddenly a palpable fear and discomfort surrounding the Bible verse, that says “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16)

We should never expect or ask someone to share what is painful in order to alleviate our own anxiety.

I will be the first person to say that I fall somewhere in between being a helicopter mom and a free range parent. I believe in caution and wisdom. I understand that God has entrusted the care of my children to me. It is my responsibility to advocate for my children, instruct my children and protect them when I am able. Bringing awareness to safety is important and I am so grateful for those that are willing to share their own pain in order to help prevent tragedy for others. However, I should never expect or ask someone to share what’s likely painful in order to alleviate my own anxiety.                               

That being said, self preservation and the need for a sense of security are so ingrained in our being that we will convince ourselves that we are immune to suffering. Have you ever heard of a tragic drowning and thought, “I’m so glad my child knows how to swim” or “I’m going to enroll my child in an infant survivor swim course immediately!” or worst of all, “I would never let my child near a pool without watching them” Thoughts like that, at best, assume we have too much control over our life and at worst are horribly condescending. Sometimes we want to know all the details of an event so that we can convince ourselves that we won’t be affected in the same way. This is neither edifying or helpful to those hurting.

It’s not my intention to be harsh. I sincerely hope I have never answered anyone with a critical or hurtful response. I have spent the last thirteen months praying for a supernatural grace to show others. I have also prayed that people would show our family grace. My hope today is to shed light on something that many grieving families experience. Often times while trying to alleviate your own worry or fear, you heap extra anxiety and strain on the person who is already hurting. In the midst of loss, any loss, I believe one of the most common lies of the enemy is guilt and doubt. Believe me, everyone who has experienced loss has cycled through all the “what if” questions. We certainly don’t need to hear them from anyone else, whether good intentioned or not.

Often times while trying to alleviate your own worry or fest, you heap extra anxiety and strain on the person who is already hurting.

So much of our natural fear and anxiety are due to our lack of control. Knowing the details of someone’s death likely won’t diminish your own fear, though it might give you a false sense of security.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” Matthew 6:25-27

Knowing the details of someone’s death likely won’t diminish your own fear, though it might give you a false sense of security.

The Lord has ordained our days (Psalm 139:16). Who are we to think that we can add one single hour to this life. My constant attention, prayer and planning did not add a single hour to Jane’s life. Her days were ordained by God Almighty. In some ways this truth could be the cause of anxiety and fear. I could live my life holed up in my home and put my surviving children in a metaphorical bubble, but even that would not add hours to our ordained days.

Let me encourage you dear friend. Be cautious, be wise and stay vigilant. But do it all with your eyes fixed firmly on Jesus and clinging to the Word of God. We are meant to fulfill Christ’s purpose for our life, which is not comfort and ease. We are meant to bring Him honor and glory, no matter the current or future circumstance.

Note: I do not expect people to walk on egg shells around me. While things might be said by others to potentially cause hurt, it would be unrealistic for others to know and avoid all such possible conversations and topics. That being said, the above post is speaking specifically to direct questions of my loss (and perhaps relevant to the loss of others). Ultimately, be kind, think before you speak and show abundant grace. When in doubt, you can always just sincerely say, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

How Did She Die?

“What happened?!” It’s the question that we still receive frequently. Either with good intentions or pure curiosity, people want to know how Jane died. Early on I felt like everyone knew the details of her death and I was surprised to find out how many close friends and family members had no idea what had taken place on February 24th. My own trauma and grief was so strong that I couldn’t understand why others didn’t know. Then I couldn’t understand why others were asking. “What does it matter?!” I felt like screaming. “Jane isn’t here, do you really need any other information?!” I haven’t shared many specifics about Jane’s death and the reasons for my limited information is tied to the varied reasons people ask.

I have had safe places to tell my story. No more is needed and I will not apologize for that.

Whether you understand this or not, it is incredibly painful to relay the details of my daughter’s death. There is trauma and grief so intricately tied to the events of February 24th that I don’t usually feel like reliving through a Facebook message, text or in the cereal aisle at the grocery store. I have had safe places with counselors, support groups, a few trusted friends and my own family to tell my story. No more is needed and I will not apologize for that.

There have been occasions when I have told reporters, strangers and acquaintances that I prefer not to share anymore about Jane’s death. I appreciate when people are understanding and respectful. My husband is asked frequently how his two-year-old daughter died. Often, when he responds, “It was a playtime accident” people continue to press with follow up questions. Please don’t be that person. Accept the information that is given and offer your condolences.

Sometimes I can tell when there is a genuine spirit of concern. Many of our friends from different locations that we haven’t been able to see for many years asked out of concern they had missed something going on in our life. Had Jane been sick? Was there a diagnosis they didn’t know about? But these same people were content with any amount of information that was given. We have also had faithful prayer warriors genuinely want to pray with us against future anxiety and fear for ourselves and our children. These faithful saints also accept however much information is shared.

I hope to offer encouragement and shed light on well meaning statements that are painful.

I will be taking the next few posts to address those that ask out of fear, curiosity or pure gossip. It is my desire to share truth in love. In the future I may share more publicly the events of Jane’s death. In the meantime, I hope to bring light to some of the things I have noticed about questions over the last 13 months. I hope to offer encouragement and shed light on well meaning statements that are painful.

I now identify with many people who have experienced loss, but I won’t pretend that I can relate to everyone’s story. That would be incredibly prideful and damaging. My pain is my own and my experience belongs to me alone. If you are grieving, I am so sorry. I can’t possibly understand exactly what you are going through and I never intend to be hurtful with my words. If you know someone that is grieving, please don’t assume that my words speak to their specific situation. As always, I would encourage you to approach personal grief and the grief of others with prayer, God’s Word and the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

An Answer Prepared

“Are these all your kids?” When out in public with my children, it’s a question I hear frequently. It’s a question that possibly has two different meanings. It usually means, “are you the mother of the children present?” The answer is yes. It sometimes means, “Do you have four children?” The answer is no and the answer is complicated.

How do I tell people how many children I have?

The day following Jane’s death I sat down with a woman that I love dearly. I grew up spending so much time in her home and learned so much from her that I affectionately call her my second mother. This dear woman has lost two children, a stillborn and an adult child. I had watched her walk these roads of suffering and now sitting on the couch with her I wept from the depths of my own similar sorrow. With a round pregnant belly, three children playing upstairs and one daughter being prepared for burial, I looked at the woman and sobbed, “How do I tell people how many children I have?” With grace, patience and a truly understanding demeanor, she squeezed my hand and said, “That’s hard. It’s still hard for me. You may find that the answer changes at different times and circumstances. I have always found that it is a way to tell others about Jesus.”

I have always found that it is a way to tell others about Jesus.

It’s true. I find the questions hard, because our loss hurts and it’s uncomfortable to invite strangers into personal pain. I also find that my answer changes. The truth that I have five children never changes, but there are times when I understand the answer that is being sought is that I am in fact the mother of those present. It isn’t the time to make others unnecessarily uncomfortable. Sometimes, I understand the question to mean how many children are in our family and will answer accordingly. Other times, my bold and truth telling children, will quickly correct and call any stranger’s attention to the fact that, “we have one more child, but she died.” No matter the situation, I have also learned that my second mother was correct. It is always a way to tell others about Jesus.

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.

1 Peter 3:15

1 Peter 3 has a lot to say about suffering and suffering to the glory of God. At some point in the last year I realized that in order to both best mentally prepare for questions that would come and honor the Lord, I needed to be prepared to give an answer. I will be the first to admit that for most of my life, I have not adequately given an answer for the hope I have in Christ to strangers. I was quick to sacrifice the truth for a laugh or answer with one word in order to save time. It’s not that I didn’t love Jesus or know my hope was anchored in Him, but unfortunately he wasn’t on the tip of my tongue and I was answering from my flesh instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to order my words. When asked how my day was going, I used to say things like “Fine” or “At least we’re all here” or “The kids are fed and alive, so we’re ok.” Even typing that last response now feels like acid poured over an open wound. Not only is that not the case for me anymore, it was never giving glory to God. I was never truthfully telling people how I was making it through the day. I confess, it used to irritate me when people made rude comments about how many children we have and I was quick to respond with a sarcastic joke and take a quick jab back. It was neither handled with gentleness or respect. It was also never giving an answer to the hope I have in Christ.

Now here I am, fielding uncomfortable questions, risking crying in the automotive repair shop and taking extra time for conversations at the library. Being humbled is difficult and painful, but also beautiful and holy. In my case, it has taken a horrible loss and tragedy to be honest and prepared to tell others about Jesus. I couldn’t offer a quick, sarcastic response even if I wanted. The lie would be too much and the shame consuming.

Being humbled is difficult and painful, but also beautiful and holy.

So how do I respond? It changes depending on the way the question is asked. It changes depending on what children are with me. Gratefully, I realize it changes because God is all knowing and the Holy Spirit will always have the right words for the right circumstance. But when asked how many children we have, my prepared answer is honest. If my kids don’t beat me to it, I generally respond by saying, “We have five children, but one of our little girls passed away last year.” At that moment, I immediately feel the ache in honesty, the pain in how much time has already transpired and the dismay in our reality. Usually, my response is met by discomfort by others and a quick apology. My flesh’s response would always be answering with a quick “It’s ok” and an attempt at making the other person feel better and less awkward. But that’s not true. It isn’t ok that Jane died. It also doesn’t answer to the hope I have in Christ.

So instead I say, “Thank you. We miss Jane terribly, but we are so thankful that God allowed us to be her family.”

Sometimes, this response is met with more painful questions. Other times, people excuse themselves to leave or change the subject. On really special occasions, the Lord ordains for me to generously share the hope I have in Jesus. Being generous with my story, in an honest, gentle and respectful manner is one way to honor God through suffering. And no matter what, being prepared to give an answer to the hope we have in Jesus should always be our first response.

A Castle in the Woods

Once upon a time there was a castle in the woods. It was made out of candy. In the woods, it never rained. Since it never rained, the castle never melted. One day Jane, the princess, went out to the castle in the woods. When she got back she told them all about her adventures.

Leah, age 6.

Leah wrote the above story on the morning of February 24th, 2020. It was a part of her school for the day. I believe the only journal prompt was, “write a journal entry beginning with the phrase, ‘Once upon a time…'” I’m sure she read the story to me that morning when she wrote it and I’m sure I wasn’t really paying attention. A week after Jane’s death, I found the story in a school folder.

It is hard to comprehend that a year has passed since this story was written. It’s harder yet to reconcile with the fact that it has been more than a year since I held my little girl. One year. 365 days. More than a third of the days that she actually spent on this earth.

Yesterday was a difficult day, but it was also a peaceful day. In fact, when the clock struck 4:40pm, I stood in my quiet kitchen and marveled at how different our circumstances were one year prior. Maybe one day I will share more detail about the events of February 24th, 2020, maybe I won’t. It isn’t that our information and the events of that day are some kind of secret, but it is very personal and very painful. I appreciate people who acknowledge and respect that. Either way, yesterday was peaceful. So many people sent kind messages and notes. I know many people were praying for us. Thank you.

I stood in my quiet kitchen and marveled at how different our circumstances were one year prior.

We spent time as a family. Robert and I fasted from food for most of the day. It was a sweet and needed time of prayer. We took beautiful flowers to Jane’s grave and we received beautiful flowers at our home. I helped the older girls make a scrapbook with pictures of Jane and a smaller version for George. We watched the slide show of pictures that played during the visitation for Jane’s funeral. There was some laughter throughout the day and tears too.

It wasn’t perfect, but it was intentional, beautiful and I hope, God honoring.

In the evening we joined a few friends and family for a time of lament. We prayed, read Scripture, shared written lament and sang together. At the conclusion of our time of lament, we broke our fast with communion and a shared meal. It was the best way we could have spent the day. It wasn’t perfect, but it was intentional, beautiful and I hope, God honoring.

This morning I woke up and saw the sun peering through my window. It looked so similar to my morning just one year ago. Except today, my house was quiet and my pillow wasn’t soaked through with tears. My body wasn’t aching from panic attacks and sobs. This morning I stared out the window into the woods. With tears streaming down my cheeks, I thought about how much Jane is missed and how she will always be missed. I thought about this grief that we will carry for the rest of our days. I thought how grateful I am that I got to be her mommy. Then I thought about all the adventures that she must be having and I can’t wait to hear all about them.