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.

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.

Help To Carry

I rounded the corner quickly, hurrying to get to Sunday school class on time. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed her, a friend, a surrogate mother and grandmother. Her back was facing me and she was about to go into the worship service. It occurred to me that though I had seen her recently, it was always in passing and I hadn’t gotten a chance to give her a hug. I hesitated. I was in a hurry and she was about to leave, but the Holy Spirit compelled my steps to turn. I went to her and gave her a hug. It was as I was saying, “I just want you to know how much I love you”, that I noticed her tear streaked cheeks. Tears began to fall down my cheeks too, because while our grief is different, we both share the pain of loss and the sorrow of a life we didn’t choose.

This widow didn’t want to go sit in another church service alone. While I can’t relate, I can understand. I know the hurt and isolation that normal situations can cause when holding grief. My flesh wanted to drop everything and sit with her. I wanted to stay with her the rest of the day. I wanted to invite her to move in with us. I wanted to do anything to fix her pain and ease her grief. But if I’ve learned anything in the last eight months, it’s that grief is not meant to be fixed, it is meant to be carried.

Grief is not meant to be fixed, it is meant to be carried.

Grief is uncomfortable and suffering makes people feel anxious. As a society we avoid sorrow and heartache at all costs, and I’m afraid that the church has taken it’s cue from culture instead of Scripture. I stand convicted of the times I was so unsure of what to do when I was presented with someone else’s grief and hurt, that I did nothing at all. I talked around and ultimately ignored the sorrow of others. But sometimes I did too much. I tried too hard to fix or take away the grief. Grief is not something we fix, move past or get over. Grief is to be carried.

In the last several months I have had people ask what they can do to help us or even how they can help others who are grieving. I’m not an expert and I certainly know that everyone’s grief journey is different, but I’m willing to offer you what I know and what I have learned. Jesus carries our grief and as his body we should do the same.

Surely he [Jesus] took our infirmities; and carried our sorrows.

Isaiah 53:4

Heavy is the word I have used most often to describe our grief. I think grief changes over time in part because we develop stronger muscles to carry the grief. Some days my muscles are more weary than others and I need more help. But if my sorrow and grief is a direct correlation to how much I love my daughter, I don’t want my grief fixed or taken away. It’s a tie that binds and I won’t accept it being remedied or removed, but I might need help carrying it every now and then.

I won’t go into specifics of tangible things you might do for a grieving person, there are plenty of articles and resources online. I will tell you we have had so many people help to carry our grief at different times and I’m incredibly grateful. We have also had plenty of people try to fix our grief, which falls flat of expectations and sometimes does more damage. I would like to address the church specifically and I will appeal to those that identify as followers of Christ. Listen to the Holy Spirit and allow him to order your steps. When the Spirit prompts, follow His lead. Acting out of good intentions is not enough. To those of you that feel this is some over spiritual cop out, you might not be aware of the power of the Holy Spirit.

When the Spirit prompts, follow His lead. Acting out of good intentions is not enough.

A few weeks ago I received a long sleeve t-shirt from a friend. It was a seemingly small gift given for no specific reason. The weather was getting cooler and my friend said she thought of me and felt like she should give it to me. I know this was the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Call me crazy, but I have my favorite t-shirts. One of my most favorite t-shirts is a long sleeve, soft, green shirt that is well worn and comfortable. I used to wear it frequently on cool autumn and winter days. I was wearing that favorite shirt on February 24th. I cuddled my daughter and played with her for the last time while wearing that shirt. I also held my daughter’s lifeless body against that shirt. That was the last time I wore my favorite shirt. I will not likely get rid of or wear it again. As the weather has gotten cooler, I have thought about that shirt more and more. Then my friend gifted me with a new shirt and it was exactly what I needed. It wasn’t a solution or a quick fix. She wasn’t asking me to abandon my old shirt and the weight it now holds. In fact she didn’t know any of these things about my favorite shirt. It was instead the moving of the Holy Spirit, matched with the obedience of a dear friend making my grief not so heavy that day.

2 Corinthians 1 offers some insight in offering Christ led comfort. “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 receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:3-5) If you’re unsure what to do or say, pray and ask God to show you how you might help carry the grief of others. Sometimes carrying others’ grief is time consuming and messy. Sometimes it’s simply giving a hug, standing by a widow or giving a new t-shirt to a friend.

Not My Home

I’m a Georgia voter, but I don’t belong here. That was the thought I had when I left the polls early this morning. Election years and political seasons stir up so much stress and unrest in my own heart. I hate the fighting. I hate injustice. I hate “choosing the lesser evil”. I hate the hopelessness. But today when I left the polls I had hope and I had peace.

Let me elaborate. I don’t have much hope for our country. I don’t think that either candidate will solve all our problems. I’m disheartened that so many professing Christ followers are staking so much hope on a political figure or party. Don’t get me wrong, voting is important and I love my country but it certainly isn’t the source of my hope. The political unrest is present because of sin. The injustice of the world is present because of sin. The hopelessness, fighting, name calling and evil exists because of sin. No president or party can fix a sin problem.

I was able to leave the polls this morning with hope, the same way I was able to leave an Emergency Room without my child and still have hope. Jesus has overcome sin and the grave. This is not my home, my citizenship is in heaven. My life was bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ. I left with hope this morning because my heart knows the truth of Scripture.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philippians 3:20

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.

Hebrews 6:19

There is a popular quote that says, “you can be so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good.” I’m unsure where it originated or who said it first, but I’m here to say that I completely disagree with that sentiment and I feel sure that the Bible intends for us to have an eternal mindset. My head is not stuck in the clouds, my eyes are fixed on Jesus Christ. Believers, this world is not our home. Let’s start living like it. We have the hope of the gospel, offer it to those around you. This hope should bolster us and bring us joy. We aren’t promised tomorrow and neither is anyone else around us, regardless of the presidential election outcome. So, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9 Don’t give up, this world is not your home.

If you are reading this and you don’t know Jesus and the hope he gives, follow him today. Send me a message if you want to know more. It would be my honor to introduce you to the actual Savior of the world.

Today, I am a Georgia voter and an American citizen. But more importantly my identity is found in Jesus Christ and my home is found with him too.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

Finding the Way in a Storm

Ever feel completely perplexed by seemingly small situations? No? Just me? Three days ago, I sat in a room I frequented often last fall. It was once, “The Imagination Station” (or something like that) at our local library. It was full of play kitchens, puppet show booths and toys. My children loved it. After, many months away from the library, we sat in the same room. It was familiar but noticeably different. The room is bare. No toys, no play kitchen and no puppet show. Jane is also absent from the scene. Added are taller kids with masks covering their face and a little baby. Every now and then I become completely bewildered by situations like this. Disorienting is maybe the best term.

A couple of weeks after Jane died, I found myself in a small group Bible study. Someone mentioned the importance of “knowing true North in a storm”. I was struck by this statement, because it’s completely true but we also get it completely wrong. No captain waits to find true North after the storm begins. When the waves are crushing, the wind is fierce and the sky is dark, it is too difficult to find your direction. But as people we do this all the time. Circumstances become hard, suffering is surprising and life changes in a moment. Suddenly we start grasping at straws, trying to find true North. We’re trying to orient in the storm, but it is too difficult.

Circumstances become hard, suffering is surprising and life changes in a moment

People ask us why our faith is strong. I’m here to say, again, that our faith is a direct derivative of the God who merits our faith. I also want to stress that we knew Jesus was the Way before the storm hit. I can hear his voice in the midst of the storm, because I learned it in the quiet. Life is still strange and I’m often grief stricken and baffled. I encourage you to meet Jesus. Learn his voice while it is quiet, because you will desperately need him when the storm comes.

I can hear his voice in the midst of the storm, because I learned it in the quiet.

Recognizing the Miracle

Few people realize or know that before my career in motherhood I had a very brief career as a Registered Nurse. School wasn’t my favorite, but I knew it was a means to the end. The end being a career that would achieve financial independence. So in high school, when choosing a future vocation and schooling path, the answer seemed obvious and simple. Become a nurse.

It would be fair to say that I was never genuinely passionate about becoming a nurse or working as a nurse. I do love people and I enjoy taking care of people, but I know I lacked the passion that most nurses bring to their career. I enjoyed science growing up and blood didn’t make me nauseous. I knew I could get my associate’s degree in nursing, saving time and saving money. I also realized that I could get a good job anywhere in the country or possibly even the world. These were the deciding factors. Practical, yet lacking heartfelt desire.

When Robert and I got married, we moved to South Carolina for his medical residency program. I worked as a nurse in a newborn nursery and while I enjoyed my time there, I knew that wasn’t where the Lord desired me to be. I became a stay at home wife, before I ever became a stay at home mother. For quite a while I struggled with the shame of working hard towards something that I ultimately gave up. Why did I ever spend the time, money or energy working to become a nurse if I wasn’t going to actually work as a nurse? I learned then to trust God with my present and my future. I learned to find my identity in Christ and not a career or title.

I learned then to trust God with my present and my future. I learned to find my identity in Christ and not a career or title.

Though I haven’t worked as a nurse in many years, I still see so many of the benefits of my training. When Robert talks about medical ailments or certain aspects of his job, I understand, mostly, what he is talking about. When my kids have been sick or gotten hurt, I usually have an easier time remaining calm. I no doubt make an awesome bed and have perfectly mitered sheet corners. All of these small and seemingly insignificant things came from a past long ago as a nurse.

In the horrendous events of February 24th, I came face to face with the sovereignty of God. I found my daughter lying unconscious, called to her, checked her pulse and almost immediately began CPR. I didn’t have time to think about it in the moment, but later realized it had been more than ten years since I had performed CPR. I can also say that having to perform chest compressions on your own two year old at home is vastly different than performing chest compressions on a stranger in an emergency room where you work.

Ten years ago when I performed CPR on a stranger in a hospital I did not cry out to the Lord to save him. I admit, I’m not sure I even offered a silent prayer on his behalf. I’m not proud of that, but I confess to the reality. This time, when staring death in the face of my precious baby, I not only offered heart felt prayer, I cried out and begged for God to save her. I pleaded for a miracle. It would seem the miracle didn’t come.

I pleaded for a miracle. It would seem the miracle didn’t come.

To date, no one has told me, to my face, that the problem was a lack of faith on my part. Although I have heard that argument plenty of times throughout my life and even in the months after my daughter’s death. If I believe the Bible to be true, which I do, then this is clearly not the case. Matthew 17:20 says, “He (Jesus) replied, ‘Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, “Move from here to there” and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.’” I feel confident that most of my Christian life and most certainly on February 24th I had faith at least the size of a mustard seed.

I have seen the Lord move in magnificent ways through Scripture and even in my own life. I am not a cessationist, meaning that I don’t believe that miracles are a thing of the past and only belonged to the early church and the apostles. So the question is, why didn’t the Lord perform a miracle when I pleaded for Jane’s life? The answer was simple and revealed to me a couple of days after Jane’s death as well as a couple of days before her death.

Why didn’t the Lord perform a miracle when I pleaded for Jane’s life?

On Friday, February 21, just three days prior to Jane’s passing, a friend sent me a link to a Francis Chan sermon. Francis Chan, like usual, offered well communicated, convicting and encouraging truth. He also tends to hit on a lot of subjects and this instance was no different. I could tell when I finished watching that I had not gotten out of the message the same thing that my friend did, but something else stood out to me glaringly. It was the idea of how determined we are as humans to preserve our life. He spoke of a man who asked for Francis to pray for his healing. The man was a Christian and had cancer. When Francis asked why he wanted to be healed, the man replied that he hoped to live a longer life, seeing his adult children get married and ultimately living to see his grandchildren grow. I sat in my chair and critically thought, “wrong answer”. Thankfully, Francis Chan showed far more grace and presented truth to the man in a much more loving way.

Humans are determined to preserve their own life.

The problem with this idea and notion is that miracles are all about us, when in fact miracles are all about God. Wayne Grudem defines miracle for us in his book Systematic Theology. Dr. Grudem says, “A miracle is a less common kind of God’s activity in which He arouses people’s awe and wonder and bears witness to Himself.” Awe and wonder, bearing witness to God. Do I believe that God could have chosen to revive Jane? Yes. Do I believe that the miracle of raising her from the dead could have provoked awe and wonder bearing witness to God? Absolutely, but I’m afraid He wouldn’t have actually received much if any credit for her life.

You see, I knew almost immediately what the response would have been had Jane been healed and come home with us that evening from the hospital. Inevitably, people would have been thankful for her healing and grateful that “it all worked out”. But people would have also pointed to the fact that I knew CPR. People likely would have praised the first responders who arrived at our home in minutes. There would have been relief in the doctor and medical staff’s skills at the hospital. Unfortunately, I don’t think there would have been much mention of the God who had healed her. We probably wouldn’t even be talking about it now, seven months later. I think this is what would have been other’s response, and if I’m honest, it might have been my response too.

Since God did not choose to raise Jane and heal her, did He forgo His own glory in the situation? Absolutely not. I genuinely believe God has received more glory and acclaim through Jane’s short life on this earth and even in her death. As a mother, that is hard to say. As a follower of Christ, I know it is true. I have a desire for the Lord’s name to receive glory and honor. I desired that even the day Jane died. I would have loved for God to cause awe and wonder, bearing witness to His name through the miracle that could have transpired through healing, but that was not His way and I have to accept that. Isaiah 55:8-9 confirms this truth. “For my thoughts are not you thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” 

I genuinely believe God has received more glory and acclaim through Jane’s short life on this earth and even in her death. As a mother, that is hard to say. As a follower of Christ, I know it is true.

While I certainly asked for God to miraculously heal Jane on that Monday afternoon with an honest heart, pure faith and right motive, there was another honest and heartfelt prayer that had been prayed over Jane’s life. The prayer came from Scripture and was uttered by her own father every night when she went to bed. Robert would lightly stroke Jane’s hair and pray, “May the Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. May you sow good gospel seed for Christ.”

Until losing Jane, I hadn’t even realized how many plans and dreams I had for her. Some were never meant to be and some we have already seen come to fruition, even just a few days after her death. God has blessed, kept and shined His face upon Jane. He has been gracious to her and given her peace. We also know that through Jane’s life and even in her death good gospel seed has been sown. We have heard stories of the impact of Jane’s life. We have heard how the hard reality of her death has sparked awe and wonder in the Lord. Personally, as a family, we have been able to bear witness to the truth of Christ through the story He has given us to tell.

Who else could raise beauty from ashes? Of who else could it be said, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20) Only the God of miracles is capable of such wonders.

Only the God of miracles is capable of such wonders.

It was not wrong to pray for God’s healing of Jane. Just like it isn’t wrong to pray for the healing of many. But ultimately we have to accept the miracles that God does choose to perform. We have to check our heart and our motives when we present our requests before the Lord. We have to ask ourselves if we are really in the business of life preservation or if we want to see awe and wonder that bear witness to Jesus.

We have to ask ourselves if we are really in the business of life preservation or if we want to see awe and wonder that bear witness to Jesus.

Someone gifted me the book Be Still My Soul edited by Nancy Guthrie a few days after the funeral. It is a book composed of many different authors and their writings on suffering and the problem of pain. The entire book is filled with difficult and edifying truth, I would highly encourage it. One of the readings is from D.A. Carson and is entitled Dying Well. He tells a story of a woman who was in his church and was dying of cancer. The church came together to pray for her and her healing. He says that many confident and mighty prayers were prayed and then it was his wife’s turn to pray. His wife, who had almost lost her own life to cancer twice, prayed, “Heavenly Father, we would love it if you would heal Mary. But if it is not your will to heal her, teach her to die well. She is going to die anyway, and so if the time is now, teach her to die well. Give her a joy of the Lord. Give her a heritage of godly faith, with one foot firmly planted in heaven, so that her husband and children will be stamped by it, and will look to Christ. We don’t ask that she have an easy time, but ask that she be so full of grace, people will see Christ in her.” Carson went on to say that you could have heard a pin drop in the room.

The writing was both encouraging to me and horribly convicting. Just like the Francis Chan sermon I had listened to just three days before Jane’s death, I was confronted by my own selfish desires for God to abide by my will. It is not an easy thing to pray for God’s will be done and truly mean it. It certainly is no easier for me now to pray that way. While I don’t think it is wrong to pray for healing and miracles, I have been convicted of how little I think of the Lord’s place in my desires.

Instead of praying “God, be with or bless them or heal her” with an after thought of “if it be your will.” Shouldn’t I really be praying, “God you are great and your ways are higher. I desire for your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Use me and allow me to be part of making your name know. If you would be so gracious to heal this person, I would be so thankful. But no matter what your plan, I will praise your name.” I believe when I pray seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, I am more apt to recognize the miracles He performs everyday.

I believe when I pray seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, I am more apt to recognize the miracles He performs everyday.

February 24th was not the first and will not be the last time that I cry out to God in haste, with pleading and fervent faith. God heard me that day and He hears me anytime I present my requests before Him. I am thankful for that and I can rest in that. We are still living a life where we have witnessed miracles, but I often times wish that we were living in the shadow of a different miracle. My flesh is quick to battle the Spirit, thankfully the Lord is patient.

One day in March I was watching my oldest three children play outside. The weather was pleasant and we hadn’t experienced rain for the first time in several weeks. The signs of Spring were starting to show and the kids were enjoy every minute of it. I stared longingly out the window, feeling the pain of loss. Jane was absent from the scene and it hurt badly. My thoughts drifted to the story of Abraham and Isaac. I felt my flesh rise up and say, “But you provided a ram for Abraham!” Instantly, the Lord replied, “I provided a ram for you, His name is Jesus.” I repented.

The incarnation of Jesus as God-man and Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the central and most important miracle in all history. The sacrifice of Jesus and the redemption He alone can offer to you and me, is the greatest miracle we could ever hope for.

The incarnation of Jesus as God-man and Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the central and most important miracle in all history. The sacrifice of Jesus and the redemption He alone can offer to you and me, is the greatest miracle we could ever hope for. God has provided a ram for me, He provided it for Jane too. That is the miracle I must recognize. That is the miracle that should cause so much humble praise and adoration, I should never want again. God is a God of miracles. I believed that as a small child when I put my trust in Christ. I believed that in my short time working in a newborn nursery, where the miracle of life was constantly on display. I believed that while crying out to God in the midst of chest compressions and I believe it today with an empty bedroom down the hall. 

“Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.” Psalm 77:13-14

Living for the Wrong Year

The days are busy and the to do list never seems to get smaller. My laundry is piled high and my grief is still heavy.

Next week will mark three years since I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. That day is also known as Jane’s birthday. It’s looming on the calendar and I have such mixed emotions. 2020 has been a terrible year for many and our family is certainly no exception, but I’ve found myself with dangerous thinking lately. I was convicted recently when I realized just how often I was saying things like “If I can just finish the laundry.” “Once I get on top of the to do list, things will be easier.” “After we figure out what to do for Jane’s birthday, maybe we will have a respite from such intense grief.” Or the most popular sentiment, “Surely 2021 will be better.” It’s as if I believe that when we ring in the new year all the plexiglass will come down and life will be normal. That’s not true, of course. My daughter won’t be back. We will still likely be dealing with the ramifications of an election year, racial injustice and a pandemic, just to name a few things.

It’s as if I believe that when we ring in the new year all the plexiglass will come down and life will be normal.

I’m convicted because this survival mindset isn’t biblical, it’s futile. Jesus didn’t say, “In 2020 you will have trouble, but take heart, 2021 will be better.” No, Jesus said “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Friends, if my hope is found in a date on the calendar, I will be disappointed. If my peace is found in a to do list completed, I will be let down. And if my grief is seemingly eased by time and not the God who holds time in his hand, I’m grasping at straws. 2020 may have been a terrible year for us, but for some their terrible year has already taken place or is yet to come. In this world we will have trouble. Our story may not get better in the world’s terms. Our suffering could get worse. But we have eternity to look towards. We have a Redeemer that bears our burden and doesn’t push it to a later date.

We have a Redeemer that bears our burden and doesn’t push it to a later date.

I confess that I’ve been living for the wrong year lately. I’ve placed a futile hope in things that cannot deliver. There is only one that can give us the peace and the hope we crave, and he has already overcome the world.

Missing the Rainbows

Tis the season for late summer rain. The kind of intense rain that pops up out of nowhere in the midst of full sunlight. It is both beautiful and can instantly ruin any outdoor event. One of the best parts of summer showers are the almost guaranteed rainbows that accompany them. Lately, I’ve noticed several people talking about or posting pictures of rainbows. Some have even seen the lucrative double rainbow. (I know there is an entire sermon to be preached on the subject of social media and the horrendous comparison that comes with it, but that’s not what I want to write about, today.)

After seeing so many pictures of rainbows I started looking through my own pictures. Normally, I would also have my own evidence of such beauty in the skies. However, not surprisingly, I don’t have any pictures of rainbows. In fact, I don’t have many pictures outdoors lately. The only picture of the outside world I had from the last few weeks was a picture of fog. The cynic in me thought, “that seems about right.”

I’m living in the fog and I can’t see the rainbows.

Yesterday afternoon I told Robert that lately I have resonated with Job more than I did right after Jane’s death. I also echo the sentiments of Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes. “Everything is meaningless.” Please don’t worry, I’m not suffering postpartum depression and I certainly feel safe, but it has become easy to look at life through the fog and wonder what I’m even doing anymore. What am I supposed to do? Solomon tells us at the end of Ecclesiastes, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” [1]

Fear God and keep his commandments. What are his commandments? Jesus tells us, to love God and love others. [2] So I know what to do, why is it so challenging right now? Because I’m living in the fog and I can’t see the rainbows. In the midnight hours I started pondering this truth. Thought about the rainbow and what it means. A covenant. A promise. I thought of Noah and his family. [3] I wondered if maybe Noah’s wife was busy and some how missed seeing the rainbow. I wondered if they constantly looked to the skies for a rainbow in the future, looking for some encouragement of the promise God made. I wondered if when the rainbow wasn’t present they thought maybe the promise wasn’t present either.

I confess, I haven’t seen any rainbows lately, both literally and figuratively. I know Jesus is near and I know he is faithful, but a lot of his promises feel distant and invisible. But the good news is that God is keeping his promises whether or not we see the sign of those promises. Imagine the foretelling of Jesus arrival. Hundreds of years, a promised Messiah and for so long, no sign of him. Did God forget his promise? Did God change his mind? Of course not. God fulfills his promises because he is holy, gracious and just. The fulfillment of God’s promises do not depend on me recognizing them. The Word of God does not depend on my interpretation or acknowledgment. Praise the Lord!

The fulfillment God’s promises do not depend on me recognizing them. The Word of God does not depend on my interpretation or acknowledgment.

Maybe you haven’t been seeing rainbows lately either. Be encouraged friends, God keeps his promises. He keeps his promise on clear days, in the storms and in the fog. Missing the rainbow doesn’t mean we have missed the promise. Jesus is the sign and we can always look to him regardless of our current conditions.

[1] Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

[2] Matthew 22:37-40

[3] Genesis 9:12-17

When It Feels Like Too Much

“I’m exhausted.” It’s a phrase that has been uttered numerous times in the last three weeks. Being overwhelmed and feeling like “it’s all just too much” has unfortunately become a familiar feeling. I sat with my three biggest children this morning, tears still fresh on my cheeks, apologizing for losing my temper. I explained that I knew we had all had a long and difficult year, and I was sorry. We are all exhausted.

Grief, paired with physical exhaustion is more difficult than I could have imagined.

Lucy is three weeks old today. She is precious and makes the cutest, serious facial expressions. She also does not like to sleep much or spend any time out of someone’s arms. It’s sweet, but incredibly impractical. I have had the privilege of having five newborns in my home. I am well acquainted with the tiredness that comes with an infant, but I underestimated how much exhaustion we were carrying into this newborn season. We are all beat down and our reserve is limited. Grief, paired with physical exhaustion is more difficult than I could have imagined.

I realize that our circumstances our unique to us, but I also know that in a year of a pandemic, we have all experienced weariness, frustrations and sheer exhaustion. Maybe you have felt like “it’s all just too much” too. I find myself regularly feeling overwhelmed and that I just don’t know what to do. How do I best take care of three children whose hearts have been broken and the framework of normalcy has been utterly ripped from underneath their feet? How do I care for a newborn in a home where fatigue is constant and uncertainty is loyal? How do we grieve the loss of our daughter and still get out of bed every morning? What is God’s will in all of this?!

It’s all just too much. But God is greater and he is our ever present help in times of trouble. [1] I’m struggling to make sense of most things these days and I feel constantly in a fog, but God’s Word is clear and I have to consciously cling to it in the midst of exhaustion. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Exhaustion does not have to master me and what feels like too much for me is nothing for the One whose burden is light.

So how do I continue on in exhaustion and fatigue? With thanksgiving and rejoicing. I am to pray continually and rely on the maker of heaven and earth. This is God’s will for me in Christ Jesus. Some of my circumstances will never change. I will always be without Jane now. Some of my circumstances might change. Here’s to hoping Lucy starts to sleep better in the future. But regardless, I can be certain of how I should respond. Often times, I think we feel that the Bible doesn’t speak to our specific life circumstances. We want a detailed, step by step plan for how we are to navigate life. But the truth is that the Bible does speak to our life. No matter the situation, no matter the struggle, no matter how overwhelming life might seem, I can trust to find hope and wisdom in the word of God. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, I can do all these things to the glory of God. Exhaustion does not have to master me and what feels like too much for me is nothing for the One whose burden is light.

[1] Psalm 46:1