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.

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. 

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.

A Presumptive New Year

Presumptive. It’s the word that is circulating around my mind today. I’ve spent time today thinking about what it means to close out 2020 and what has transpired in the last year. It’s almost too much to wrap my mind around. Thanks to Instagram and Facebook memories, I know exactly what I was doing and thinking this time last year. This is the photo and what I wrote:

“A lot has happened in this last decade. Robert and I started our family when we got married in 2010. We’ve moved several times, left jobs and started new ones. We’ve made sweet friends that are literally all over the world now. Our family has continued to grow with four beautiful children. This next decade will be the last one that all of our kids will live in the same house with us. A reminder that it goes by quickly. Mostly this last decade has confirmed the Lord’s faithfulness in our life. We look forward to the year and decade to come. It is sure to bring more of the Lord’s goodness and mercy. 2020 will be one to remember for sure. We look forward to all that God is doing in our family, including the addition of baby number 5. From our family to yours, Happy New Year! May you experience Jesus in a sweet way this year.”

It’s a bit like getting slapped across the face or taking a swift punch to the gut. A lot did happen in our first decade. We have moved and made some very dear friends and our family did continue to grow. I was looking forward to the year to come. I had no idea that in a few short weeks I would dread most waking moments.

I presumed too much.

I mentioned last year that the upcoming decade would be the last to have all of our kids in the same house with us. That was presumptive. It turns out I never got to have even a single day with all of my kids living in the same house. I presumed too much. 

Now before I get accused of being a pessimist and living in fear or dread, let me remind you what James had to say about presuming too much. Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:13-15

Presume means to suppose that something is the case on the basis of probability. That’s what I was doing on New Year’s Eve 2019. In truth it’s what most of us do everyday. I didn’t know what 2020 would hold and I don’t know what will come in 2021. I don’t even know what may happen in the next ten minutes, but I do know that my statement of God’s goodness one year ago was true then and is true now. I do not presume God is good. I know He is good. I do not presume God is faithful or merciful, His faithfulness and mercy is a fact. This year more than ever before I have tasted and seen the goodness of God. I have experienced Jesus in a sweet way this year.

I do not presume God is good. I know He is good. I do not presume God is faithful or merciful, His faithfulness and mercy is a fact.

Tonight, I don’t want to pop champagne or choose a metaphorical word for the coming year. I’m not getting dressed up or gladly seeing 2020 out the door. My heart actually hurts to lose this last year that I held all of my babies. I’m not toasting the new year or presuming too much. Lord willing, I hope to sit humbly with my family and worship God, who was and is and is to come.

Am I Still Thankful?

Five years ago I was cooking a thanksgiving meal in a different home with much different circumstances. Here is what I wrote on that day.

“Today I am literally barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. While my husband and little girls watch the parade, I am overwhelmed with gratefulness. Not just today, but everyday I am so thankful to a sovereign and gracious God who has blessed us beyond imagination. That while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! I am so thankful for my family, my friends and the freedom of this nation. However, all that pales in comparison to the love and thanks I have for my Savior.”

This memory felt cruel and convicting this morning. I often look back on my past, sorrow free, self with contempt. It’s probably the same way people look at a church that doesn’t discuss suffering and heartache, but only preaches a form of prosperity gospel. “Sounds good, but what about me? What about my hurt? What about the suffering of the world?”

Five years ago I was genuinely thankful for the salvation of Christ, but I wonder how much of that gratefulness was tied to my blessed circumstances. Two beautiful little girls, both happy and healthy. A husband lovingly helping wash the dishes and play with our children. Just five days away from meeting the little boy growing in my tummy. A table full of food waiting to meet more family and friends. We lived in a beautiful home and could “laugh at the days ahead”. This morning I relived that memory in a quiet, dark room with tears streaming down my face. That’s when the crushing question crept across my heart and mind. Am I still thankful?

My circumstances are harsh and painful. Am I still thankful?

So many of the above blessings are still true in our life and home. I am grateful. I still have a loving and helpful husband. We share a beautiful home and we have never been fearful of going without a meal. The table is set for less family and friends this year, because like most, a pandemic has altered our normal. Beautiful children still fill my home. They are healthy and often happy. But there is a deep sadness that also resides in our home now. There is a glaring absence, an empty highchair. My circumstances are harsh and painful. Am I still thankful?

If all else is stripped away, is the truth of the gospel enough? It’s easy to say yes when things are going well, but what about when life is painful and loss pervades each day. This year I can honestly say I am more thankful for Jesus. I am more grateful for the salvation found in Christ alone. I marvel at a gracious Father who is both good and sovereign. There is a confidence in my gratitude this year. I’m not unsure if my gratitude comes only from secondary blessings. Without the hope of Jesus, I wouldn’t have gotten out of bed this morning.

There is a confidence in my gratitude this year. I’m not unsure if my gratitude comes only from secondary blessings.

To be fair and completely transparent, it isn’t gratitude that I’m struggling with today. It’s satisfaction. I told a dear friend earlier in the week that I will never be satisfied in this life again. I know that this world was never meant to offer us complete wholeness and joy, but I can be content. That’s what the apostle Paul was speaking about when he said, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Give me Jesus and I can be content in all circumstances. But I will never be satisfied by this earthly life again. One day I will recognize that for the gift that it is, but this year it just feels miserable.

It still seems peculiar to hear the word “happy” with anything, be it in front of Thanksgiving or to describe how someone feels. Seeing thankful posts on social media and a jolly Santa Clause bringing up the rear of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade feels wrong. Salt in an already open wound. Maybe your thanksgiving is not what you wish. Maybe you are hurt, sorrowful and disappointed. Maybe you too are wading through the deepest waters of grief. The gospel is still good news. Jesus is still the only one offering true salvation. Your current situations may not change for the better, in fact they may get worse, but Jesus is still good. I can experience deep hurt and heartache along with gratitude because of Jesus.

We hold gratitude knowing it does not erase our grief. We have joy knowing it does not resolve our sorrow. The table may have less people around it this year and the highchair is empty but Jesus is still near. And for that, I am still thankful.

1000 Words

A picture is worth a thousand words. That’s the saying.

Since having our first baby eight years ago we have tried to choose certain traditions that we thought we could maintain no matter how many children we had. I’ve made baby quilts, kept a (sometimes sparse) baby book, and had newborn photos made of each baby. The traditions have undoubtedly become more difficult to maintain with the addition of each child, but we have managed to complete them all.

We scheduled newborn photos of Lucy when she was one week old. The nursery was clean, the kids were bathed and outfits were carefully chosen. I knew the entire experience would be difficult. Pictures are a harsh reminder that someone is missing. Our photographer was incredibly gracious and the photos are beautiful, but Jane is not in them. I didn’t know how I wanted to handle including Jane in the pictures. To leave her out completely felt wrong, but other ideas seemed superficial and unnatural. At the last moment, we simply put Lucy in her crib next to one of our favorite pictures of Jane. Robert had to leave the room. I swallowed tears.

A couple of days ago, we received the first sneak peak of pictures. The first picture I saw was the one of Lucy next to Jane’s picture. I sobbed. “Why is this the picture I have of my daughters?!” I lamented to the Lord. It’s not the picture I wanted. I wanted to be teaching Jane how to hold her hand under Lucy’s head. I wanted to be reminding Jane to use her inside voice because she would have been so excited she wouldn’t have been able to control the volume of her voice or squeals. It wasn’t my plan. I wanted something so different.

It’s not the picture I wanted. I wanted something so different.

Today marks five months since Jane passed away. I now hold Lucy in my arms, and Jane only in my heart and memories. In a way, the pain of losing Jane has actually grown with the arrival of Lucy. When we found out we were expecting last November, I was pretty confident this would be our last baby. I anticipated, then, that the arrival of this last child would make our family feel complete. So we have been waiting for Lucy. Even since losing Jane, we still anticipated this blessed baby’s arrival. We are overjoyed with Lucy, but now that she is here it feels we are still waiting. Our family does not feel complete.

So I lament.

Lord, why is this our story? What wretched pain and suffering we are enduring. It feels like there is no end in sight. All of our children are such beautiful blessings. It hurts that one was taken away. I fear the loss of more. Sorrow billows and overwhelms us daily. Exhaustions permeates our home. Yet, you O Lord are near. You are with us in our pain. You are with us in our sorrow. You bring peace and rest to our weary souls. You know our story completely. Your ways are higher and I trust you. When words fail, your Spirit intercedes. I can stand on the promises and principles of Scripture because you are holy and your words are true. When we feel incomplete, we can find healing in you.

A picture is worth a thousand words. That’s the saying, but this picture of sisters, the picture of our life seems to need thousands and thousands of words. We need more words to express our heartache, but we need even more words to tell of God’s faithfulness.

Good Gifts

There was an overwhelming tension of emotions as we pulled away from the hospital this week. Just five months ago I was leaving another hospital with my husband. Tears streamed down my face both times. On this occasion, I was leaving with my baby, last time I left without my child. The paradox of grief and joy came crashing down all around us.

Joy and grief are not exclusive and they are also not transactional. Joy does not remedy grief and grief does not overwhelm joy.

I have been at a loss for words the last few days. I know that I don’t have to explain myself or my emotions to anyone. I’ve said before and now say with utmost certainty. Joy and grief are not exclusive and they are also not transactional. Joy does not remedy grief and grief does not overwhelm joy. We are overcome with joy at the arrival of our newest daughter, Lucy. She is a heritage from the Lord and a blessing to us all. [1] Lucy has been wonderfully and fearfully made to the glory of a good Father. [2] The sovereignty of God, his timing and plan is perfect. I’m also grieved at the circumstances surrounding Lucy’s arrival. She is welcomed into a hurting family, feelings of inadequacy and a missed opportunity to know her big sister. It is joy and grief, together.

I have so much joy and pure thanksgiving that Jane called me mommy. To know her was to love her. The nearly two and half years of her life was a blessing to myself and many others. I rejoice that Jane is with Jesus. She is in the presence of our Savior and I’m so thankful that she will never know the pain many people on this earth face, including the pain we are experiencing as her family. I’m also overcome with grief at the loss of my little girl. We have missed her every moment since February 24th and I doubt that will ever change. I’m heartbroken I can’t see her, hear her or hold her. I can’t watch her grow and meet milestones. I can’t watch her hold the baby sister she was so excited to meet. It is both joy and grief, together.

Anticipating Lucy’s arrival felt overwhelming. The heaviness of the known and unknown was extreme. I felt anxious about the questions that would come up at the hospital, “How many children do you have?”, “What are the ages of your kids at home?”, etc. We received all the expected questions, we experienced hard moments and unanticipated emotions. We also received so much grace. God’s hand was over every part of Lucy’s birth story. His redemption and grace isn’t lost on me. My nurses were gracious and encouraging. My doctors love Jesus and have offered an abundance of support. Robert could be with me at the hospital and the labor and delivery process went as smooth as possible. Lucy is healthy and looks like a beautiful combination of all of her siblings, while maintaining a distinct “Lucy” look. God is good and He is worthy to be praised. The Lord gives. [3]

I have now been given the blessed opportunity to leave the hospital five different times with five different babies. But having left the hospital just one time without my baby has changed me forever. I watched my three biggest kids excitement as they met their new baby sister. The joy is pronounced. I also watched as they lovingly told their baby sister about the big sister she wouldn’t get to meet. “Her name was Jane and she would have loved you.” “She would have thought you were her babydoll.” “There is a big picture outside your room, so you can see her.” “We will tell you all about Jesus and Jane.” The beauty and blessing of new life amplifies the harshness and bitterness of death. But God is good and He is worthy to be praised. The Lord takes away. [3]

The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.

Job 1:21b

I’ve been told, “It’s ok to be happy.” I appreciate the sentiment, but I’m not sure that we understand the meaning of words in our society. Happiness is dependent on circumstances. While I am very happy to be home with Lucy, there is plenty about my circumstances that are not happy. Joy, on the other hand, is from the Lord. [4] It does not depend on circumstance, but on the One who provides it. I can have unbelievable joy in the midst of heartache. I know, because I have experienced it. Grief doesn’t have to be bad. Grief is a beautiful reminder of the brokenness of the current world we live in. Grief points us to our only hope, Jesus Christ. Grief has taken away false comfort, and for that, I will forever be grateful.

It’s complicated, it’s beautiful, it’s hard and it can be holy. I don’t expect others to understand or relate. To be fair, I still don’t understand most days. Here is what I do know, God is good. God is faithful. God is righteous and just. God’s ways are higher than mine. God gave me Jane and God gave me Lucy.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

James 1:17

All of our children bear a first name that we simply liked and a middle name of a family member. Their mother, father or a great grandparent. Jane’s name mean’s God is gracious. We have seen the truth of that through Jane’s life and even in her death. Lucy received her middle name from her sister Jane. Grace. We have already seen God’s grace in Lucy’s life too and we expect no less for the rest of her ordained days.

Welcome to the world Lucy. You are loved by many, but most importantly, you are loved by your Creator.

[1] Psalm 127:3 [2] Psalm 139:14 [3] Job 1:21 [4] Psalm 4:7

A Lost Sister and Friend

Robert and I lost a daughter in February, but my kids also lost a sister and best friend. Grief is complicated and messy. It grows more complex by the sheer number of people grieving within our home. Parenting children that are grieving is a delicate and fluctuating experience. All of our children are beautifully unique and their personalities differ wildly. Therefore their grief is distinct, not just because they are children but because they handle all emotions differently. Navigating each day can be a challenge.

We don’t go to the cemetery frequently and we rarely ask the kids if they want to go. Early on, Leah, especially didn’t want to go and we didn’t push her. Today, however, I had several things on my to do list. Send thank you notes, grocery shop, pick up receipt for burial plots and laundry. Even minute tasks seem challenging in the midst of grief, especially when in between laundry and grocery shopping we have to pick up physical reminders of the harsh reality we are living. When we arrived at the city’s public works building the kids naturally asked why we were there, I told them and the topic of the cemetery came up. Emma suggested buying flowers at the grocery store and leaving them at Jane’s grave. To my surprise Leah was the first to agree.

At the end of our shopping, the kids picked out some red carnations and we made our way to the cemetery. I watched the girls methodically lay out the flowers and George lined up some rocks. Emma and George headed back to the car but Leah paused for a long time. She wasn’t ready to leave yet. It was hot and I knew the frozen food would be melting in the car, but we just stood there. She didn’t cry, but she also didn’t say anything. After several minutes, I asked if she was ready to go. Leah turned and reminded me, “It’s just Jane’s old body. Her new body is with Jesus.” She then walked to the car with a resolute face.

Leah turned and reminded me, “It’s just Jane’s old body. Her new body is with Jesus.”

Most kids are resilient. My kids are a special kind of courageous and strong. They have experienced profound loss and with every play date had with friends, school assignment finished, memory shared, smile or tear shed, I see immense bravery. Their life has also been altered and the pain they bear at such a young age seems harsh. But I’m watching my young children learn and hold on to deep truths that even adults often miss. Their prayers are honest and their trust in Jesus is powerful. Robert and I desire to parent, love and teach them well. Most days they teach me just as much.

My kids are a special kind of courageous and strong.

They lost a sister and they lost a best friend. They lament and grieve in their own way, but they also hold onto the confidence of a sweet reunion with their beloved Jane. Thanks be to a gracious and merciful God, what a precious reunion that will be one day.

For Better or Worse

We took our vows seriously on our wedding day, and we have every day since.

Our vows were long. I remember looking through the proposed vow options in the packet given to us by our church. I couldn’t decide, Robert liked them all and so we combined them. There was something of the traditional, for better or worse and in sickness and health. There was reference to the book of Ruth and his God being my God, his people being my people. We covered all the high points, not wanting to leave anything out. We took our vows seriously on our wedding day, and we have every day since.

We started our sixth year of marriage expecting our third child and settling into a relatively new town and job. We lived in a nice house, in a nice neighborhood and we had found a home church that we were beginning to get involved in. During the fall of 2015, Robert and I both sensed a restlessness. Not with each other, but with life in general. What were we doing? What were we really doing to serve the Lord? There seemed to be no obvious answer, but we continued to pray, discuss and seek God’s Word.

In October 2015, in the middle of a worship service at church, tears started streaming uncontrollably down my cheeks. I looked at Robert and he shook his head in agreement. We left the sanctuary in the middle of the service to talk privately in an empty Sunday School class room. “We need to sell our house,” I said with tears streaming down my face. Robert said, “I know. I don’t know why we’re supposed to sell it, but I know that’s what we’re supposed to do.” I was almost 8 months pregnant and the next day we put our house on the market.

Selling our home was one of the first impractical decisions Robert and I had ever made in our marriage. There was literally no reason to sell it, except that God told us to and that was reason enough. We prayed, we consulted Scripture and I personally tried to figure out every or any conceivable reason the Lord might be asking us to leave our home and neighborhood. He never gave us a reason and almost five years later, I still couldn’t exactly tell you what the reason might have been. What we learned was obedience. We learned to be obedient to the Lord, even when it didn’t make sense. We learned that when big confusing decisions were made, we had to make them together while following the Lord. We sold our home several months later, rented an old home and started building a house across town.

We learned to be obedient to the Lord, even when it didn’t make sense.

If people told us that the first year, the first five years or even the first baby were going to be challenging, the same people deemed that building a house together seemed to be an impossible feat in comparison. However, true to our expectations during our engagement, we knew that God would build our marriage, our family and now even our literal house. The process was not without disagreements, some impatience and a few unexpected situations. In the end, we worked well together and we cherish the house that the Lord built us.

One of the greatest surprises in the midst of building our new home was the news that we were expecting our fourth child, Jane. Jane was born six weeks before we moved into our brand new house. Four kids under the age of five, a new home, an old dog and seven year marriage. It was beautiful chaos. I would end the day exhausted and in utter disbelief at the goodness of God. As if the gospel was not blessing and grace enough, the Lord had and has lavished us with so many good gifts.

My love for Robert has grown every year that we have been married. After moving into our new home and settling down with baby number four, things seemed to calm down for a while. Life was busy, because life with four children, a job and community involvement usually is busy. But we settled into a consistent rhythm and enjoyed predictability. Robert did and has continued to faithfully lead and serve our family. We have enjoyed living, traveling, teaching, laughing and so many more things together. Robert is genuinely my best friend. Last year when the movie Little Women came out I told Robert I wanted to go see it. He told me to call my best friend and have a night out. I replied with a smile, “but you’re my best friend.” He laughed and said, “Call your next best friend, I’ll keep the kids.” Our love is easy and he constantly tells me when certain social events or opportunities arise that he would rather just spend time with me. He means it and I believe him. There isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t say, “I love you” multiple times a day. Usually the phrase is followed by, “you’re my favorite.” It’s true, we are each others favorite person.

There isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t say, “I love you” multiple times a day. Usually the phrase is followed by, “you’re my favorite.” It’s true, we are each others favorite person.

In the midst of those long vows we made to each other almost ten years ago was the promise to love each other for better or for worse. To be fair, most of our years together have been better. But on a winter evening in February, we experienced the worst. With first responders flooding our home, two children crying on the sofa, I called Robert incoherently sobbing. A trooper had to take the phone and tell him to come home immediately. Robert never left my side. His hand never left mine while hearing the words, “I’m sorry, it isn’t good news.” Robert was the one who helped me change into pajamas when I didn’t feel like I could physically stand anymore. Robert never let go of me throughout the entire night, while we both sobbed over the loss of our daughter. I remember looking at him panicked and saying “Robert, some people don’t make it through things like this. These are the things that ruin marriages and families.” Robert calmly and gently held my face in his hands, looked into my eyes and said, “Casey, we are going to make it. God made our marriage and God will sustain it. We’re in this forever.” He was right and I trusted him in that moment just like I did ten years ago when he made his vows.

I’ve talked to many young girls on the brink of marriage, or perhaps waiting for “the one”. So many talk about their hopes and dreams, they ask to hear about our story. Robert and I don’t have a unique, interesting or witty story. I don’t think we experienced love at first sight and I don’t think we really knew what we were doing when we said we were ready to get married after only a couple of months of dating. I do know that our marriage is important and it is special, because it is ours. God created our love, He sustains it and our aim is not to make much of ourselves, but to glorify the Lord through our life, marriage and family. God has honored that and I believe He will continue to honor our desire to serve Him well. I have no poetic or outlined advice for young girls embarking on married life, except to keep your eyes on Jesus and knit your heart together with a man who is doing the same.

Keep your eyes on Jesus and knit your heart together with a man who is doing the same.

Ten years ago, I could have never imagined the better or worse that the Lord had in store for us. But I chose then to love Robert and I choose that everyday. I don’t know what the future has in store either. But I trust God and I trust Robert. There is no one on this earth that I would rather stand by. Whether joy or sorrow, sickness or health, better or worse, no matter what tomorrow might bring, I’m thankful to face it with Robert. What God has joined together, let no man separate.

Happy Anniversary, Robert. I love you and you will always be my favorite.

The Early Years

This week Robert and I celebrate ten years of marriage. There will be no expensive international trip and we will be fortunate if we get to eat at a restaurant for dinner. This milestone looks different than I probably imagined it would look just a few years ago, but it is actually much sweeter than I could have hoped. There is beauty in the ordinary and the simple. Our marriage is beautiful. Not because of anything we have done or manufactured, but because from the day we said our vows and every day since, our marriage has belonged to the Lord. Please indulge me as I take a trip down memory lane to commemorate this milestone over the course of the next few days.

Our marriage is beautiful. Not because of anything we have done or manufactured, but because from the day we said our vows and every day since, our marriage has belonged to the Lord.

In the early days of our marriage, people told us that the first year of marriage would be the most difficult. However, our first year of marriage was sweet and full of promise. Robert and I met each other through mutual friends late in 2008. We lived in different cities and saw each other very sparingly. By the Spring of 2009 we had struck up a long distance friendship through text messaging. In June of the same year, we were an “instant” item. I met his family and he told them I was his girlfriend, before he told me. We still laugh about this. In August, we went on a mission trip to Honduras together, and I vividly remember talking about marriage. I would be finishing nursing school in December and he would finish medical school the following semester. Since I wasn’t attached to any particular location, I was happy to move wherever he moved for his residency. Why on earth would we pay two separate rents? We should just get married. As a mother, I can’t imagine my own children having a similar conversation one day. But Robert and I loved the Lord first, and we knew He would build the marriage, family and house. We had a growing love for one another and the time we had spent together or not spent together didn’t seem to matter much. We had the rest of our lives. We are also both undeniably practical.

We had a growing love for one another and the time we had spent together or not spent together didn’t seem to matter much. We had the rest of our lives.

In October of 2009, Robert asked me to be his wife and we planned our wedding for the following May. We had yet to live in the same city at this point. Most of our friends that were getting married around the same time had been dating for years, some even since high school. But we were unswayed, young, in love and dreaming of our future. I finished nursing school in December and worked in home health for the next semester. Robert graduated from medical school in May and the next weekend we got married on May 22. We honeymooned for a week in Mexico and moved to South Carolina as soon as we returned to the States. It was the first time we shared an address, or a city for that matter.

After we were told that the first year would be difficult, we were surprised to find that it had in fact been a pleasure. Robert was busy with his intern year of medicine and I had started (and ended) my first job as a nurse in the hospital. We definitely experienced challenges, a few arguments and the typical learning curve that comes with living with someone for the first time. Robert was tired and I was alone many call nights. It was a unique first year of marriage, but I’m so grateful for the way God orchestrated it.

One of the greatest gifts to our first year of marriage was that we moved away. While we both love our families dearly, we were able to establish our own family and our own traditions. Because of Robert’s hectic work schedule, we weren’t able to go “home” often for family events or even holidays. We made our own memories and we consulted with one another about decisions. We committed our marriage and our plans to the Lord, and He greatly blessed us.

Since the first year wasn’t too hard, we then found people telling us that the first five years would be the biggest challenge. We were told that whenever we welcomed our first child, that we would experience a huge change in our relationship and it could be difficult. Well just shy of two years into our marriage, in the thick of residency, we welcomed our first child, Emma. Loving Robert has always been easy, seeing him as a father only made it easier.

Loving Robert has always been easy, seeing him as a father only made it easier.

In our first five years of marriage, we bought our first home, we welcomed two babies, I started and ended jobs in nursing, Robert started and finished residency, Robert also completed a fellowship in sports medicine, we sold our first home and purchased our second home in a different state. Life was busy and constantly full of change. We celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary on an elaborate trip to South Africa. We still talk about that trip and reminisce fondly. Not long after returning home, we found out we would be expecting our third child. George would be the first and only brother, to Emma and Leah. Life was showing no signs of slowing down, but our marriage was ever so sweet.

Though we were promised difficulty, we found our first five years of marriage to be a precious blessing from the Lord. Our marriage is not perfect, but it is good. We know that “every good and perfect gift is from above” and we have never doubted that the goodness bestowed to us has been straight from the Lord. Marriage is a miracle. The merging of two sinners into one family is an impossible task that only God could ordain. God has created, sustained and blessed our marriage. We are grateful, we do not take it for granted. The next five years of marriage looked different. There was more uncertainty, more settling down and more heartache. But Robert and I remained each other’s best friends and biggest fans. I look forward to remembering and writing about more sweet years with Robert later this week. I hope you will be encouraged and maybe even amused.