It is Well

Grief is unpredictable and I’m often surprised by the things that tip me into a sea of sorrow. So many thoughtful friends and family often check to see “how are you doing today?” I appreciate the addition of a concrete time frame. It’s far more manageable to express how I’m doing today than in general at any given moment. Some days are harder than others and some moments are more joy filled than others. I feel that the famous hymn “I need thee every hour “ would be more accurate if it admitted our need for Jesus every moment. Yesterday was our eldest daughter’s birthday. We received many messages of prayers and hopes that the day would be joyful, especially since it might be hard to have another big event in our family without Jane. To be honest, until I received most of the messages, I hadn’t considered that the day would be any harder. That’s probably because most days are especially hard right now.

Joy was palpable and grief was loyal. But grief doesn’t have to be negative.

The day was full of joy. We got to see some friends and family (from a distance) that we haven’t seen lately because of social isolation. We ate key lime pie and tacos at the request of the birthday girl. We spent hours outdoors enjoying beautiful weather. Of course, it is always a special time to celebrate the life of your child. Eight years with our eldest daughter! What a blessing and privilege it is to be her mom. She is the one that made me mommy first. She is loving, smart, kind and so easy to celebrate. Jane’s absence was felt, because it is always felt. Joy was palpable and grief was loyal. But grief doesn’t have to be negative.

Emma received cards from family friends and one of the cards had been made by one of Jane’s friends. The little boy and Jane were close in age and the card was the most beautiful bunch of scribbles. I saw it and the tears bubbled up almost immediately. We moved on to the next card before anyone noticed. In that moment, I missed Jane so terribly. I missed her presence, her laugh, her desire to help open gifts and her own sweet scribbles on hand made cards. At the same time, I was so thankful for the family and little friend who made the card. What a sweet gift.

Later in the day we were able to talk with one of my nephews. He was born exactly 12 days before Jane. I love our family. My nephew is a blessing to our family and many others. I love him dearly. Intermingled with being so grateful for his life and hearing the sweetness of his voice, I felt so sad that I would never hear Jane again. Her absence was glaring and painful in those moments. It was the definition of bittersweet.

Lord willing, my surviving children will grow and learn. Their friends and our family will do the same. I’ll see them meet milestones that Jane never will. I’ll see Jane’s friends start PreK, learn to tie shoes and lose their first teeth. One day they will drive, graduate high-school and get married. We will never take first day of school pictures with Jane again. We won’t teach her to ride a bike or teach her to do anything else for that matter. I won’t hand her the keys and watch as she drives away for the first time. We won’t order a cap and gown. Robert will never walk her down the aisle. She will bear no children that know me as grandmother.

Know this, Jane is not missing out. She is in the presence of our Savior. There is nothing this world could have offered her that is better than her current glory. We don’t grieve on Jane’s behalf. We grieve our own loss. We have profound joy and we have deep sorrow. It’s complex and it is hard. We also have a sure hope and a firm foundation. Jane is with Jesus. Jesus is also with us.

There is nothing this world could have offered her that is better than her current glory.

1 Thessalonians 5:10 says “He (Jesus) died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him.” The term awake or asleep here is referring to being physically alive or physically dead. I have this assurance, do you? Our situation is complex and hard, but I’m not ignorant or vain enough to think we are the only ones who have faced tragedy or will face hard times. We are hearing a lot of statistics lately, but the most accurate is that 100% of people will die at some point. Is Jesus with you? Do you know Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior? You too can know this same hope that we have. The blessedness of knowing Jesus is not just for the sake of our fate in death. This hope is for the present too.

“He (Jesus) died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him.” 1 Thessalonians 5:10

We can’t rush our grief and I’m confident we won’t be fully healed this side of eternity. But when I say, I need Jesus Christ every moment, He is there. When I’m caught off guard by grief or when I’m filled with joy, Jesus is there. If you ask me how I’m doing at any given moment, I don’t know what I might say. I might be deeply and profoundly sad. I might feel ok and even content. However, no matter how I feel, it will always be well with my soul. When peace like a river attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot Thou hast taught me to say, “It is well, it is well with my soul!”

The Years are Short

Time is an interesting thing. At exactly this moment eight weeks ago, I was cleaning up lunch and getting Jane ready to take a nap. Robert put her down and she called out from her room “Toodles, love you!” as she did anytime we put her down to sleep. This normal exchange seems both like an eternity ago and like it was just yesterday.

It has been eight weeks since the call to 911. Eight weeks since my husband drove furiously home and we rode in the back of a trooper’s car to the hospital. Eight weeks since I held Jane’s hand in mine and asked if I could see her feet one last time. An eternity ago and not long at all.

Grief is not tame and it is unpredictable.

I remember a false allusion following Jane’s death of a return to normalcy. It was the idea that when the meals stopped coming, the mailbox no longer contained condolences and the flowers had all died, we would return to normal. Deep down I knew that wouldn’t be the case. The meals have stopped, the mailbox infrequently offers encouragement and the flowers died weeks ago. But Jane still isn’t here. Grief is not tame and it is unpredictable. I was used to a clear, uphill trajectory of healing. Any other sadness or disappointment I faced in my life has gradually gotten better, day by day. True grief ebbs and flows.

Our current days seem long, but Jane’s years were painfully short.

While it would be nice to say that we are developing a new normal, that’s untrue. We are in the middle of a pandemic. I’m 28 weeks pregnant and there seems to be no normal or new normal in sight. Yet, time keeps marching forward. The sun comes up every day and is sure to set every evening. Having small children, I am familiar with the phrase, “the days are long, but the years are short”. This phrase has taken on new meaning lately. Our current days seem long, but Jane’s years were painfully short.

I got a call this morning that Jane’s headstone was installed at her grave site. I never thought I would be a frequent grave visitor, but it felt important to me to leave flowers or something marking the place until the headstone arrived. My six year old, Leah, is always quick to say that only “Jane’s old body” is buried there. Jane is with Jesus and we are so thankful for that truth. We never want her grave to become some shrine or hopeless place of despair. I will never say, “I’m going to visit Jane.” Jane is not there. But today the whole family went to the cemetery. We went to see the headstone and to thank God for Jane’s life. We thanked God that He allowed us to be her family and we thanked Him that Jane is now in His presence.

I never thought I would have to design or pick out a headstone for my child. I experienced a range of emotions. I was pleased with how it turned out and grateful that it had been put in place. I was also grieved by the reality and felt the weight of finality. There was something else that stood out obviously. Time.

It was etched into granite right in front of my face. September 17, 2017-February 24, 2020. Two years, five months and one week. 890 days. The years were short, but they were full. Time continues and our life is forever altered. There are some things that will never change. Being Jane’s mother is one of the greatest privileges of my life. It was a privilege the day she was born, the day she died, every day in between and for as many days left as I have on this earth. We also know that God does not change. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Hebrews 13:8

While our life looks vastly different than it did just eight weeks ago, I’m thankful to know that it’s still in the hands of the Almighty.

Moving Slowly

To finish one long and hard day, only to know that the next day will be more of the same is defeating.

We are all probably moving a little slower these days. Most days I feel like I’m moving through molasses. I’ve also found that one of my struggles with sheltering in place and social isolation is that every day looks the same. This isn’t a terrible thing if we’ve had a good day, but it’s horribly discouraging when we’ve had a hard day. To finish one long and hard day, only to know that the next day will be more of the same is defeating. Many years ago Elisabeth Elliot made popular an old poem. 

From an old English parsonage down by the sea
There came in the twilight a message to me;
Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,
Hath, it seems to me, teaching from Heaven.
And on through the doors the quiet words ring
Like a low inspiration: “DO THE NEXT THING.”

Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, and guidance are given.
Fear not tomorrows, child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus, do the next thing

Do it immediately, do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,
Leave all results, do the next thing.

Looking for Jesus, ever serener,
Working or suffering, be thy demeanor;
In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
The light of His countenance be thy psalm,
Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing.
Then, as He beckons thee, do the next thing.

I have started working on Lucy’s baby blanket and it is moving slower than any other. It will be finished one day, one quilt block at a time. When it graces her crib it will be tear soaked and prayed over. 

And when the time comes we will trust it with Jesus and do the next thing. 

Mundane tasks seem difficult in the middle of grief. It feels hard to focus on the task at hand, whether laundry, cooking dinner or bathing children. There are many tasks that I simply don’t want to do. I don’t want to change Jane’s room. But I’m learning to do the next thing. I will feed our family, even if it’s take out or pb&j and I will thank God for providing. I will do laundry when it’s absolutely necessary, because clothes are a privilege and I want to be a good steward. I will find joy in bathing my children, because they are here and I’m so thankful for such good gifts. It isn’t time to change Jane’s room yet, but I know it will be soon, and when the time comes we will trust it with Jesus and do the next thing. 

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23

The Lord is good and we can trust Him. Even when the days are slow, filled with uncertainty or constantly changing, we can know that Jesus is constant.

Family Worship

Why is family worship important to our family? Since my oldest, Emma, was a baby we have had pretty much the same bedtime routine. Call it what you will, but it’s really been a time of family worship.

We read, sing and pray. What we read changes, but it is usually Scripture, a devotional, Biblical/church history, catechism or something along those line. We use the opportunity of singing at home to teach our kids hymns, the Doxology is a favorite and every single one of our kids know all the words. At a young age we taught the kids the ACTS method of praying (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication). For our kids this looked like fill in the blank early on. “God you are….. God I’m sorry for….. God thank you for….. and God please help…..” The routine isn’t perfect and every now and then we miss a night because of a late bedtime or something else. We are not perfect and I don’t claim that our method and idea of worship is the only way.

I’ve had several people ask me about this or make comments about it in the last few weeks. Probably because several people experienced it just seven and a half weeks ago. It’s a personal story, but it’s one that proclaims the goodness of God and how He is sufficient. I don’t share this for personal glory. I share it with hope to encourage. If you have a time of family worship, keep going. If you don’t, it’s worth the time because God is worthy. There are many reasons family worship is important to us, but let me tell you what it meant to us the night Jane passed away.

Never in my life have I understood more what Jesus meant when He said “My power is made perfect in your weakness.”

February 24. We had just arrived back at home from the hospital and met our children at the door. It was near bedtime and we had to deliver the most devastating news of our life. 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 and 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.”

God is good and He alone sustains.

Friends helped get the kids dressed in pajamas and we put them in their beds, thanking the Lord for his strength. The rest of the night was a horrific blur of tears, panic attacks, prayers and shock. But God is good and He alone sustains. It’s been almost 8 weeks and we have been upheld by the Holy Spirit, not traditions or routines. I’m so thankful that God put in our hearts and minds the importance of family worship almost eight years ago. I hope you never have to experience the tragedy that our family is enduring. But if you don’t already, I do encourage you to find regular times to worship the Lord with your family. Take the time. He is worthy.

Our First Holiday

Our last Easter with Jane, 2019

Easter without Jane is not without hope.

It’s our first holiday since Jane passed away. We miss her terribly and the ache of her absence is profound. Of all the holidays we could have experienced first without Jane, I’m so thankful it was Easter. We celebrate Christmas big at our house. Thanksgiving bears many standing traditions and birthdays are special milestones. Though we always celebrate Easter, the specifics have varied every year since Robert and I got married. We don’t do the Easter bunny at our house and we rarely participate in egg hunts. The date, of course, changes every year and so do our plans. Sometimes we are with extended family and sometimes we are not.

But it’s not our lack of traditions that make me glad Easter is our first holiday without Jane, it’s that Easter is the most hopeful holiday of all. Acts 2:23-24 says, “This man (Jesus) was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” This necessitates repeating, it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. Praise God! God reigns victorious, sin and death could not hold him.

Perhaps it took an empty bed in our home to treasure the empty tomb so much more.

I’ve always cherished Easter and what we really celebrate. But I don’t think I meditated on how the worst tragedy in history became the most victorious. I don’t think I’ve pondered enough how Jesus’ suffering and being brought low, brought Him glory and secured my salvation. Today is hard, the heaviness of grief is great. Today is also cause for joy. The power, mercy and grace of my Savior is unfathomable. Perhaps it took an empty bed in our home to treasure the empty tomb so much more.

Dedicated

Two years ago we stood before our church family and dedicated Jane Frances Martin to the Lord. We gathered with friends and family, we prayed over Jane and told the Lord “we are but stewards of this good gift”. We’ve dedicated all of our children to God. Both formally amongst our church family and privately as soon as Robert and I knew we were expecting. We’ve always known what it meant to give our children back to God and I can’t claim to be surprised when His ways are not mine. 

Last week I was staring out the window watching my other children play. My thoughts wandered 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. 
Sanctification is a painful process. When we dedicated Jane we meant it. She was His and He could have His way with her. What I wanted for Jane was to grow into a beautiful and smart young woman. To love the Lord and serve Him faithfully. God had different plans for how Jane’s life was meant to bring Him glory.

I thought we would give one child a home in our family, God’s plans were bigger. God asked us to give up one child, in order that many might have a home.

There are many ways God is redeeming Jane’s life and even her death for His glory. Here is an example of just one. Robert and I had been praying about our role is orphan care over the last three years. We were looking into adoption and usually experienced some kind of road block, we would shelf the idea and come back to it later. In the days after Jane’s death we had to make quick decisions. We asked people to give to Lifeline Children’s Services in lieu of flowers. The response was overwhelming. Lifeline told us they had never seen such a generous response in honor of one person’s life and many orphans would find a forever home because of Jane. All this time I thought we would give one child a home in our family, God’s plans were bigger. God asked us to give up one child, in order that many might have a home.

My ways would have looked different. I would have asked God to grow Jane into a woman that would have served as a faithful missionary, maybe adopting her own children. She could have opened her own orphanage, anything but this! But God’s ways are higher and God is good. We accept that now and we accepted it when we dedicated Jane to God.

Our definition of good may not be the same as God’s definition. But can’t we trust the Creator of the universe? Can’t we trust the One who provided His own son as a ram for us?

I don’t write this to cause fear or anxiety for others. I write this because we serve the same good God and I pray that you will see how “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Our definition of good may not be the same as God’s definition. But can’t we trust the Creator of the universe? Can’t we trust the One who provided His own son as a ram for us? The answer is yes, the answer is always yes.

A Posture of Grief, a Gaze of Faith

Grief has changed my posture, but faith has fixed my gaze.

It’s been two weeks since we laid Jane’s body to rest. Our dinner table has an empty seat, the Tupperware has remained perfectly in place, the sounds in our house have changed, my lap remains empty for movie night and the scent of her is fading from her room. We miss Jane terribly from our life and we miss the absence of her in our future.

“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.”

I hadn’t even realized how many plans and dreams I had for Jane. Some were never meant to be and some we’ve seen come to fruition even in the last two weeks. Every night Robert would pray over Jane, “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.” That prayer and hope has come to pass.

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 now even in her death good gospel seed has been sown. So while I mourn dreams that will never come to pass, I cling tightly to the better plan of the Lord. Grief has changed my posture, but faith has fixed my gaze.

Our Story

The importance of our story is less about the narrative and much more about the author.

Who am I and why does my story matter? In a traditional sense, there is nothing special about me or my family. My name is Casey and I grew up in the loveliest village on the plains in Alabama. I met my husband, Robert, in 2009 and we got married in 2010. We started our married life in South Carolina and moved to Georgia in 2014. We had our first child in 2012 and had an additional child nearly every two years after. This brought us to a grand total of four children in September of 2017. I’m a stay at home wife and mother. Robert is a family physician. We live a quiet and simple life. I’m thankful for this.

The importance of our story is less about the narrative and much more about the author. Our story is a story being written by Jesus. We are a family that loves God and His Word. Though we are far from perfect, we hope to be empty vessels, filled with the Holy Spirit, ready to do His will.

On February 24, 2020 our fourth child, Jane, unexpectedly passed away. She was just shy of two and a half years old. Jane was healthy, beautiful and full of life. The loss was a shock and horrible tragedy for our family, but we know that God was not surprised. Psalm 139:16 says, “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” We know that Jane’s days were ordained by God and that she is now in the presence of her Creator and Savior. We do not mourn on behalf of Jane, but instead for our own loss.

Jane’s name means God is gracious. Truer words could not be spoken about Jane or her life. God has done nothing but show us grace and faithfulness. As if the gospel of Christ were not enough, He continues to lavish His love on us, even in the midst of great heartache. We are walking a road we did not anticipate, but we know that “You (God) hem me in-behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” Psalm 139:5-6

God is good and God is faithful. Our hope is not wishful, but firm and solid. It’s our prayer and desire that others will know and experience the hope of Christ. A firm hope, that only He can give. We do not want to be selfish with our grief or our joy. Because our story is being written by God alone, we desire our testimony be shared with others. May our lives point others to the One True God.