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. 

This is my story

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

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

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

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

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

C.S. Lewis

This is our megaphone.

How Exactly? The Question of Curiosity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romans 12:2

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

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

John 13:34-35

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

Why am I asking for this information?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What If? The Question of Fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Did She Die?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Little Things

It happened six days ago. I got a notification for a memory from one year ago. It was this video. This is it. This is the last video I have of Jane.

Several people have checked in to see how we are doing, especially today, the 24th. This has mostly been my response:

“We’re ok. It’s a difficult day but it’s also not necessarily more difficult than any other day. It’s harder realizing that we only have a month left and then time will affectively be measured in years. Memories becoming longer ago will always feel hard and heartbreaking.” 

I appreciate it when people ask. I appreciate it when people remember. I am so thankful to know many are still praying. I also know it’s easy to scroll past this post and feel a moment of pity before moving on with your life. That’s ok. It’s our grief and burden to bear.  Jane was loved by many and is missed by some. Others have grieved her loss, but no one else walks past her bedroom door 11 months later and weeps at what is no more. We want to suffer well. Part of suffering well is acknowledging the suffering, the grief in the big moments and the little things.

Last night Robert started getting things together for our taxes. As suddenly as my phone alerted me to the last video of Jane, TurboTax needed a number of dependents. Having to check the box that one of your dependents is deceased is another gut wrenching blow. The computer software politely offered its condolences and we reeled from another little thing that reminds us our daughter isn’t here.

It’s hard in these moments to not feel isolated from the world around us. It’s difficult to feel misunderstood. It’s hard to hear petty complaining or worse, see apathy over things that actually matter. It’s also in these moments when Jesus is so near. When very few people really grasp the magnitude of the little things, what a gift to know that God knows our grief intimately. He keeps track of all my sorrows. He has collected all my tears in His bottle and recorded each one in His book.

Maybe the little things are painful reminders of large wounds and grief. Maybe the little things aren’t so little at all. I don’t always know what little things will be the tipping point, but Jesus does and he is near.

Christmas for the Weary

Christmas doesn’t feel very merry this year.

“I haven’t said Merry Christmas this year,” I admitted to Robert. He looked at me slightly confused, mostly because I blurted out the statement with no context. I went on to explain that as I was checking out at a store earlier in the evening, the woman behind the cash register wished me a Merry Christmas. “All I said was ‘thank you'”. It was a confession and he understood. Christmas doesn’t feel very merry this year.

We received several warnings that the holidays would become more difficult for us now that we have experienced our own loss. I anticipated that this holiday season would be particularly difficult. Now, “difficult” seems like a vast understatement. Our grief has remained, because grief is not something you get over or move past. In fact, if there has been something in your life that you “grieved” and now find you’ve moved on or gotten over it, then it’s safe to say it was not grief you were experiencing, but disappointment and/or sadness instead. While my grief has remained intact with waves, I seem to be experiencing a relapse of the most intense grief.

In the weeks following Jane’s death I found ordinary things to be vexing and isolating. I remember walking down an aisle in the grocery store, tears streaming down my face, wondering how everyone could be carrying on with life normally. When the sun rose on Tuesday morning, February 25th it felt like a betrayal. So much of the fog of those first few days and weeks has lifted. I can see that of course the sun would rise. I know that people carried on with normal life, because their life was still normal. Lately, I find myself surrounded by the merriment of the season and it feels like harsh blows to my weary soul.

But this raises some important questions. What am I really celebrating? If this tradition of Christmas is only for the affluent in America, is it really Christmas? If the “hope” and” joy” the season brings seems bitter and futile to a weary world, is it really the hope and joy of Jesus? In the popular Christmas song, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” there is a line that sings, “from now on our troubles will be out of sight.” If my troubles are still in sight, can Christmas really be for me?

If this tradition of Christmas is only for the affluent in America, is it really Christmas?

Traditionally, I love all things Christmasy. The decorating, cooking, music, parties, shopping, wrapping, advent and planning. Those traditions aren’t necessarily wrong or sinful, however they can’t offer fulfillment and peace. The extra things can’t be the cause for rejoicing or the focus of our celebration. This year the excess is noticeable and the gap between fanciful traditions and the birth of the Messiah feel separated by a chasm. Honestly, it feels overwhelming. Things don’t feel “Merry and Bright”. Yet, somehow we paint a picture that the “joy of Christmas” should eclipse all grief and pain. It’s as if when the Christmas tree went up, my sorrow was supposed to wait in the attic. That’s plausible if the joy of Christmas is found in secondary things. If joy is found in giving gifts, candle light services and a few well loved songs, than Christmas is not for the brokenhearted.

If joy is found in giving gifts, candle light services and a few well loved songs, than Christmas is not for the brokenhearted.

Throughout Scripture we find that every story points to the central story of Jesus. In Genesis, following the curse of sin, there is a promise, “he will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” [1] Following that moment people were looking forward to the promised Savior. Hundreds of years went by, some filled with triumph and prosperity, but most filled with exile, loss and heartache. The future was bleak. Approximately 700 years before this promised Messiah was born Isaiah offered hope of what was to come. “Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress.”[2] The chapter goes on to say “The people walking in darkness  have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” [3] Israel then endured four hundred years after hearing from the last prophet until the birth of Christ. In bleak darkness, they waited. The promised Messiah was meant for a broken and hopeless world. Christmas was meant for the weary.

Now here we are in 2020. A year that has been difficult and trying for many, but there is good news. The Messiah has come. Christ has died, Christ has risen and Christ will come again. It’s truth that should spark such exceptional joy that we have no time for the frivolity of the holiday frenzy. Hear my heart, I’m not preaching against Christmas trees, cookies and twinkly lights. I’m saying that we have no need for these things. They are extra and they offer no hope. I can’t imagine that while the people of Israel waited for the coming Messiah they found much peace in singing about a White Christmas. I don’t think Mary gave birth to the Savior of the world in a dark and dirty stable hoping for a little more peppermint bark. As Joseph watched his wife cry out in pain, I imagine his joy was not found in a pile of presents underneath the perfect Fraser fir.

Christ has died, Christ has risen and Christ will come again. It’s truth that should spark such exceptional joy that we have no time for the frivolity of the holiday frenzy.

I have been convicted of how much of my previous Christmas happiness and joy was a result of secondary and temporal things. That kind of Christmas is not meant for the weary. This year I am confident that my joy is in Christ alone. My peace and my hope can only be attributed to the atoning and redemptive grace of Jesus Christ. This year has been especially difficult for our family. We have lost much and we long for the day when all things are made new. Let’s not forget that we are all waiting for the second coming of Christ. Some of us are ready, and some of us are not. I can wait well because I know my sin has been forgiven and I have been redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. I can wait well because my God fulfills his promises.

This Christmas I am weary, but I can also see how much Christmas offers joy. My peace may not look like enjoying a warm cup of hot chocolate in a clean home by the fire, but instead like well worn pages of Scripture. My hope doesn’t look like dreaming of future Christmas seasons with more people around my table, but instead looking forward to the feasts to come in heaven with my Savior. My joy doesn’t look like a holly jolly Christmas, but instead tear filled eyes lifted in gratitude to a Messiah who has graciously saved me from my sins and offered me hope while I wait.

This Christmas I am weary. Praise God, Christmas is for the weary.

Though the fig tree does not bud

    and there are no grapes on the vines,

though the olive crop fails

    and the fields produce no food,

though there are no sheep in the pen

    and no cattle in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the Lord,

    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

Habakkuk 3:17-18

[1] Genesis 3:15 [2] Isaiah 9:1 [3] Isaiah 9:2

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.