Help To Carry

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 53:4

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

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

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

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

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

Jane, today you are

Every year I write a short letter to my children on their birthday. Today I took time to look at the notes I had written to Jane, there are only two.

On Jane’s first birthday I wrote, “Jane, today you are one and I feel completely conflicted about this. You are the baby, my baby. I am so thankful God saw fit to place you in our family, specifically as the fourth Martin kid. You are laid back and go with the flow. You also know how to hold your own with your big sisters and brother. You have a voice and you let it be heard. I am confident that God has big plans for your life and I can’t wait to see them unfold. May you grow in wisdom and stature and be a woman who fears the Lord. You are loved by many and you bless our family tremendously. “

I am confident that God has big plans for your life and I can’t wait to see them unfold.

On Jane’s second birthday I wrote, “Jane, today you are 2! Time really does fly. You are so smart, funny and feisty. Considering you are the baby of the family, you hold your own very well. I am confident that God has big plans for your life. He has already used you in many ways. I’ve had the privilege of watching you comfort people who have experienced great loss, snuggle and encourage the elderly and bring smiles to a hurting world. We are so thankful that God saw fit to let us be your parents. You are a joy sweet girl!“

He has already used you in many ways.

Jane, today you are not here. Our reality is painful and we miss you terribly. We are still thankful for your life and if it’s possible we are even more thankful that God saw fit to place you in our family. Your days were ordained, and what a gift it was to have those days spent with us. God did have big plans for your life. Admittedly, they weren’t the plans I wanted. My dreams and hopes were different, but we know that God’s ways are higher and his plans are perfect. You taught us so much about love and living in light of eternity in your short time here on this earth. We are better for it. You unabashedly gave comfort to so many. Even in the midst of our current heartache and pain, you still offer your family comfort. Your life points us to Jesus. Jane, you were a joy and you are still a joy to us.

I’ve had several people check in with us today. I appreciate that. We have received many kind messages, flowers, gifts and cards. Most importantly, I know that people all over the world have been praying for us. Thank you. Earlier in the week, I told several people that as we approached Jane’s birthday, I just wanted time. I didn’t want to feel rushed. I wanted our family to have the time to grieve and hold joy. I didn’t want to be bound by expectations. Tonight, I can honestly say that Jesus has been as near to us today as he was in the evening hours of February 24h. We have had time together as a family and not one second of today has felt rushed. What a beautiful answer to prayer.

But today didn’t go to plan. At least not my original plan. My plan was to celebrate my daughter’s third birthday, with my daughter. God’s plans were different, and I’m learning to be content. God is good and His ways are higher. I believe today went exactly to God’s plan and I can rest in that. Today I didn’t get to spend time with Jane on what would have been her third birthday, but Jane got to be at the feet of Jesus. That’s worth celebrating. I shed tears today, but Jane isn’t experiencing sorrow and I’m grateful.

I believe today went exactly to God’s plan and I can rest in that.

Jane, today you are exactly where God intended. My sorrow and joy is great, because my love for you is immense.

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

I’m not better, but I have hope.

It’s been a hard few days. Grief ebbs and flows, life itself shifts and moves in unpredictable ways. Sometimes I can pinpoint exactly what has made a day difficult and why we have experienced more grief. Like yesterday when Robert text me and said, “I just saw a patient that I hadn’t seen since February 24. I saw them last time at 4:19pm. It was the last patient I saw before I got your call.” Situations like that are bound to bring about big and difficult emotions. Sometimes, though, there seems to be no specific reason for our heavy grief, except that Jane is still gone and that is reason enough. I don’t know that people always understand that.

I didn’t know how long it would take, but we finally received the first, “Are you better yet?” question. To be fair people may wonder this to themselves, but had yet to actually voice it out loud to us. I knew it would come eventually and it seems that almost four months is the time. Robert, providentially, received and answered the question. I felt my flesh and anger rise up. Am I not grieving on your time table?! Should I be better?! Am I being dramatic?! Robert was much more gracious in his response and I’m thankful the Holy Spirit bridled my own tongue.

If you are wondering, we aren’t “better”. But we are also not without hope. 1 Thessalonians 4:13 was a verse shared with us repeatedly early on after Jane’s death. I appreciated the sentiment, but I wasn’t ready to “mourn differently”. I felt grieved and sorrowful and it felt as if I were being told to rejoice, get over it and count my blessings. In the moment, it felt harsh. But I realize now that I have always mourned differently. The verse doesn’t mean we “suck it up and move on”. It doesn’t mean we never grieve or lament. We can have tears and hard days, but we ultimately know where our hope is found and that is why we do not grieve like the rest of mankind.

Brothers, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.

1 Thessalonians 4:13

The photo at the top of this post popped up in my photo memories today from two years ago. In my biased, mommy opinion, Jane’s eyes were one of her most beautiful features. They were bright blue at birth and seemed to get brighter everyday. I had the unfortunate experience of seeing those same eyes lifeless. I’ve told Robert how thankful I am that he didn’t have to see that. Please hear me, I am not trying to be dramatic, but that fact is a hard thing to face as a mother. It is horrific and tragic to lose a child. This side of eternity I will never be completely better because of it , but I have a firm hope that one day my heart will be better, fully restored, because I will stand in the presence of my Savior.

Two days after Jane passed away I received the following message from a woman I didn’t know very well.

Casey, I do not know you or your husband that well, but I did have the blessing of knowing Jane. I kept her on Wednesday nights, first as a baby and then as a toddler. We called her sweet baby Jane because she was just so adorable and snuggly! The thing that impressed me most is how her eyes would light up when you all would come to pick her up! She especially had eyes for her father. Can you even imagine how much those beautiful blue eyes lit up as she fell into the arms of her Heavenly Father? My prayer is that His peace that passes all understanding will envelope your family as you endure this unthinkable tragedy. I will continue to lift your family up in prayer. I am thankful for the short time I was able to love on Jane!

Today George told me, “I think Jane’s eyes are still blue in heaven. ” I smiled at him and said, “I do too buddy, but I think they are probably brighter than we could even imagine.” Just two days after losing Jane and seeing the brightness of her eyes dimmed, I treasured this woman’s message. It was encouraging. It was a reminder that I don’t grieve like those without hope.

We may never be able to fit into society’s expectations of us ever again. We may cry too much or seem too dramatic. We never be better enough or have moved on enough to please others. Frankly, I hope we don’t fit in. I’m not meant for this world anyway. We have joy and we have hope. We grieve and we lament. We don’t have to pick sides. One day my own eyes will grow dim on this earth, but they will shine brighter than ever before in the presence of my Heavenly Father. That’s the day I’m living for, that is where my gaze is fixed.

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.

Finality is Sure

Finality is sure and right now it feels heavy.

While we are obviously living a life we could not have anticipated just three and a half months ago, there have still been so many more surprises and pain lurking in unexpected places. The early days after Jane’s death were thick with the fog of heartache and devastation. I remember thinking that once the funeral was over and once our family left there would be a finality and emptiness to it all. In some ways I longed for the finality and in others I dreaded the reality that would come with it.

In some ways I longed for the finality and in others I dreaded the reality that would come with it.

Truthfully, our life was permanently altered on the evening of February 24th. That was the day Jane died and that was final. She was no longer with us and the timing of her funeral or headstone placement would not change that fact. So while it doesn’t matter when her room changes, because it doesn’t change the fact that she is gone, it is a painful reminder of the truth. There are many different events that have taken place that seem to scream in our face “Your daughter is gone!” These things always feel heavy and they always reiterate a finality to the truth that took place just 14 weeks ago.

This week I have been pathetically trying to get ready for the arrival of our baby. She will be here in less than five weeks and I have never been more unprepared to welcome a child into our home. With many thanks to dear friends who have lavished us with love, support, and many practical baby items, I am slowly trying to prepare a place in our home for Lucy. Last night I started folding baby clothes and I was reminded of just a few weeks earlier when I did the final load of Jane’s laundry. That was a heavy and final moment. Last week I packed away Jane’s clothes. It was a horrible reminder of the reality we are living. 2T, the largest size of clothes that would grace Jane’s body. After I finished folding Lucy’s baby clothes, I started to swap out diapers. Size 5 diapers sat in an unused pile next to a new package of newborn diapers. I just stared at them for a long time with tears streaming down my face. Jane was ready to be potty trained, but I put it off. The diapers wouldn’t have been used anyway. But these were just more cruel reminders. More waves of finality.

A few weeks ago, Robert and I finally received Jane’s death certificate. I read the entire report, as if expecting to find a variant of information. Instead I found the truth, the finality we were already aware of on February 24. Date of birth and date of death. It was all information I knew and none of it had changed. There is an overwhelming sense of being mocked and reminded that in fact our daughter is gone and she will not return. These are the things I didn’t expect. The little things and the big things that remind us of the hurt of loss, as if we would ever be able to ignore the absence of our daughter.

I’m sure there will come a day when there won’t be anymore “final” moments. Jane’s things will have all been put away, the headstone has been in place for weeks, the bills to pay for death will come to an end and we won’t even be experiencing our “firsts” without Jane anymore. In a way, that brings just as much sadness and grief. If, Lord willing, we reach a day when we have been without Jane longer than we ever had Jane. That will be it’s own devastating reality.

Today I called the cemetery, a conversation that has been waiting since February. When we woefully picked a burial plot for Jane, the kind man helping us said he would reserve several of the plots to her right and left, in case we wanted to purchase those in the future. I called to tell them that for the time being we would just like to purchase two additional plots, one for myself and one for Robert. It seems incredibly morbid to think about a burial plot in your thirties, but there again, Jane was only two. The man on the phone was kind. He said he had been the one to help us the day we picked the original plot. I apologized for not remembering his name and he told me not to worry about it, he understood. He then told me when and where I could pay for the two additional plots. I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know who holds the future. Mine and Robert’s days are ordained, just as Jane’s days were ordained.

It would seem our highest priority is life preservation and comfort, when in fact we will all meet the same fate.

I’ve realized how very little we think about the reality of death in our society and in the church. Through the cloak of optimism we deceive ourselves of the reality that faces us all. Even though we are familiar with the apostle Paul’s words, “For me to live is Christ but to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) We live a vastly different way of life. It would seem our highest priority is life preservation and comfort, when in fact we will all meet the same fate. We will all have a final day. I don’t know when that day will be, but I am determined to not only live well, but to die well too. My prayer is that my mind and my heart are so absolutely fixed on things above that the life I live on this earth will not be wasted. I hope that the finality of my life will be received as the grace that it is and that I can stand before my Lord and hear “Well done.” I don’t desire an easy life, I desire a fruitful life.

I don’t desire an easy life, I desire a fruitful life.

The finality of Jane’s life on this earth happened many weeks ago, and the fact hasn’t changed. We are merely receiving painful reminders of a truth already come to pass. I am not often thankful for the sorrow, but I am grateful for the change of perspective. I know where my fate lies and I know that it was sealed by the blood of Jesus. I know that while Jane will not return to us, we will one day go to her. (2 Samuel 12:23) Do you know what your final day will hold? Do you know for certain what finality awaits you? Do you know that there is sure hope and salvation in Jesus? If not, I hope you will meet Jesus today and let Him hold securely the finality you will one day face.

Broken Offerings

My children are gatherers, especially when outside. For years I have been accepting offerings of broken sticks, pieces of acorns, squashed dandelions, fragile leaves and the occasional bug. Some gifts are beautiful in their own way, but most are broken, perishable and often a little sad. The offerings themselves are not what I love. The thoughtful hearts and sincere love is what I cherish, much like our Father in heaven.

Romans 12:1 says “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God- this is your spiritual act of worship.” My spiritual act of worship, my broken and grief ridden body is to be offered to the Lord.

Life looks different for us right now, but we aren’t the only ones. The ways in which I was used to serving the Lord, my community and even my family has drastically changed in the last couple of months. There are many reasons for that, though grief is at the top of the list. Everyday my emotions are different, even though most days look the same. We are also in the midst of societal changes. Church, work, school and life in general have taken on a vastly different appearance since the pandemic swept over us. So what do I gather and what do I offer the Lord? I offer what I have, what He has already given me.

So what do I gather and what do I offer the Lord? I offer what I have.

Some days all that I have to offer is lament. A few days ago, while the kids were resting quietly in their rooms, I sat on the couch unable to control my tears and sobs. I was then overcome with frustration, because nothing specifically seemed to have pushed me into a new sea of sorrow. But here I sat, feeling completely out of control, helpless against emotions and broken. I knew I needed to offer this to the Lord, but I couldn’t even find words for my own personal lament. So I opened the Bible and allowed it’s words to become my own.

I read aloud Job 16:6 which says, “Yet if I speak, my pain is not relieved; and if I refrain, it does not go away. Surely, O God, you have worn me out; you have devastated my entire household.” I continued, Job 16:16 “My face is red with weeping, deep shadows ring my eyes; yet my hands have been free of violence and my prayer is pure.” Job 17:7 “My eyes have grown dim with grief; my whole frame is but a shadow.” Job 17:11 “My days have passed, my plans are shattered, and so are the desires of my heart.” The words of Job became my own and they were honest. I then finished my lament by reading Psalm 116:1-2 “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.” That was the offering I could give. It was fragile and it was broken, but it was also sincere and filled with trust in the Lord.

The words of Job became my own and they were honest.

Some days I press on to the glory of God, and monotonous tasks become my living sacrifice. I recently told my parents that while it was difficult to find the desire or energy to perform daily tasks, I was also grateful for them. Three weeks after my daughter’s death, our world went into quarantine. A week prior to social isolation, if I had been falling behind with laundry, I could have called forty different women and they would have been at our home to take care of all of our needs. Suddenly I was devoid of the privilege of community inside our home, offering tangible help. In ways, this has been a blessing. I have been given the gift of motherhood and there are still precious souls that reside in my home who are in need of care. I am also a wife, daughter and friend. I have people to care for, laundry to be cleaned, meals to be cooked, school to be taught and other sometimes monotonous tasks to be performed. There is time for grief, but there is not a time for self pity.

There is time for grief, but there is not a time for self pity.

There is an interesting story in the middle of Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 24 we read the account of the death of Ezekiel’s wife. The Lord tells Ezekiel that “the delight of Ezekiel’s eyes”, his wife, is about to be taken away. The Lord also tells Ezekiel that he will not be given the right to typical mourning practices. Ezekiel says in verse 18, “So I spoke to the people in the morning, and in the evening my wife died. The next morning I did as I had been commanded.” I realize Ezekiel’s story is not the same as mine. The Lord clearly commanded Ezekiel to refrain from mourning, which is unique and not necessarily a pattern for believers (see John 11:35 and Acts 8:2). I do think that I have to be careful to guard against self pity and remember the things which God has called me to do. Sometimes the offering I can give is working to the glory of God and doing the next thing. It is an offering that is ordinary and straightforward.

Some days, even in the midst of sorrow and grief, I can offer true thanksgiving. Our perspective was eternally altered on the evening of February 24th. Things I once easily took for granted, I now recognize as good gifts from the Father. The good news of the gospel is enough to merit thanksgiving for all time. The unmerited blessings of family, friends, community, health, shelter and sustenance sparks praise. The fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control is cause for gratitude daily.

Psalm 40:1-3 says “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.” God has given us a new song. Sometimes it is a melodious orchestration of praise and sometimes it is a monotone hum of recognition. But we offer it back, beautiful or broken, to the Lord.

We offer it back, beautiful or broken, to the Lord.

I can only offer back what God has already given me. In the eyes of my heavenly Father, I’m sure that most of my offerings appear much like the fragile leaves and squashed dandelions from my children. Fragile, broken and a little sad. Thankfully, God sees the heart. I rejoice that I can give God my sincere, imperfect body as a living sacrifice and know it is pleasing to him. So I give what I have and know that God can redeem even my broken offerings.

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.