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.

I Want Less

“So what are you hoping has changed since this time last year? What differences do you want in your life?” They were thoughtful questions from my dearest friend who is truly gifted in asking questions and even better at genuinely listening to answers. I knew the answer but struggled to articulate it. “I don’t want to add. I want less.” That’s how my answer came out, but after some thought, that’s exactly what I meant. Grief, loss and a pandemic stripped my family utterly bare last year. Slowly, the Lord is gathering us back and clothing us with fresh garments. The scars remain and the sadness dwells in our home, yet we are growing and learning. And it’s true, I don’t want to add, I want less.

But the temptation and the guilt are present. As we drove to worship with our church on Sunday morning, I told my husband, “I know it’s not true, but it feels like we aren’t doing anything for church anymore.” We no longer teach a Sunday school class, for many different reasons. I don’t feel comfortable caring for large groups of children anymore. We don’t greet people at the door, sing on stage, pass an offering plate, nothing “behind the scenes” or any of the kindhearted volunteer work that is generally considered serving. My sweet husband kindly reminded me of the things we are doing and truths I already knew, the most important being that through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are striving to “do all things to the glory of God” even the seemingly mundane.

My personality type leans towards legalism and a works based ideology. I like lists and schedules. I thrive having a plan and I don’t rest well. While we aren’t a family that has ever been constantly on the go, I am the person that doesn’t say no very often. I take that back, I say no to a lot of things, but usually the wrong things. People generally ask me to do things, in part, because I often say yes. Need a helper? Sure. Volunteer? Ok. Something completely outside of my gifting, but still a need? Count me in.

This was me and then an interesting thing happened. There was no one asking me for anything and there was nothing that needed to be done. When you lose a child, people catch on pretty fast that “now’s not a great time to ask them for something.” And rightfully so, because I couldn’t have done anything. Early on, a kind woman reminded me to accept the help people were offering. “It’s ok,” she said, “you’ll be the helper again one day.” It was kind and such an encouragement. At that point, we were surviving and that was ok. Then came a pandemic and no one needed me to do the traditional things, because the traditional things weren’t happening. This was not only ok, but a gift. Now before I go any further, I want to be clear that people asking for help or volunteers is not wrong. It is no one else’s fault that I felt compelled to do so much. I also do not believe that God was trying to teach me a lesson by ushering forth a pandemic or taking my daughter. That would be incredibly small minded and arrogant. I do believe that God is gracious and sometimes allows us to grow and learn from even the most tragic circumstances.

The expectations are returning. The schedules are getting full. We are adding and we aren’t settling for less. It’s not what I want.

Fast forward a year and a handful of months. I sense it, do you? The expectations are returning. The schedules are getting full. We are adding and we aren’t settling for less. It’s not what I want. I want to take time to talk to the grandmother at swim lessons. I want to learn that she is concerned for her son’s safety at his job. I want to hear her and be able to offer hope if possible. I want to go to the library with my kids, only to discover there is a magician performing a show. I want to enjoy watching the amazement on my kid’s faces and never look to see how long our trip is becoming. I want to read my Bible for the sheer love of God and what He has to say, not to check a box on a reading plan. I want to pray because I have the privilege of sitting at the feet of God and communing with him, not simply voice a laundry list of requests. I want to serve others out of love, not obligation.

Jesus doesn’t want to add to our burden, he wants to lighten it.

Some will protest that I am coming from a point of privilege. That I can’t possibly understand what your schedule demands of you. How could I know what it is like being a single mom working three jobs? Or someone caring for chronically ill parents? What must it be like to have a special needs child that demands your constant care and attention? You are right. I can’t know and I won’t pretend that I can relate. But I would like to take the time to listen and try to understand. There have been so many times in the last year I have felt that people just couldn’t understand my suffering, or my pain. Truthfully, most can’t and I’m grateful for that. But Jesus knows. He knows my heart and life and he knows yours too. And Jesus doesn’t want to add to our burden, he wants to lighten it.

Matthew 11:28 says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” What a beautiful promise. His yoke is easy and his burden light. We aren’t meant to constantly be stacking on more and more, but letting go and following Christ. Of course to follow Jesus, means to live like Jesus, but that’s another post for another day.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

Margin. It’s a bit of a buzzword. The idea of allowing time and space for rest, contentment, joy and above all for the Holy Spirit to move and work. I want to create space for what Jesus has for me and far less of what others might be promoting. Less obligation, less expectations, less scheduled serving and less stress. And I guess I do want to add more. I hope that the Lord adds more joy, more peace, more patience, more humility, more kindness and more self-control. I hope that Jesus will lead me to serve him and others in the ways he has gifted me to serve and that I will be a blessing to others, not a burden. I want to add rest, true rest, that can only come from Jesus and I want far less of what this world has to offer.

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.

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