Jane Loved Church, An Open Letter to Church Preschool Volunteers

Dear Faithful Preschool Volunteer (or soon to be volunteer),
You come every Sunday; sanitizing toys, updating phone numbers of parents, sing Jesus Loves Me, rock a crying baby, change diapers or help the potty training child. Your service can be thankless and far less glamorous than the Sunday School teacher who leads a class full of middle-aged adults. You rarely get a chance to share a cohesive Bible lesson and rarely get to sit down. But I see you and I want to say thank you.

I have five children and they have all graced the preschool department of our church. Some of them excitedly ran to their class and some needed to be walked, rocked, and occasionally a parent called. My fourth child, Jane, passed away at two and a half years old. Two days before her funeral I was tasked with writing what we would like to say about her and her life. The first words that ran through my grief-stricken mind and graced the page were: Jane loved church. It was true and it was also fitting that our preschool director should read what I had written during the funeral.

At only two, Jane loved going to church. She never sat in the sanctuary and she never heard a sermon. She never took part in a well-planned Sunday School lesson and she never passed an offering plate. She didn’t walk an aisle or share prayer requests. Jane still loved church. She loved seeing her teachers and she loved playing with her friends. Jane knew that good gifts come from God, even if those gifts were just goldfish crackers. Jane learned the song Jesus Loves Me not long after she began talking, and we played a video of her singing that song at her funeral. Jane knew Jesus loved her, and she knows it far better now than any of us. It was you that helped grow Jane’s love for church and God. Thank you.

Jane knew that good gifts come from God, even if those gifts were just goldfish crackers.

I know, and so do you, that it is a parent’s responsibility and honor to raise a child in the way they should go. In our home, we pray and strive to point our children to Jesus seven days a week. We want our children to love God, and we also want them to love others and His church. The church isn’t lights and music. It isn’t the sermon or the announcements. The church isn’t the programs or the traditions. The church is the body of Christ. The church is God’s family. The church is you. And for a couple of hours every Sunday morning, you love children and point them to Jesus in seemingly small yet profound ways. Thank you.

The week that Jane died we had an influx of people in our home. People brought meals, cleaned, entertained our surviving children, prayed, and many helpful things that I will never know this side of eternity. Many of those gracious people were preschool volunteers who didn’t know me very well but knew and loved my children. On our wall, we have three posters hanging with handprints of my childrens’ church classmates with the Bible verse, “A friend loves at all times.” They were the idea of a preschool volunteer and delivered to heartbroken siblings just a week after losing their sister. Thank you.

Many of those gracious people were preschool volunteers who didn’t know me very well but knew and loved my children.

For our first Christmas after losing Jane, I was heartsick about having an empty stocking with her name. I asked for anyone that knew her or had fond memories of her to write a letter that could be placed in her stocking and read on Christmas morning. Her stocking was full, and at least half of the letters we received were from preschool volunteers. Thank you.

My fifth baby has terrible separation anxiety. And to be fair, I have a broken mother’s heart that doesn’t part with my children well anymore either. She’s been welcome in our worship service and adult Sunday School class for the last year. I’m grateful for the ease of keeping her with me and the understanding of those around me. But she likes to crawl and play, and I know she would be happier in class with children her age. So this morning I took her to the nursery. For two hours, servant-hearted preschool volunteers rocked her, pushed her in a stroller, and gave her cheerios. Because of you, she’s learning to love church like her big sister.

So while it can be a thankless and tiring job, please let me offer you this small piece of gratitude. We are called to follow Jesus, his example, and his commands. Matthew 19:14 says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When you joyfully take care of children each Sunday, you are following Jesus. Preparing crafts may not be glamorous and you probably won’t receive much praise this side of heaven for changing another diaper. But the Lord sees your heart and your service. And as a mother of children that love God and love church, I see you too. Your work and care are not lost on me. Thank you.

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.

An Answer Prepared

“Are these all your kids?” When out in public with my children, it’s a question I hear frequently. It’s a question that possibly has two different meanings. It usually means, “are you the mother of the children present?” The answer is yes. It sometimes means, “Do you have four children?” The answer is no and the answer is complicated.

How do I tell people how many children I have?

The day following Jane’s death I sat down with a woman that I love dearly. I grew up spending so much time in her home and learned so much from her that I affectionately call her my second mother. This dear woman has lost two children, a stillborn and an adult child. I had watched her walk these roads of suffering and now sitting on the couch with her I wept from the depths of my own similar sorrow. With a round pregnant belly, three children playing upstairs and one daughter being prepared for burial, I looked at the woman and sobbed, “How do I tell people how many children I have?” With grace, patience and a truly understanding demeanor, she squeezed my hand and said, “That’s hard. It’s still hard for me. You may find that the answer changes at different times and circumstances. I have always found that it is a way to tell others about Jesus.”

I have always found that it is a way to tell others about Jesus.

It’s true. I find the questions hard, because our loss hurts and it’s uncomfortable to invite strangers into personal pain. I also find that my answer changes. The truth that I have five children never changes, but there are times when I understand the answer that is being sought is that I am in fact the mother of those present. It isn’t the time to make others unnecessarily uncomfortable. Sometimes, I understand the question to mean how many children are in our family and will answer accordingly. Other times, my bold and truth telling children, will quickly correct and call any stranger’s attention to the fact that, “we have one more child, but she died.” No matter the situation, I have also learned that my second mother was correct. It is always a way to tell others about Jesus.

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.

1 Peter 3:15

1 Peter 3 has a lot to say about suffering and suffering to the glory of God. At some point in the last year I realized that in order to both best mentally prepare for questions that would come and honor the Lord, I needed to be prepared to give an answer. I will be the first to admit that for most of my life, I have not adequately given an answer for the hope I have in Christ to strangers. I was quick to sacrifice the truth for a laugh or answer with one word in order to save time. It’s not that I didn’t love Jesus or know my hope was anchored in Him, but unfortunately he wasn’t on the tip of my tongue and I was answering from my flesh instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to order my words. When asked how my day was going, I used to say things like “Fine” or “At least we’re all here” or “The kids are fed and alive, so we’re ok.” Even typing that last response now feels like acid poured over an open wound. Not only is that not the case for me anymore, it was never giving glory to God. I was never truthfully telling people how I was making it through the day. I confess, it used to irritate me when people made rude comments about how many children we have and I was quick to respond with a sarcastic joke and take a quick jab back. It was neither handled with gentleness or respect. It was also never giving an answer to the hope I have in Christ.

Now here I am, fielding uncomfortable questions, risking crying in the automotive repair shop and taking extra time for conversations at the library. Being humbled is difficult and painful, but also beautiful and holy. In my case, it has taken a horrible loss and tragedy to be honest and prepared to tell others about Jesus. I couldn’t offer a quick, sarcastic response even if I wanted. The lie would be too much and the shame consuming.

Being humbled is difficult and painful, but also beautiful and holy.

So how do I respond? It changes depending on the way the question is asked. It changes depending on what children are with me. Gratefully, I realize it changes because God is all knowing and the Holy Spirit will always have the right words for the right circumstance. But when asked how many children we have, my prepared answer is honest. If my kids don’t beat me to it, I generally respond by saying, “We have five children, but one of our little girls passed away last year.” At that moment, I immediately feel the ache in honesty, the pain in how much time has already transpired and the dismay in our reality. Usually, my response is met by discomfort by others and a quick apology. My flesh’s response would always be answering with a quick “It’s ok” and an attempt at making the other person feel better and less awkward. But that’s not true. It isn’t ok that Jane died. It also doesn’t answer to the hope I have in Christ.

So instead I say, “Thank you. We miss Jane terribly, but we are so thankful that God allowed us to be her family.”

Sometimes, this response is met with more painful questions. Other times, people excuse themselves to leave or change the subject. On really special occasions, the Lord ordains for me to generously share the hope I have in Jesus. Being generous with my story, in an honest, gentle and respectful manner is one way to honor God through suffering. And no matter what, being prepared to give an answer to the hope we have in Jesus should always be our first response.

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.

Recognizing the Miracle

Few people realize or know that before my career in motherhood I had a very brief career as a Registered Nurse. School wasn’t my favorite, but I knew it was a means to the end. The end being a career that would achieve financial independence. So in high school, when choosing a future vocation and schooling path, the answer seemed obvious and simple. Become a nurse.

It would be fair to say that I was never genuinely passionate about becoming a nurse or working as a nurse. I do love people and I enjoy taking care of people, but I know I lacked the passion that most nurses bring to their career. I enjoyed science growing up and blood didn’t make me nauseous. I knew I could get my associate’s degree in nursing, saving time and saving money. I also realized that I could get a good job anywhere in the country or possibly even the world. These were the deciding factors. Practical, yet lacking heartfelt desire.

When Robert and I got married, we moved to South Carolina for his medical residency program. I worked as a nurse in a newborn nursery and while I enjoyed my time there, I knew that wasn’t where the Lord desired me to be. I became a stay at home wife, before I ever became a stay at home mother. For quite a while I struggled with the shame of working hard towards something that I ultimately gave up. Why did I ever spend the time, money or energy working to become a nurse if I wasn’t going to actually work as a nurse? I learned then to trust God with my present and my future. I learned to find my identity in Christ and not a career or title.

I learned then to trust God with my present and my future. I learned to find my identity in Christ and not a career or title.

Though I haven’t worked as a nurse in many years, I still see so many of the benefits of my training. When Robert talks about medical ailments or certain aspects of his job, I understand, mostly, what he is talking about. When my kids have been sick or gotten hurt, I usually have an easier time remaining calm. I no doubt make an awesome bed and have perfectly mitered sheet corners. All of these small and seemingly insignificant things came from a past long ago as a nurse.

In the horrendous events of February 24th, I came face to face with the sovereignty of God. I found my daughter lying unconscious, called to her, checked her pulse and almost immediately began CPR. I didn’t have time to think about it in the moment, but later realized it had been more than ten years since I had performed CPR. I can also say that having to perform chest compressions on your own two year old at home is vastly different than performing chest compressions on a stranger in an emergency room where you work.

Ten years ago when I performed CPR on a stranger in a hospital I did not cry out to the Lord to save him. I admit, I’m not sure I even offered a silent prayer on his behalf. I’m not proud of that, but I confess to the reality. This time, when staring death in the face of my precious baby, I not only offered heart felt prayer, I cried out and begged for God to save her. I pleaded for a miracle. It would seem the miracle didn’t come.

I pleaded for a miracle. It would seem the miracle didn’t come.

To date, no one has told me, to my face, that the problem was a lack of faith on my part. Although I have heard that argument plenty of times throughout my life and even in the months after my daughter’s death. If I believe the Bible to be true, which I do, then this is clearly not the case. Matthew 17:20 says, “He (Jesus) replied, ‘Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, “Move from here to there” and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.’” I feel confident that most of my Christian life and most certainly on February 24th I had faith at least the size of a mustard seed.

I have seen the Lord move in magnificent ways through Scripture and even in my own life. I am not a cessationist, meaning that I don’t believe that miracles are a thing of the past and only belonged to the early church and the apostles. So the question is, why didn’t the Lord perform a miracle when I pleaded for Jane’s life? The answer was simple and revealed to me a couple of days after Jane’s death as well as a couple of days before her death.

Why didn’t the Lord perform a miracle when I pleaded for Jane’s life?

On Friday, February 21, just three days prior to Jane’s passing, a friend sent me a link to a Francis Chan sermon. Francis Chan, like usual, offered well communicated, convicting and encouraging truth. He also tends to hit on a lot of subjects and this instance was no different. I could tell when I finished watching that I had not gotten out of the message the same thing that my friend did, but something else stood out to me glaringly. It was the idea of how determined we are as humans to preserve our life. He spoke of a man who asked for Francis to pray for his healing. The man was a Christian and had cancer. When Francis asked why he wanted to be healed, the man replied that he hoped to live a longer life, seeing his adult children get married and ultimately living to see his grandchildren grow. I sat in my chair and critically thought, “wrong answer”. Thankfully, Francis Chan showed far more grace and presented truth to the man in a much more loving way.

Humans are determined to preserve their own life.

The problem with this idea and notion is that miracles are all about us, when in fact miracles are all about God. Wayne Grudem defines miracle for us in his book Systematic Theology. Dr. Grudem says, “A miracle is a less common kind of God’s activity in which He arouses people’s awe and wonder and bears witness to Himself.” Awe and wonder, bearing witness to God. Do I believe that God could have chosen to revive Jane? Yes. Do I believe that the miracle of raising her from the dead could have provoked awe and wonder bearing witness to God? Absolutely, but I’m afraid He wouldn’t have actually received much if any credit for her life.

You see, I knew almost immediately what the response would have been had Jane been healed and come home with us that evening from the hospital. Inevitably, people would have been thankful for her healing and grateful that “it all worked out”. But people would have also pointed to the fact that I knew CPR. People likely would have praised the first responders who arrived at our home in minutes. There would have been relief in the doctor and medical staff’s skills at the hospital. Unfortunately, I don’t think there would have been much mention of the God who had healed her. We probably wouldn’t even be talking about it now, seven months later. I think this is what would have been other’s response, and if I’m honest, it might have been my response too.

Since God did not choose to raise Jane and heal her, did He forgo His own glory in the situation? Absolutely not. I genuinely believe God has received more glory and acclaim through Jane’s short life on this earth and even in her death. As a mother, that is hard to say. As a follower of Christ, I know it is true. I have a desire for the Lord’s name to receive glory and honor. I desired that even the day Jane died. I would have loved for God to cause awe and wonder, bearing witness to His name through the miracle that could have transpired through healing, but that was not His way and I have to accept that. Isaiah 55:8-9 confirms this truth. “For my thoughts are not you thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” 

I genuinely believe God has received more glory and acclaim through Jane’s short life on this earth and even in her death. As a mother, that is hard to say. As a follower of Christ, I know it is true.

While I certainly asked for God to miraculously heal Jane on that Monday afternoon with an honest heart, pure faith and right motive, there was another honest and heartfelt prayer that had been prayed over Jane’s life. The prayer came from Scripture and was uttered by her own father every night when she went to bed. Robert would lightly stroke Jane’s hair and pray, “May the Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. May you sow good gospel seed for Christ.”

Until losing Jane, I hadn’t even realized how many plans and dreams I had for her. Some were never meant to be and some we have already seen come to fruition, even just a few days after her death. God has blessed, kept and shined His face upon Jane. He has been gracious to her and given her peace. We also know that through Jane’s life and even in her death good gospel seed has been sown. We have heard stories of the impact of Jane’s life. We have heard how the hard reality of her death has sparked awe and wonder in the Lord. Personally, as a family, we have been able to bear witness to the truth of Christ through the story He has given us to tell.

Who else could raise beauty from ashes? Of who else could it be said, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20) Only the God of miracles is capable of such wonders.

Only the God of miracles is capable of such wonders.

It was not wrong to pray for God’s healing of Jane. Just like it isn’t wrong to pray for the healing of many. But ultimately we have to accept the miracles that God does choose to perform. We have to check our heart and our motives when we present our requests before the Lord. We have to ask ourselves if we are really in the business of life preservation or if we want to see awe and wonder that bear witness to Jesus.

We have to ask ourselves if we are really in the business of life preservation or if we want to see awe and wonder that bear witness to Jesus.

Someone gifted me the book Be Still My Soul edited by Nancy Guthrie a few days after the funeral. It is a book composed of many different authors and their writings on suffering and the problem of pain. The entire book is filled with difficult and edifying truth, I would highly encourage it. One of the readings is from D.A. Carson and is entitled Dying Well. He tells a story of a woman who was in his church and was dying of cancer. The church came together to pray for her and her healing. He says that many confident and mighty prayers were prayed and then it was his wife’s turn to pray. His wife, who had almost lost her own life to cancer twice, prayed, “Heavenly Father, we would love it if you would heal Mary. But if it is not your will to heal her, teach her to die well. She is going to die anyway, and so if the time is now, teach her to die well. Give her a joy of the Lord. Give her a heritage of godly faith, with one foot firmly planted in heaven, so that her husband and children will be stamped by it, and will look to Christ. We don’t ask that she have an easy time, but ask that she be so full of grace, people will see Christ in her.” Carson went on to say that you could have heard a pin drop in the room.

The writing was both encouraging to me and horribly convicting. Just like the Francis Chan sermon I had listened to just three days before Jane’s death, I was confronted by my own selfish desires for God to abide by my will. It is not an easy thing to pray for God’s will be done and truly mean it. It certainly is no easier for me now to pray that way. While I don’t think it is wrong to pray for healing and miracles, I have been convicted of how little I think of the Lord’s place in my desires.

Instead of praying “God, be with or bless them or heal her” with an after thought of “if it be your will.” Shouldn’t I really be praying, “God you are great and your ways are higher. I desire for your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Use me and allow me to be part of making your name know. If you would be so gracious to heal this person, I would be so thankful. But no matter what your plan, I will praise your name.” I believe when I pray seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, I am more apt to recognize the miracles He performs everyday.

I believe when I pray seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, I am more apt to recognize the miracles He performs everyday.

February 24th was not the first and will not be the last time that I cry out to God in haste, with pleading and fervent faith. God heard me that day and He hears me anytime I present my requests before Him. I am thankful for that and I can rest in that. We are still living a life where we have witnessed miracles, but I often times wish that we were living in the shadow of a different miracle. My flesh is quick to battle the Spirit, thankfully the Lord is patient.

One day in March I was watching my oldest three children play outside. The weather was pleasant and we hadn’t experienced rain for the first time in several weeks. The signs of Spring were starting to show and the kids were enjoy every minute of it. I stared longingly out the window, feeling the pain of loss. Jane was absent from the scene and it hurt badly. My thoughts drifted to the story of Abraham and Isaac. I felt my flesh rise up and say, “But you provided a ram for Abraham!” Instantly, the Lord replied, “I provided a ram for you, His name is Jesus.” I repented.

The incarnation of Jesus as God-man and Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the central and most important miracle in all history. The sacrifice of Jesus and the redemption He alone can offer to you and me, is the greatest miracle we could ever hope for.

The incarnation of Jesus as God-man and Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the central and most important miracle in all history. The sacrifice of Jesus and the redemption He alone can offer to you and me, is the greatest miracle we could ever hope for. God has provided a ram for me, He provided it for Jane too. That is the miracle I must recognize. That is the miracle that should cause so much humble praise and adoration, I should never want again. God is a God of miracles. I believed that as a small child when I put my trust in Christ. I believed that in my short time working in a newborn nursery, where the miracle of life was constantly on display. I believed that while crying out to God in the midst of chest compressions and I believe it today with an empty bedroom down the hall. 

“Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.” Psalm 77:13-14

Living for the Wrong Year

The days are busy and the to do list never seems to get smaller. My laundry is piled high and my grief is still heavy.

Next week will mark three years since I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. That day is also known as Jane’s birthday. It’s looming on the calendar and I have such mixed emotions. 2020 has been a terrible year for many and our family is certainly no exception, but I’ve found myself with dangerous thinking lately. I was convicted recently when I realized just how often I was saying things like “If I can just finish the laundry.” “Once I get on top of the to do list, things will be easier.” “After we figure out what to do for Jane’s birthday, maybe we will have a respite from such intense grief.” Or the most popular sentiment, “Surely 2021 will be better.” It’s as if I believe that when we ring in the new year all the plexiglass will come down and life will be normal. That’s not true, of course. My daughter won’t be back. We will still likely be dealing with the ramifications of an election year, racial injustice and a pandemic, just to name a few things.

It’s as if I believe that when we ring in the new year all the plexiglass will come down and life will be normal.

I’m convicted because this survival mindset isn’t biblical, it’s futile. Jesus didn’t say, “In 2020 you will have trouble, but take heart, 2021 will be better.” No, Jesus said “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Friends, if my hope is found in a date on the calendar, I will be disappointed. If my peace is found in a to do list completed, I will be let down. And if my grief is seemingly eased by time and not the God who holds time in his hand, I’m grasping at straws. 2020 may have been a terrible year for us, but for some their terrible year has already taken place or is yet to come. In this world we will have trouble. Our story may not get better in the world’s terms. Our suffering could get worse. But we have eternity to look towards. We have a Redeemer that bears our burden and doesn’t push it to a later date.

We have a Redeemer that bears our burden and doesn’t push it to a later date.

I confess that I’ve been living for the wrong year lately. I’ve placed a futile hope in things that cannot deliver. There is only one that can give us the peace and the hope we crave, and he has already overcome the world.

Missing the Rainbows

Tis the season for late summer rain. The kind of intense rain that pops up out of nowhere in the midst of full sunlight. It is both beautiful and can instantly ruin any outdoor event. One of the best parts of summer showers are the almost guaranteed rainbows that accompany them. Lately, I’ve noticed several people talking about or posting pictures of rainbows. Some have even seen the lucrative double rainbow. (I know there is an entire sermon to be preached on the subject of social media and the horrendous comparison that comes with it, but that’s not what I want to write about, today.)

After seeing so many pictures of rainbows I started looking through my own pictures. Normally, I would also have my own evidence of such beauty in the skies. However, not surprisingly, I don’t have any pictures of rainbows. In fact, I don’t have many pictures outdoors lately. The only picture of the outside world I had from the last few weeks was a picture of fog. The cynic in me thought, “that seems about right.”

I’m living in the fog and I can’t see the rainbows.

Yesterday afternoon I told Robert that lately I have resonated with Job more than I did right after Jane’s death. I also echo the sentiments of Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes. “Everything is meaningless.” Please don’t worry, I’m not suffering postpartum depression and I certainly feel safe, but it has become easy to look at life through the fog and wonder what I’m even doing anymore. What am I supposed to do? Solomon tells us at the end of Ecclesiastes, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” [1]

Fear God and keep his commandments. What are his commandments? Jesus tells us, to love God and love others. [2] So I know what to do, why is it so challenging right now? Because I’m living in the fog and I can’t see the rainbows. In the midnight hours I started pondering this truth. Thought about the rainbow and what it means. A covenant. A promise. I thought of Noah and his family. [3] I wondered if maybe Noah’s wife was busy and some how missed seeing the rainbow. I wondered if they constantly looked to the skies for a rainbow in the future, looking for some encouragement of the promise God made. I wondered if when the rainbow wasn’t present they thought maybe the promise wasn’t present either.

I confess, I haven’t seen any rainbows lately, both literally and figuratively. I know Jesus is near and I know he is faithful, but a lot of his promises feel distant and invisible. But the good news is that God is keeping his promises whether or not we see the sign of those promises. Imagine the foretelling of Jesus arrival. Hundreds of years, a promised Messiah and for so long, no sign of him. Did God forget his promise? Did God change his mind? Of course not. God fulfills his promises because he is holy, gracious and just. The fulfillment of God’s promises do not depend on me recognizing them. The Word of God does not depend on my interpretation or acknowledgment. Praise the Lord!

The fulfillment God’s promises do not depend on me recognizing them. The Word of God does not depend on my interpretation or acknowledgment.

Maybe you haven’t been seeing rainbows lately either. Be encouraged friends, God keeps his promises. He keeps his promise on clear days, in the storms and in the fog. Missing the rainbow doesn’t mean we have missed the promise. Jesus is the sign and we can always look to him regardless of our current conditions.

[1] Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

[2] Matthew 22:37-40

[3] Genesis 9:12-17

Be Content

Exactly six months ago I was sitting in the kitchen when Robert came inside to inform me that he thought Jane had broken her leg. She wasn’t crying, but she looked mad and inconvenienced. The next day we took her to Robert’s clinic where an Xray confirmed that she had, in fact, fractured her leg and would need to be in a cast for at least two weeks. The amount of time that has since passed, the events transpired and the reality we are currently living seem absolutely baffling. How was that just six months ago?

The contrast of our current circumstances to those of the beginning of the year look as different as an alternate universe. I don’t think I’m alone in living a different 2020 than was expected. Our situation is unique, but we aren’t the only ones living in confusion, disappointment and vastly changed plans.

Recently, I confided in a friend that I would like to meet someone that was living the life they always hoped for, was comfortable and had no reason to lament. I stopped myself mid sentence, I realized I had been that person. Six months ago, my biggest inconvenience was needing to carry my two year old around everywhere because she had a full leg cast. Six months ago, I was comfortable and happy. Life was predictable and consistent. Now life is not comfortable or predictable. I look to the future with caution and pray for courage.

Last night, Robert and I sat in Jane’s room and talked about the future. We both agreed that our longing for heaven and eternity is greater than it has ever been in our life. We talked about how as much as we long for eternity, we know God has us here for a purpose. Suffering is part of the Christian life, we knew that before, but we are experiencing it now. To think of how much time I may have to remain on this earth, bearing the weight of loss and suffering seems staggering. But I’m also grateful that I’m not living in the same superficial comfort that I was six months ago. Waiting is hard, but seeking contentment is holy.

Waiting is hard, but seeking contentment is holy.

The painful and difficult turns this years has brought us is not something we hoped for, but it isn’t to be wasted either. Some of the small things I once recognized as inconveniences, I now see as blessings. What I wouldn’t give to carry Jane around everywhere today. I’m so grateful that cast six months ago gave me the opportunity.

Early on I grimaced at the verse in Romans 8:18 that says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” It was hard to read 2 Corinthians 4:17, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” The comparison of suffering now to just six months ago is enough to knock the wind out of my lungs. Our troubles don’t feel light, nor momentary. But if the truth is that it cannot be compared with what is to come and it is in fact momentary in the grand scheme of future glory and eternity, then I should be living with so much hope and expectancy.

Romans 8 goes on to say in verse 25 “But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” And 2 Corinthians 4:18 tells us how to wait, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” I may not ever be “comfortable” again, truthfully I hope I’m not. The comfort of this world is a dangerous. The temporary comfort that steals my gaze and attention is false and without hope. My comfort should only be found in what cannot been seen. May I learn to be content, but never comfortable in this world again.

May I learn to be content, but never comfortable in this world again.

When the year began, I couldn’t have anticipated how the next six months would unfold. I wouldn’t have dreamed that entering the new year with a full leg cast on my two year old would not only be the least of my concerns, but would in fact be a blessing in disguise. The contrast of a life lived six months ago to today is staggering, but praise God that “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

Perhaps your year has not turned out like you expected. Maybe, like me, it is easy to look at the uncomfortable surroundings and situations that have transpired and feel defeated. Be encouraged, we were made for more than this. Comparison is the thief of joy. You will end up prideful or discontent. Don’t compare the year you hoped you would have to the one you are actually living. Instead keep your gaze fixed on the unseen. Keep your eyes set on the Author and perfecter of our faith. Release comfort for the sake of contentment. I don’t want my suffering to be wasted, I want it to achieve an eternal glory.

Comparison is the thief of joy. You will end up prideful or discontent. Don’t compare the year you hoped you would have to the one you are actually living.

I don’t know what the next six months will hold for me, my family or this world, but I trust God. He is sovereign and He is good. That is more than enough to merit contentment.

The Packed Cannot Be Carried

Many years ago, before having children, I picked up a new hobby in the form of sewing. It was slow going at first and I still don’t claim any expertise. With the arrival of children, my sewing has focused predominantly on bibs, burb cloths and children’s clothes. I don’t sew as much as I once did, because time simply doesn’t allow for it, but I have faithfully made a special quilt for each new baby in our family. The quilt doesn’t get used much, but the purpose of a keepsake is fulfilled. Lucy’s quilt has taken me the longest to make, because grief doesn’t work on a predictable or productive time table.

With the impending arrival of one child and the recent departure of another child, I have been faced with the glaring reality that not only are our days numbered but also that we do not know the number of the days. I do not want to waste time and I want to be ever so cautious about what I make with my hands and where my treasure is being stored. This morning I read the 6th chapter of 1 Timothy with my children. We spoke about money and treasure. While money is a moral neutral, the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10) . We paused and spent time pondering verses 6-7, which says, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.”

Am I storing things in the attic or eternity?

The kids understand that when Lucy is born, she will bring nothing into this world. They giggled as they talked about babies being born naked, crying and unable to even hold up their head. The kids also noted that Jane didn’t get to take any of her favorite toys with her when she died. I know Jane took nothing, because we packed away her stuffed animals, washed her sheets and took down her bed over the weekend. It was another reminder of where my treasure is found. Am I storing things in the attic or eternity?

Sunday, I packed the baby quilt I made for Jane into a box and I wept bitterly. It felt like a second burial. George came in the room and asked a now familiar question, “Mommy, are you having sad tears or happy tears?” I looked at his sweet face of concern and told the truth, “both.” I told George how much a I missed Jane and how missing her made me so sad. I also told George how happy it made me to know that Jane is with Jesus and while she doesn’t have her baby quilt and stuffed animals anymore, she does have all that she needs. Things in this world that can be packed, cannot be carried into eternity.

Things in this world that can be packed, cannot be carried into eternity.

I’m thankful for the quilts that have been made in our home. They hold sweet memories and bring about praise to my Heavenly Father who gives good and perfect gifts. I am also painfully aware of what my hands are now making. Am I storing up treasures on earth? Or am I investing my resources, time and heart into things eternal? Wouldn’t it be a shame to find that my daughter did more for the Kingdom of God in her two years of life than I have done in my 32 or 60 or 80 or however many the Lord gives me on this earth? While Paul tells Timothy that we come into the world with nothing and will leave with nothing, he also bestows this truth in 1 Timothy 6:18-19, “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

Lucy will come into this world with nothing. Jane left this world the way we all will one day, with nothing. This constant reminder in our home is painful and often tastes bitter, but it is also an unbelievable grace. It is a reminder that we all need. Are we living well, so that we might die well? Am I living in light of eternity as a temporary sojourner or am I living for the here and now, where I’m not even promised tomorrow? I want to take hold of the life that is truly life, don’t you?

Are we living well, so that we might die well?

Many things in our home will be left behind by our children and ourselves. Many things have already been left behind. We want to hold tightly to the glory that is to come, to the treasure that could not be brought or bought in this world. We want to spend our time wisely, investing in eternity. I don’t want to waste a single minute, because my minutes are numbered and I don’t know the number. I want to live out the knowledge that things packed cannot be carried.

The Story I Didn’t Want

Two years ago, on my 30th birthday, I told Robert that I wanted to write a book before I turned 40. He smiled, skeptical and encouragingly, and asked what kind of book I planned to write. I didn’t have a solid answer. I thought a cookbook would be fun, maybe even a Bible study or a children’s book. I knew that I enjoyed writing and I especially enjoyed reading. Writing a book seemed like the perfect, unrealistic and somewhat silly “goal” I wanted for the next decade of life.

I do genuinely love to read, mostly because I love stories. Several years ago, I started making a goal of how many books I would read each year. The goal has grown and evolved, mostly it has blessed me. Reading books and stories out loud to our children is one of my favorite activities. To be sure, I grow tired of reading Elmo’s ABCs over and over again, yet I still love the opportunity to read to my children. I cherish this past time even more now that I have one less child to climb into my lap for a story. We read board books, we read picture books, we read biographies and we especially love reading The Chronicle’s of Narnia. Stories are special.

For the past few days I have been wrestling with the reality of our own personal story. This is not the story I wanted to write. This is certainly not the story I wanted to live. I have had many precious souls encourage me to continue writing. Many people have let me know that something I have written has touched them personally, encouraged them or something else along those lines. I’m grateful for that, but I’m living a story and writing about a story that I did not ask for and I did not want.

This is not the story I wanted to write. This is certainly not the story I wanted to live.

What do we do with the story we didn’t want, but is ours any way? I’ve thought about this a lot in the last couple of days. While some assumed that the first few days and weeks after Jane’s death would feel surreal to us, I never found that to be the case. Everything has been terribly real. In fact, our reality has been glaring for 115 days now. “Surreal” has yet to play a part in our story, but as time marches forward our vision is a little less foggy. I find myself overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of sorrow and loss. With the help of the Holy Spirit, I constantly battle discontentment, anger and bitterness. I find myself thinking about how much I hate our current story.

Yesterday, a friend sent me a message to let me know she was praying and to ask how we were doing today. Again, I can’t say enough how much a I appreciate the parameter of time attributed to the question of how we are doing. It is much easier to be honest and clear with my response when time is framed definitively. I responded, “We’re doing ok. Not good, not bad. Content in the Lord, longing for heaven. Missing Jane and waiting for Lucy. Complex and simple, all at the same time.” It’s a strange story.

Our present life and circumstances are not surreal. They are complex and simple, all at the same time. What my life looked like exactly one year ago seems so foreign to me now. We have been given a story that we didn’t ask for and yet we are living it, for better or worse. I dare to assume that most people are living a life they didn’t anticipate. Perhaps it is exponentially sweeter than you hoped or perhaps you have experienced disappointment, heartache, loss or waiting without an answer.

Sharing our story publicly has opened my eyes to many people’s stories. People send us letters, emails, stop me in the grocery store or just around town. People are willing to share their stories with us, I believe in part because we have been willing to share our own story. Most of the stories I hear are stories of heartache and uncertainty. I hear about others who have loss children or spouses. I hear stories of adoptions fallen through, wombs empty, broken marriages and lost dreams. It’s heavy, but I feel honored that these people trust me with their story.

Knowing my own story and now hearing the stories of others, I grow more perplexed at how often we think we are in control of our own story. How could we possibly think that we alone are writing our narrative? This morning I was reading in Isaiah and I was reminded of the truth that God is writing our story. Isaiah 45:9 says, “Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘He has no hands?'”

I am the clay, how can I complain to the potter about what He is making? How can I, the written story, complain to the author? Instead of complain, I must comply. Lament is Biblical. Asking God questions and telling Him that I don’t understand my story is ok. But I cannot wallow in self pity because my story is not what I hoped it would be. If I know God and believe His Word to be true, then I know that He is the greatest author of all time. He writes masterpieces and they are full of redemption. Isaiah 46:4 says, “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”

How can I, the written story, complain to the author? Instead of complain, I must comply.

Now that we are living a story we didn’t choose, what can I do to honor the author? In the gospels we read the story of a man possessed by demons. Jesus heals the man and the man begs to go with Jesus. Luke 8:39 tells us Jesus’ response, “‘Return home and tell how much God has done for you.’ So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.” Believe me when I say that I would love nothing more than to be present with Jesus right now. However, for now, Jesus has given those of us on this earth a task. Go and tell how much God has done for you.

While our story is full of pain, heartache and loss, it is also full of mercy, grace, faithfulness and redemption. The fact is that Christ’s beauty is displayed all the more brightly in times of sorrow, suffering and the hard stories. It’s not always easy to come to terms with that each day, but I trust my God who is sovereign, holy and good. He is the perfect author, and I dare not doubt His capabilities to finish a story well. The unique quality of our author is that He is there from start to finish. He is the first and the last. (Isaiah 44:6; Revelation 22:13) He will never leave us or forsake us, even in the midst of the story (Deuteronomy 31:6; Hebrews 13:5).

God is the perfect author, and I dare not doubt His capabilities to finish a story well.

Maybe you are living a story you did not choose, that is hard and heart wrenching. I know how that feels and I know how easy it is to get lost in the day to day narrative. When the story gets difficult, I have to look to the author. He knows our burdens and He knows our story. It may not be the story I wanted to tell. It is definitely not the story I wanted to live, but by the grace of God I will tell everyone how much Jesus has done for me. I will tell the story of my author.