Silence is Loud

I have been convicted of many things since the loss of my daughter. My priorities, namely, became a glaring problem. My own comfort, happiness and selfishness are too high on the list of importance. I have been silent on many things in my life because it was uncomfortable, because I didn’t want to hurt feelings or say the wrong thing. There is truth to the statement, “If you aren’t sure what to say, don’t say anything at all.” I believe that. I also believe there are times when the Holy Spirit moves and you have something to say, but quench the Spirit in order to fit into society.

I lament the times I wish I had sent a personal note, a text message or picked up the phone and called someone, but instead remained silent. Maybe I wasn’t sure what to say, but I’m sure the message, “I love you and I care” would have been a well received message at the very least. I regret the instances when I let too much time pass and then felt it had been too long to say anything. In fact, it is never too late to do the right thing.

It is never too late to do the right thing.

We have an amazing community of friends, family and even strangers. I am so grateful and I praise the Lord for His providence. The evening that Jane died, our nearly quarter of a mile long driveway was full of first responders. It’s possible the entire sheriff’s department was at our house. I don’t know all of their names, but there are a few that I will literally never forget their face. They had a face of help, of compassion and they did their job well. I am forever grateful for those men and women. We have been loved on in countless ways. People have brought us food, prayed with and for us, sent encouraging notes, given to wonderful causes in Jane’s name, loved our children and loved us so well. It is a blessing and I don’t take it for granted. There have even been people that I have never met before that have been incredibly faithful to pray and offer encouragement. The goodness of strangers and people that I am barely acquainted with has blown me away.

My perspective has shifted and my ego has been stripped bare. I have been humbled. When people choose to not say anything, it can sometimes be more hurtful than saying a simple, “I care and I’m sorry for your loss.” I don’t expect to be the center of attention and I know our suffering and pain are minimal in comparison with most. It is our suffering and it is personal. I don’t expect everyone to understand and relate, but I certainly notice and appreciate those that have been willing to at the very least sit with us in our grief and heartache.

For the past several days I have been reading through 1 Timothy with our children. My children who have also experienced significant loss. My children who have had a perspective change without their asking for it. After we read the Bible, we pray. I have been floored by the wisdom, humility and courage that has come forth from my children’s mouth. My four year old has been praying, “Dear God, help me to fight the good fight.” My six year old prays, “God, please give me courage to stand up for what is right.” My eight year old has been praying against racism. By the time it is my turn to pray, I am often left without words.

“God, please give me courage to stand up for what is right.”

I have had to own up to the ways I have let complacency and apathy dictate my emotions, decisions and speech. I have prayed earnestly that any word that leaves my lips or is typed by my fingertips would be ordained by the Holy Spirit. Lately, that has called me to incredibly vulnerable spaces. I have had to pray, like Leah, “God please give me courage.” In bearing my grief, joy, suffering and loss, I am opening myself up to criticism, misunderstanding and ill will. But I have learned that silence is loud and sometimes silence is sin.

I have learned that silence is loud and sometimes silence is sin.

We have had faithful friends and strangers live out Romans 12:15 which says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” I want to be a faithful friend and stranger too. Right now and for a long time to be quite honest, my black brothers and sisters have been mourning. I have been silent too long and I repent. It might be easy to claim that I never owned slaves and it might bring me comfort to believe I would have been on the Godly side of the Civil Rights movement, but what I speak about now and what I’m silent about now shows my priorities. If I am more outraged over the cancellation of a cartoon than I am about the blood shed of black brothers and sisters, I am the problem. If I am more concerned with my child crying because he can’t watch his favorite tv show than I am about mothers that are crying out and mourning over the unjust loss of their own child’s life, I am the problem.

I may not always know what to say. I may only be able to offer, “I love you. I care and I am here for you.” But if my own personal experience has taught me anything, it is that a simple message of love and support is better than silence.

I’m not better, but I have hope.

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

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

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

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

1 Thessalonians 4:13

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

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

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

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

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

I’m Not Ready

A couple of days ago I opened my calendar to write down some upcoming appointments. I haven’t used or even looked at my calendar in months, there has been nothing coming up and nothing to remember. Robert asked how many weeks pregnant I was and I replied that I thought I was 32 weeks or maybe almost 32 weeks. To my astonishment, I found that I was already over 33 weeks pregnant. Tears started streaming down my face. Robert asked what was wrong and I replied, “I’m not ready.”

That is an understatement. I do not feel ready to welcome a baby in under six weeks. I do not feel ready to bring my fifth baby home to a house where she will actually be the fourth child present. Her room is not ready, because I can’t bear to part with her sister’s bed and clothes. I am not ready to wash bottles in the midst of putting away unused sippy cups. I am not ready to stay up feeding and comforting an infant, when grief already plagues my sleep.

I don’t know that there has ever been a positive pregnancy test in our home that has not been met with immense joy and a feeling of inadequacy. Whether it was the news that we were going to have two children under the age of two or expecting our fifth child when we thought we might be done having children, I have never felt adequately prepared, ready or up to the challenge of motherhood. But the Lord is faithful and He always provides. This certainly is the most unprepared I have ever felt, but though my circumstances have changed, God has not and He will still provide.

Though my circumstances have changed, God has not and He will still provide.

Psalms 37:23-24 says “If the Lord delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fail, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.” Does the Lord delight in my anxiety and fear of the future? I don’t think so, because the heart of the matter is my lack of trust and doubting of the Lord. Does the Lord delight in my humility and my dependence on Him? Yes. By accepting that I cannot do something without the help of the Lord is not self deprecating, it is placing myself and the Lord in our proper places.

The Lord is not concerned with a nursery well prepared. He does not delight in a check list complete. The Lord delights in my dependence on Him. I have stumbled through the last several months of grief and uncertainty, but I have not failed because He upholds me. I will continue to stumble and will never be the perfect mother, because I am a sinner and I am not perfect. But I trust that God, who is perfect, in His sovereignty ordained that I should be the mother to Emma, Leah, George, Jane and now Lucy. The one who has called me is faithful, and He will do it. Not me, but the Lord.

The Lord delights in my dependence on Him.

There is a fine line between humility and self deprecation. There is also a fine line between sinful pride and confidence in the Lord. My prayer in the midst of uncertainty is that I would be humble and have confidence in the God of the universe. I will never be ready, but God is ready and sure. He is not surprised and His plans are perfect. I can trust him with my inadequacy and so can you. I don’t know what the Lord has called you to, but I’m sure you aren’t ready in your own power. That’s a good thing. 1 Thessalonians 5:24 says “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”

I have learned to be thankful for the things that are outside of my control, because I know the One that is in control. I have learned to have gratitude for the things that feel too heavy, because I know the One whose load is light. I am appreciative of not being ready, because I know the One who is ready and able. I do not trust my nearsightedness to walk the path, I trust the one that determines my steps.

In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.

Proverbs 16:9

“33 weeks and 5 days.” My OB said this morning. There was understanding in his voice as he could see the doubt in my face. I don’t know when I will go into labor, but I’m certain that whether the crib is in place or not I will not feel ready. Thankfully I serve a God who is always ready and desires to lead my path.

Fear or Purpose

Am I moving forward with purpose, or am I timidly resting in fear?

I was listening to the radio this morning when I heard the hosts talking about what people are doing in the midst of less busyness and more uncertainty. The gist of the segment was to use our time wisely, specifically this time, and move forward with new direction and purpose. I don’t entirely disagree with this thought or notion. I don’t believe they meant picking up a new hobby or making travel plans for next year. Even still, lately the subject of time and making plans has rubbed me the wrong way. You see, I had a lot of plans. One might say that I am a natural planner. I love to make lists and it gives me satisfaction checking each item off. I’m not rigid, flexibility is key. But if I’ve learned anything in 2020 it is that plans change.

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” James 2:13-17

Personally, our family’s plans have drastically and painfully changed this year. The entire globe has also faced much uncertainty and a shift in plans. The question that remains is, “now what”? I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know what it will be like to miss my daughter for the remainder of my years on earth. I don’t know how to joyfully welcome the arrival of a new daughter, while still grieving the loss of another daughter. I don’t know how to handle birthdays and anniversaries of death. I also don’t know how society should slowly reopen. I don’t know how to fix the economy. I don’t know the best way to keep communities healthy, while trying to resume “normal” life. But I do know the One who knows it all and this is what He has to say….

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

The Lord has ordained our days (Psalm 139:16). Who am I to think that I can add one single hour to this life. While Coronavirus has taken the lives of hundreds of thousands, my daughter did not die from Coronavirus. My constant attention, prayer and planning did not add a single hour to her life. Her days were ordained by God Almighty. In some ways this truth could be the cause of anxiety and fear. I could live my life holed up in my home and put my surviving children in a metaphorical bubble, but even that would not add hours to our ordained days. I mentioned in another post (you can read here Out of Control) that I believe fear and anxiety are a result of feeling out of control. The truth is, we have never been in control. So if I am not to live in fear and I am not to make grand plans, what am I supposed to do? I’m supposed to live with purpose.

Who am I to think that I can add one single hour to this life.

God has not given us a spirit of fear, He has given us a purpose. We ask our children different catechism questions every night before bed. One of the questions is “How and why did God create us?” Without missing a beat they respond with the truth. “He created us male and female, in His own image, to glorify Him.” That’s it. That’s our ultimate purpose, to glorify God. Image bearers of God Almighty spanning the globe. Except not every person knows the Lord. So He gave us another mission. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20

God has not given us a spirit of fear, He has given us a purpose.

You have a purpose. I have a purpose. Every single person created on this earth has a purpose, but are we fulfilling it? Lately, this has been a challenge to me personally. Am I moving forward with purpose, or am I timidly resting in fear? I still struggle with anxiety, especially now. There are topics of conversation that cause me to bristle. The sound of sirens raise my heart rate, along with other unsettling circumstances or situations. That is a product of shock and a traumatic experience. There is grace for that. I’m not trying to minimize my own experience or the traumatic experiences of others. If you truly struggle with anxiety, fear or depression, please seek out professional help. There are godly men and women trained to help you. There are therapies, medications and resources for you. So while I don’t seek to minimize, I am saying that God is bigger than our hurts, fears and anxiety. He is our refuge and source of wisdom.

Living with purpose does not mean throwing caution to the wind and playing in traffic. It means seeking wisdom from the Father and consulting Godly, Biblically based advice. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Proverbs 9:10 So the question I ask myself is am I living in fear of the world, or in fear of the Lord? Do I respect, honor and trust God enough with the remainder of my days to faithfully fulfill my purpose? Or am I cowering to circumstances and situations that I have no control over, minimizing the very things I have been called to do?

Planning is not inherently a sin. I still have a calendar and I still make to-do lists. It’s a part of my God given personality. I can honor God with proper planning or I can grieve and ignore Him while plotting my future to the point that He is planned out of it. Have I left enough margin in my schedule to trust Him, to let God work, to live by faith? Personally, I don’t want to waste what time I might have left of my life. Whether it be 60 more minutes or 60 more years. I want to live in light of eternity and trust the Lord in all things.

Never be afraid to trust an unknown future, to a known God.

Corrie Ten Boom

Invisible Suffering

When an event in your life strips you bare, there is no good intention or false ideology to hide behind.

Enneagram 1 here. I have a great desire to “do the right thing”. I want others to also “do the right thing.” This isn’t bad in and of itself, but my tendency to be critical is extremely high. However, when an event in your life strips you bare, there is no good intention or false ideology to hide behind. Sanctification becomes intense.

Two days after Jane passed away I found myself in a department store trying to pick out the clothes she would be buried in. The process was horribly unsettling. I was in the midst of intense grief and everything around me felt completely distorted. People were walking, shopping and talking as if everything was normal. Of course it was normal for them, but for me the entire scene felt cruel and wrong. I couldn’t think clearly and I felt like I might pass out. I walked up to the register to pay for the clothes, the woman behind the counter was polite and asked for payment. I stared at her not being able to comprehend what she just said. I replied, “I’m sorry, what did you say?” She responded again asking for cash or card. My sister, who was with me, squeezed my arm and said, “It’s ok, take your time.”

I’m not sure what other people in line thought about me that day or what the poor woman running the cash register thought either. I have been known to show people less patience in similar situations. That day, and many others since, I have felt like telling and sometimes screaming at people, “Don’t you know what we’ve been through?! Can’t you show us some grace?!” The truth is most don’t know what we’ve been through. Even if they are aware of the situation, they likely and thankfully have not walked the same path. Sometimes suffering is visible and sometimes it is not.

Sometimes suffering is visible and sometimes it is not.

Currently, there are people who are in a financial crisis and concerned about providing for their family. Should I say they are insensitive for wanting to go back to work and don’t care about the health of others? There are also people who are truly high risk medically and afraid of catching a virus that would be life threatening. Should I say they are cowards and not thinking about the economy as a whole? The answer is no. My feet have not walked the same path. I can’t always see their suffering. I can listen. I can show empathy and I can try to understand. Even if I disagree or realize my situation is different, I can show love and I can show patience. And usually the best response is to stay quiet.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

The Cloaked American Dream

Jesus did not call me to live the American dream, Jesus called me to pick up my cross and follow him.

Once upon a time I would boldly pray for “God’s will to be done.” I believe part of my courage in praying these words was because I naively and arrogantly believed that my will aligned with God’s will. There is a glaring problem with this ideology. Isaiah 55:8 says “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.”

My thinking, while in error, was filled with good intention. I had great plans for myself and my family. I knew it wasn’t guaranteed, but I certainly hoped it would come to fruition. Without putting a lot of specific thought to it, what I really desired is that we would live long lives, with little suffering, faithfully serving the Lord and sharing the gospel. That’s not bad, right?!

C.S. Lewis says in his book A Grief Observed, “God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t.”

I’ve lived a blessed life of little suffering and minuscule heart ache. So now what happens? My faith is still firm. Not because of my own strength or will power, but because it is the product of the One who merits the faith. All the things I’ve known about the Lord and experienced first hand have remained true. But my perspective has been eternally altered. I have been given a new and permanent lens of which to view the world and myself.

My desire to faithfully serve the Lord was, at it’s depth, the idea of living the American dream to the glory of God.

What I previously thought were good intentions and God honoring desires, I now see clearly. My desire to faithfully serve the Lord was, at it’s depth, the idea of living the American dream to the glory of God. The realization makes me want to vomit. I have had to repent of how I thought I could fit the Lord into my plan. Jesus did not call me to live the American dream, Jesus called me to pick up my cross and follow him.

Before I go any further, I want to assure you that I know God is not vindictive. Jane’s death was not punishment. I know this because God is just and His ultimate wrath and punishment for sin was fulfilled on the cross, at the expense of His own Son. 1 John 2:2 says “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” We live in a broken and sinful world, where the death of everyone is inevitable. I will never understand why God only ordained Jane to live exactly 890 days on this earth. But God is good and I trust Him completely. His ways are not mine.

For about two years before Jane passed away there had been many conversations in our home about how were we suffering for Christ? We prayed about downsizing again. We gave more financially. We considered moving overseas. We started the adoption process, only to be stopped a couple of times. These are not bad things and I genuinely believe they were Spirit led and God honoring. I also think that deep down, I wanted so badly to choose the way in which we sacrificed for Christ. I never had an actual list written out, but I guarantee, losing a child was not on the list of ways I was willing to suffer.

I’m thankful that God doesn’t ask my permission, but allows me to submit.

But here we are, walking a road we did not anticipate. I don’t get to choose another’s cup, this is what we have been served. I’ve been confronted with sin in my life that I wasn’t aware of before. I have had to repent and choose to trust Christ every day, every moment. I admit, it’s much harder for me to pray for God’s will to be done. I’m thankful that God doesn’t ask my permission, but allows me to submit. God has abundantly blessed us. The gospel alone is enough. We have also experienced loss and devastation. 1 Corinthians 10:31 tells us what to do in any situation, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Job 1:21b says, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” I can pray for God’s will to be done. I can be confident in His plans, even when they aren’t my own. I can give thanks in all circumstances, because Jesus alone is worthy.

Charles Spurgeon said, “I have learned to kiss the waves that throw me up against the Rock of Ages.” I’ll confess, I don’t feel ready to kiss the wave. Nonetheless I am thankful for the Rock of Ages. I am thankful for sanctification. I’m thankful that the cloak of good intentions has been stripped away. I’m thankful that the things of this earth have grown strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.