The Day That Changed Our Life

“Do you have a pastor we can call?” If I had not already come to terms with the fact that my daughter was gone, this should have been the question that confirmed the truth. Just thirty minutes earlier our life was normal, comfortable and predictable. Now the future was bleak and uncertain.

It was Monday, February 24, 2020. My husband, Robert was at his clinic where he serves as a primary care sports medicine physician. I had just dropped off our oldest daughter, Emma, for her weekly piano and drama lessons. I was on the way home with our three youngest children and my emerging baby bump. Five children. In less than five months, we would have five children in our home under the age of 8. It was an overwhelming blessing. 

As I drove home, the sun was shining and astonishingly it wasn’t raining. It had been a record breaking month of rain. The weather was cool and crisp. The kids were singing in the car and asking what we were having for dinner. It was the most typical Monday and we were content.

When we pulled back into our driveway, the kids were making plans to play dress up and perform plays before we had to go back to pick up Emma. Leah, George and Jane adored playing dress up, as most children under the age of six typically do. It was about 4:20pm in the afternoon, and I knew I would have just enough time to sit down with a book before I needed to start dinner. It was one of my favorite ways to spend a winter afternoon. The fire was on in the living room, the kids were singing and playing on the rug in front of me and I had a good book to muse over in between elaborate songs and performances from my children. 

My youngest, Jane went to retrieve another dress up costume from her room at the same time I got a text message from my husband. It was 4:37pm. The text read “Do you want me to pick up Emma from piano?” I responded, “if you can.” At that same time, Leah and George began to bicker about something insignificant. In an attempt to stop the fighting and change the subject, I sent Leah to find Jane. “Go find Jane and make sure she isn’t getting into your stuff,” I said. It had only be a couple of minutes since I had seen her, so I wasn’t concerned, but I knew it would pull Leah away from the argument with her brother.

Within minutes Leah returned, looking concerned and said, “I don’t know what’s wrong with Jane.” She was pointing to her own neck and said,  “She might be asleep or,”  I didn’t catch the last part of her phrase as I was already up and running, screaming, “Where is she?!” Maybe it was mother’s intuition, or the sheer moving of the Holy Spirit, but either way I knew the matter was urgent. I found Jane lying in her closet unconscious. The next several minutes were a blur.

CPR was performed and 911 was called. There was crying and fear from George and Leah, who were huddled together on the living room couch. I screamed “God please, no! God please save her!” while performing chest compressions and listening to the 911 operator tell me that help was on the way. I yelled to Leah, “Unlock the front door! People are coming to help!” A trooper from the sheriffs department was the first to enter the room, followed closely be EMS.

I retreated to the living room. I was sobbing, still crying out to God and occasionally dry heaving. At some point, I picked up my phone and called my husband. In my memory, even through sobs, I was being coherent. He told me some time later that he couldn’t understand anything I was saying. A kind trooper asked who I was talking to and took the phone from me. Into the receiver she said, “Mr. Martin, this is Kelly from the sheriff’s department. You need to come home immediately.” She hung up the phone and immediately pulled me tight into a hug. I know now, this was the moment they were transferring Jane out of the house and she didn’t want me to see.

A first responder took Leah and George into their rooms, and distracted them from the trauma that was unfolding. They sat me down in a dining room chair and I stared out of the open front door. I was still praying, “God please.” Our nearly quarter of a mile long driveway was full of first responder vehicles. I noticed a friend, our neighbor, standing in the driveway too. The sun was setting and it had begun to rain a miserable drizzle. Someone asked me if there was someone near that could take our children, so that we were free to go to the hospital. I pointed to my neighbor in the driveway and a trooper went to retrieve him. Someone helped Leah and George with their shoes and then they went next door to our neighbor’s home. I kept staring out the front door, waiting for Robert, waiting for a miracle. I was surrounded by people, but I felt utterly alone.

I was surrounded by people, but I felt utterly alone.

Robert got home and came straight to me. I looked at him and through tears, said “I think she’s gone. I tried. It’s awful. It’s awful.” He was calm, but clearly overwhelmed. He asked me if there had been a pulse. I shook my head no with tears streaming down my face. Robert then asked the first responders for more information and called another friend to ask if they would please pick up Emma from piano lessons. “We’ve had a family emergency” he said into the phone. At some point in this exchange, I received the question, “Do you have a pastor we can call?” I responded with our pastors name. Deep down, I knew what this all meant. Then Robert and I were ushered to a trooper’s car to be driven to the hospital.

It was a ride that I will never forget. It was gray outside and the rain running down the windows felt like an outward expression of the emptiness and sorrow I felt inside. Robert sat behind me and his hand never left my shoulder. The car was quiet with the exception of radio calls back and forth between law enforcement. The calls may have pertained to us or they might not have, it was a series of disjointed words muffled in my ears. 

We arrived at the hospital as the sun had nearly set. It was the same hospital where I had given birth to Jane almost two and a half years before. On that day in September, the sun was shining brightly and we pulled away from the hospital with a new bundle of joy. The future was bright and joy was sure. On this day in February, I would be leaving the same hospital in the darkness of night and gloom of rain, without my child. The magnitude of this opposite reality hadn’t settled on me quite yet.

As we were shown the way into a private family waiting room, I noticed a few familiar faces. Friends lined the hallway. They looked concerned, upset and distraught. Why were they here? How did they know? The situation felt baffling. Our pastor met us in the private room. He gave Robert a hug and we all sat down. At this point, time didn’t seem to exist anymore. I don’t know how long we waited, but I don’t think it was long before a doctor and nurse entered the room.

The doctor, clearly burdened, walked towards us and introduced himself quickly. He then bent down to be eye level with us and said, “I’m sorry, it isn’t good news.” That was a fact, it wasn’t good news. Jane, my two year old had died. He explained they had done everything and tried everything, but she was gone. I cried, Robert cried, our pastor and all the professionals in the room cried. Robert has had the unfortunate experience of relaying tragic news like this to families. I know it is never an easy task. But we had never been on the receiving side of such catastrophic news. Robert and I said something along the lines of “Thank you, we know you did everything you could.” We were left with our pastor again and I asked for a Bible. Hands moved to pockets and I quickly interjected, “No, not a phone, I need to hold the Bible in my hands.”

A Bible was provided and my hands fumbled over pages to find the Psalms. I kept smoothing the pages beneath my hands, finding comfort in the solid and tangible Word of God. I sat and read quietly with my husband. To this day, I’m not exactly certain what we read, but it was what we needed in the moment. I kept whispering the same prayer, “Jesus, please be near.” Jesus answered and He was near. I have never felt the presence of the Almighty as strongly as I did in that moment and for the remainder of the evening. 

Again, time was irrelevant at this point, but over the course of what I assume was a couple of hours, people came in and out of the room. Someone came in to ask us registration questions, but they were asked to leave and please come back. Someone told us they would come back to get us in a little while to see Jane, but they didn’t give an approximate amount of time. The county coroner, criminal investigator and troopers came to ask us questions about what had taken place. I answered their questions, told the story exactly as it had happened, through sobs and anguish. 

The criminal investigator, explained that they didn’t suspect any foul play and they felt confident the entire situation had been a terrible accident. Jane had slipped, fallen and struck a toy basket just right. I remember thinking “You should take me away. You should arrest me. What kind of mother am I?!” I’m sure this is part of why the term “freak accident” was used multiple times that evening and for the next couple of weeks. It was an attempt to alleviate my own personal blame. It was an attempt to explain the unexplainable, the improbable.

Eventually, Robert and I were allowed to see Jane one last time. It’s an experience you never anticipate and hope will never transpire. We knelt down next to the hospital bed. I stroked Jane’s hair, traced her fingers and asked to see her feet. This was it, and I knew it. Soon all I would have were photographs and memories. Robert was beside me and did the same thing. How could this be? Jane, our perfectly healthy, full of life little girl, was now just a shell. Lifeless and cold. I was holding the same hand that hours earlier she had begged me to trace on a piece of paper. I’ll never regret tracing her hand. But now her fingers weren’t clutching my fingers in return. It felt as if the life had been drained from the entire room. Everything was quiet with the exception of occasional sobs and sniffs.

Her fingers weren’t clutching my fingers in return. It felt as if the life had been drained from the entire room.

After we had been given what a professional determined was enough time, we were taken out of the room. Robert made calls to immediate family, while I let tears stream down my face. The tissue in my hand seemed insufficient for my eyes, but I rubbed the edge of it repeatedly between my thumb and forefinger. It was soft, I could feel it and it was real. The entire situation was real. Someone told us that the hardest part would be leaving the hospital without our daughter. It was going to be hard, but the entire experience was horrific.  We left the family waiting room and walked down the hall towards the exit. I saw more faces I recognized, more sadness, more questioning eyes. The gaze of strangers even felt sympathetic and uncomfortable. Then we left the hospital, empty handed. 

Our pastor and his wife drove us home. It was another dark and quiet drive. At the entrance to our driveway, our pastor stopped the car. “I know this may sound hard, but I think it is important to try to stay strong for your kids. We called your friends and neighbors to bring the kids back to your house, but they don’t know anything yet” he said. I knew we needed to be strong, I knew we were about to deliver the most devastating news and I knew we were completely incapable. Our flesh was failing, but Jesus was still near.

We made our way down the driveway and met our surviving children at the door. It was near bedtime now. The kids had pleasant demeanors, but the questions were written all over their face. Never in my life have I understood more what Jesus meant when He said “My power is made perfect in your weakness.” My flesh failed me that day repeatedly, but the Holy Spirit helped and moved us. Here we were with our children, sitting in the same place we did every night, about to embark on the same bedtime routine, but everything was different.

“Where is Jane?” It was the first question. I don’t remember specifically what was said. I know we explained, through tears that Jane had passed away. I know I said a phrase I speak often in our home, “Who made you?” Without missing a beat our children replied “God”. I went on, “Does God make mistakes?” Unwavering, they said, “No.” Then our tradition, our bedtime routine, our family worship began. Robert read from our Bible History book, it was about Timothy. Who was taught from toddler hood to hold on to the Christian faith. It included reading 1 Timothy 1:17 that says, “To the King…. the only God, be honor and glory forever. Amen.” We sang the Doxology. Through tears the words came broken and in unison. “All praise to Thee my God this night, for all the blessing of the light. Keep me, O keep me King of Kings, beneath Thine own almighty wings. Forgive me Lord, for Thy dear Son, the ill that I this day have done. That all the world, myself and Thee, I ere, I sleep at peace may be.” We sang the last verse with more certainty. It was familiar and how we closed nearly every evening as a family. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him all creatures here below. Praise Him above ye heavenly host. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.” At the conclusion of our song of praise, we prayed as a family. “God you are holy and you are sovereign. God please forgive me for my doubt and unbelief. God thank you for Jane. Thank you for letting us be her family, thank you that she is with you now. God please help us, please be near.”

Does God make mistakes? Unwavering, they said, No.

People started to arrive at our house. Dear friends helped get the kids dressed in pajamas and we put them in their beds, thanking the Lord for his strength. I have no recollection of all the people that came to our home that night. I know many were friends from church, neighbors and some family members that lived near by. I’m sure many prayers were offered in our home that night and around our community. At one point, some women sang Amazing Grace.

I sobbed on shoulders and looked around utterly perplexed by my present reality. Robert found me in the sea of friends, sat with me for a little bit and then took me to our room. He helped me get dressed in pajamas and get into bed. I assume someone saw everyone out of the house and locked the door. The rest of the night was a horrific blur of tears, panic attacks, prayers and shock. I slept maybe a couple of hours and dreaded every passing moment. My cell phone continued to ding through out the night, but I couldn’t bring myself to look and read all the messages.

Our life that was once predictable, normal and comfortable just hours before had been permanently altered. The only truth I knew was that Jesus was near and God was still good. He alone would sustain us. 

This is my story

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

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

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

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

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

C.S. Lewis

This is our megaphone.

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.

To Be Made Weak

To be made weak, is to touch, see and know the power of God Almighty.

When I woke this morning I noticed an orange and pink hue illuminating our front room. Our home faces north east and though trees block a full view of the sunrise in the morning, we get just enough of a glimpse to spark awe and wonder. The sunrise this morning was stunning. It was a beautiful reminder of Creator God and his intricate role and design. One glance at social media confirmed that many others had seen the same beauty and shared their photos of the sunrise. Bible verses accompanied, praise to the Creator and whispers that the sunrise felt as if it was just for them.

It’s easy to proclaim the glory of God when it seems beautiful to us or suits us, but as I looked out my window this morning I saw something more than a beautiful sky. I saw bare trees and a drive way lined with dead grass. The cold air is almost visible and the light is eerily similar. It’s February now, and I recognize the scenery. 49 weeks ago, I looked out the same front door and saw lights flashing and first responders lining the road. I watched and waited for my husband’s truck to frantically pull down the driveway. I can hear the whisper of my own voice, “God, please no. Please save her.”

Clinically speaking, it’s trauma. We’ve lived through an incredibly traumatic experience and certain sights, smells and sounds trigger us into a tailspin. The month of February is a heavy month, and it will be indefinitely.

Suffering changes you. We look at the world through a different set of lenses. We see beauty and heartache differently.

I know that I can come across cynical and even mean spirited. That isn’t my intention. I still see the beauty of the sunrise. I still hear the joy and laughter that echos through our home. But suffering changes you. We look at the world through a different set of lenses. We see beauty and heartache differently. I’m currently reading and studying 2 Corinthians with a group of precious women. This week we worked our way through chapter 11 when someone said, “In the thirty years since I have attended church, I don’t think I have ever heard anyone talk/preach about suffering.”

It’s a terrible shame and waste, but it’s probably true. Suffering is uncomfortable and we don’t want to talk about it. I realize now, that the loss of a child seems almost contagious. If you are willing to sit with someone in their grief, bear the burden of suffering and turn an ear to their story, you will be faced with the reality that you too are susceptible to suffering. It opens the door to the realities of loss and you are forced to remove rose colored glasses. Granted, you won’t likely face the same suffering or the same grief, but the possibility of suffering becomes real.

I have been there. I had held hands, heard stories and thought how horrible it must be to lose someone. I had felt it was easier to distance myself from others sufferings. I read the stories and moved on quickly. In the name of not wanting to be pessimistic or cause unnecessary anxiety, I turned a deaf ear and focused on the beautiful sunrises.

However, there is beauty in suffering. The Lord can receive great glory and honor in the midst of hardship and pain. In the last year we have been stripped bare. We have been made incredibly weak. We are faced with constant reminders that we control nothing and that anything that can be taken away is a secondary blessing. In the last year we have held fast to Jesus and His word, because it is enough and the only thing that can’t be taken away. If we never had another beautiful sunrise, would Jesus be enough? If I were to lose my surviving children and my husband, would Jesus be enough? The answer is yes.

In the last year we have held fast to Jesus and His word, because it is enough and the only thing that can’t be taken away.

I appreciated the sunrise this morning. I also felt the pain of loss. It’s complicated and it’s messy. I am more confident in Jesus and his power. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:30, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” To be made weak, is to touch, see and know the power of God Almighty. God is creator and God is powerful, may his glory be displayed whether in a beautiful sunrise or in weak mother crumpled over her daughter’s casket.

The Little Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Presumptive New Year

Presumptive. It’s the word that is circulating around my mind today. I’ve spent time today thinking about what it means to close out 2020 and what has transpired in the last year. It’s almost too much to wrap my mind around. Thanks to Instagram and Facebook memories, I know exactly what I was doing and thinking this time last year. This is the photo and what I wrote:

“A lot has happened in this last decade. Robert and I started our family when we got married in 2010. We’ve moved several times, left jobs and started new ones. We’ve made sweet friends that are literally all over the world now. Our family has continued to grow with four beautiful children. This next decade will be the last one that all of our kids will live in the same house with us. A reminder that it goes by quickly. Mostly this last decade has confirmed the Lord’s faithfulness in our life. We look forward to the year and decade to come. It is sure to bring more of the Lord’s goodness and mercy. 2020 will be one to remember for sure. We look forward to all that God is doing in our family, including the addition of baby number 5. From our family to yours, Happy New Year! May you experience Jesus in a sweet way this year.”

It’s a bit like getting slapped across the face or taking a swift punch to the gut. A lot did happen in our first decade. We have moved and made some very dear friends and our family did continue to grow. I was looking forward to the year to come. I had no idea that in a few short weeks I would dread most waking moments.

I presumed too much.

I mentioned last year that the upcoming decade would be the last to have all of our kids in the same house with us. That was presumptive. It turns out I never got to have even a single day with all of my kids living in the same house. I presumed too much. 

Now before I get accused of being a pessimist and living in fear or dread, let me remind you what James had to say about presuming too much. 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.” James 4:13-15

Presume means to suppose that something is the case on the basis of probability. That’s what I was doing on New Year’s Eve 2019. In truth it’s what most of us do everyday. I didn’t know what 2020 would hold and I don’t know what will come in 2021. I don’t even know what may happen in the next ten minutes, but I do know that my statement of God’s goodness one year ago was true then and is true now. I do not presume God is good. I know He is good. I do not presume God is faithful or merciful, His faithfulness and mercy is a fact. This year more than ever before I have tasted and seen the goodness of God. I have experienced Jesus in a sweet way this year.

I do not presume God is good. I know He is good. I do not presume God is faithful or merciful, His faithfulness and mercy is a fact.

Tonight, I don’t want to pop champagne or choose a metaphorical word for the coming year. I’m not getting dressed up or gladly seeing 2020 out the door. My heart actually hurts to lose this last year that I held all of my babies. I’m not toasting the new year or presuming too much. Lord willing, I hope to sit humbly with my family and worship God, who was and is and is to come.

Help To Carry

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 53:4

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

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

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

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

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

Finding the Way in a Storm

Ever feel completely perplexed by seemingly small situations? No? Just me? Three days ago, I sat in a room I frequented often last fall. It was once, “The Imagination Station” (or something like that) at our local library. It was full of play kitchens, puppet show booths and toys. My children loved it. After, many months away from the library, we sat in the same room. It was familiar but noticeably different. The room is bare. No toys, no play kitchen and no puppet show. Jane is also absent from the scene. Added are taller kids with masks covering their face and a little baby. Every now and then I become completely bewildered by situations like this. Disorienting is maybe the best term.

A couple of weeks after Jane died, I found myself in a small group Bible study. Someone mentioned the importance of “knowing true North in a storm”. I was struck by this statement, because it’s completely true but we also get it completely wrong. No captain waits to find true North after the storm begins. When the waves are crushing, the wind is fierce and the sky is dark, it is too difficult to find your direction. But as people we do this all the time. Circumstances become hard, suffering is surprising and life changes in a moment. Suddenly we start grasping at straws, trying to find true North. We’re trying to orient in the storm, but it is too difficult.

Circumstances become hard, suffering is surprising and life changes in a moment

People ask us why our faith is strong. I’m here to say, again, that our faith is a direct derivative of the God who merits our faith. I also want to stress that we knew Jesus was the Way before the storm hit. I can hear his voice in the midst of the storm, because I learned it in the quiet. Life is still strange and I’m often grief stricken and baffled. I encourage you to meet Jesus. Learn his voice while it is quiet, because you will desperately need him when the storm comes.

I can hear his voice in the midst of the storm, because I learned it in the quiet.

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.

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.