charlie's song


Dear Broken Me,

Today marks the five year anniversary of the worst day of my life. I didn’t even want to write this post, but I knew that if I didn’t write today, I would never write again. I promised myself when I began this blog that, since writing was one of the only ways available on this wretched earth for me to love my baby boy…I would take it. Even if I only wrote one post a year, every year on Charlie’s birthday. So here I am putting in my one post a year, and dreading it with every fiber of my being.

I thought about what would possibly, in even some small way, help the devastated humans who visit this page, whose hearts are as equally broken as mine, because they too had to endure the heart-wrenching, soul-altering trauma of out-living their own child’s life. Then I thought of what I wished I had been told on January 28th, 2013, during those first horrific hours of waiting in the hospital room for the birth of a baby who had already died. I thought of what I needed to hear then, and knew what I needed to say now.

Dear broken Me,

5 years later, this is what grief will be like.

You will still be broken.

In the darkness of our hospital room, as we wept silently, and waited for hours in the darkness for Charlie’s tiny body to be taken out of mine, I remember turning to Reid at one point and whispering, “Are we going to be ok?” I’m not even sure what I was asking exactly. It was like we were two people emerging from ground zero of an atomic bomb that had just destroyed our entire lives. Surrounded by flying debris, blinking into the blinding light, and bleeding from gaping wounds so deep it literally took our breath away all I could think to ask was, “Are we even alive? And are we going to be ok?”  It’s like I needed assurances that at the end of all of this there would still be… life. I distinctly remember thinking, “I can’t do this. I need to know that we can endure this hell on earth, and still come out on the other side.” So, dear broken me…Yes, you will be ok, and No, you won’t be. Because the “you” who walked into this hospital room late last night, is gone permanently. Take one long last look; your life as you knew it is officially over.

Five years later, you will still feel as if a part of your heart has been amputated, and there will be real and lasting pain. You will still weep constantly throughout the last week of every stinking January. You will still sometimes, be hit by waves of searing pain on moments like Christmas Eve, and special family adventures, and whenever you hear his name…pain that comes on so sudden that you can’t even breathe. You will still feel the acute agony of life without him, and the impact of this incalculable loss on every aspect of your life. You will still miss him so much that you will want Heaven, more than Earth, on almost any given day, but… you will be alive.

You will still miss him, every moment of every day, and his birthday week will be a reminder of this horror every year of your life. 

This week is hung like a shadow over each new year, and each end of January is a lousy reminder of what I was doing five years ago when we were still happy. It was those last fleeting moments of happy, stacked on January 24th, 25th, 26th, and the worst, the morning of the 27th…when the innocence and naieteve of the “life-is-basically-good” mentality hadn’t yet been beaten from our lives. Now, I hate those days. “The last moments we were happy” are hellish days, and we relive them every January, right before we relive the other days…the 27th, 28th, and 29th, which truly were the worst days of our lives as we were thrown at the ground zero our own story. Yes, we feel the loss of Charlie’s presence, and the loss of a life spent knowing and loving our brown-haired baby boy every single day, but his birthday week is a special kind of affliction, because we have to relive the agony of his death (which also happens to be his birthday) and there is absolutely no escape. And then, Fred’s birthday is the very next day. Yes, I hate the complexity of this week, and I wish I could have warned the new broken me how unbearably hard this week would always be.

You will feel further from him than you ever have, and yet be closer to meeting him than you’ve ever been.

Sometimes, I still wake up and wonder, Did ALL of that suffering actually happen to us? Did I actually give birth to a full-term baby named Charlie who looks exactly like Freddo, and could have grown up in our arms if only he had lived during that fateful January? I still feel the emotional, spiritual, and psychological disorientation of loss, upon loss, upon loss, and the sorrow of a story I wouldn’t have wished upon my worst enemy, and yet God wrote and chose for our lives. And yet sometimes, the whole trauma feels so very bad, and so very long ago, that it’s hard to fully grasp that it is in fact MY life. I know that, five years ago today, I really did sit in that dark room, and hold our tiny boy as my tears poured down his face. But five years seems like a eternity in suffering years, and sometimes it feels like that moment of holding him and loving him and knowing him in even some small way, is very, very far away.  As my friend Catherine once said to me, when I was still very new to this Coffin Ship of grief,

“Misty, you are suffering the death of your son. And despite your desperation, you are on a boat moving further and further from the shoreline of that day and one day the shoreline will not be visible. But the hope that we have is that we are moving from that which is broken and dead and horrible and moving toward that which is perfect and permanent. You are moving forward, moving closer every second of every day, toward the perfected Charlie. You are actually moving toward him. It is true, you will stand for a long time at the back of the boat and stare at the shoreline until it is gone. That is the way of grief. But at some point, your heart will want to turn fully, and you will walk to the front of the ship and perch yourself there, scanning the horizon for your baby boy who is being held right now by the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. That is longing for heaven. That is what God tells us to do. To long for our perfected life when we are with Him.”

I vividly remember reading those words during that first year of grief and thinking, “Clearly, I am still very much at the back of this boat.” But now, five years later, I feel like my heart is drawn far more to the moment when I will finally get to be with him again, than the moment I last held Charlie in my arms. I don’t know how long I will be stuck on this boat, craning to see heaven’s shores, but suddenly that day seems closer than Charlie’s birthday, even if it is still decades away.

God will still be good and you will still be you, but neither of you will look ANYTHING like you do in this hospital room today.

I wish someone would have warned me how much everything was going to change. I don’t even recognize the person I was on Charlie’s day of birth, five years ago today.  Sure, we were brave. But we had to be. We were thrown into the depths of suffering, and there was absolutely no escape. Giving birth without a working epidural, with nurses who didn’t even care enough to be in the room, and a heart so broken I could barely even function…took an inhuman amount of courage and faith. And I sincerely believe that the Lord carried us through every hellish moment of that impossible day.

But we were largely running on fumes and faith. WE HAD NO IDEA that the next five years would look eerily similar to the unspeakable fear we felt that day. We didn’t understand that not just that hospital room, but our entire lives were about to become a constant battle to trust in a God who suddenly didn’t seem “entirely” safe, and to live within a body that was too sick and broken to carry life. We had no idea that it truly would be “fight or die,” every moment of every day, as a very real battle was being fought in the heavenlies over the souls of our entire family. We were just trying to survive a horrible moment, not fully understanding that it was not so much a sprint, but rather a marathon of Suffering we were facing. I wish I had known that the soul within me was going to be permanently wrecked and altered and reborn through suffering in every possible way, and that the man beside me was about to be changed just as drastically. We are not the same people, and though we are better in many significant ways, we simply aren’t who we once were, before who were were was decimated by suffering, and there is loss even in that.

Most of all, I wish I had known that our understanding of the character of the God we were clinging to, would be as altered as the broken souls who were doing the clinging. Our cord of three strands was about to have the world’s worst thrown at it, and to be tested with every possible form of suffering, from the loss of our health, the loss of everything we owned, the fear of more death, the reality of more graves, and most of all…the shaking of the foundations of our faith. It would have been nice to have a little heads up that the Lord Almighty, the New Broken Misty, and the New, Equally-Broken Reid were about to look so drastically different that we would barely even recognize them today, and that I would need to meet each one of them all over again in entirely new ways. So dear broken me, say your goodbyes.

You will find joy.

Really, really wish someone could have mentioned this to the broken me. I know that only the Lord knows the future, and anyone who promises joy apart from Him is foolish at best, and cruel at worst, but I wish God had told me that there would still be moments of genuine joy in our new life.

Joy, when God reveals glimpses of His heart to me, so profound that I had NEVER seen it to this magnitude in the old, “mostly happy” life I had before Charlie died.

Joy, as I held the miracle of Finn’s life in my arms, and looked into his baby blue eyes, even though we had absolutely no sane reason left to hope for a rainbow baby.

Joy, that Emma would chose to share about her baby brother and the sadness of this week with her entire fifth grade class, even though I could NEVER have done that in middle-school, and she is just plain crazy-brave.

Joy, that the future of this world is filled with a shocking number of fifth graders who actually know how to respond with true empathy.

And joy, that even now, as I sit here contemplating how much I HATE this week, and how much I wish my five-year-old Charlie was here, and how completely differently I would have written the story if the writing had been left to me…even so, there are moments of true joy as we stand on this side of the boat looking forward to Eternity.

As Nicholas Wolterstorff wrote so poignantly, after the death of his own son, “Sometimes I think that happiness is over for me. I look at photos of the past and immediately comes the thought: that’s when we were still happy. But I can still laugh, so I guess that isn’t quite it. Perhaps what’s over is happiness as the fundamental tone of my existence. Now sorrow is that. Sorrow is no longer the islands but the sea.”

The fundamental sea surrounding our existence was forever altered by the news of Charlie’s death on January 27th, 2013, and it will always be different now, this side of eternity. But on this long journey there, we have indeed sailed by genuine islands of unexpected, God-ordained Joy, and it is that joy that keeps us going.

But in the end, perhaps the thing I would have most wanted the fragile, broken me to know five years ago today is that…

Waiting isn’t easy.

Actually, waiting just plain sucks, because waiting magnifies whatever is already true, like staring at a roaring waterfall when you’re so thirsty you think you might actually die. This half of a decade has by far been the darkest and hardest and longest years of my life. I hate waiting to know my own son. l hate watching my other children suffer the lifelong sorrows of missing out on life with half of their siblings. I hate the constant fears that now lick at our heals like hot fire, since most of our fears are sadly not even “catastraphizing” nearly as much as they are admitting the horrors that have already happened, and fighting daily the fear of it happening all over again. Most days, I hate that we are on this boat at all, looking forward with such anticipation to a redemption, and a Forever chapter that has already been promised and waited for, but is still probably a long-time in coming.


Dear totally incapacitated, forever-altered, completely broken Me…

The wait has not been in vain.

Keeping fighting the fight to be human, in this awful place of sin and sorrow and suffering that was not meant to permanently house humanity. Keep staring at the beautiful horizon of the future, desperately trying to get to know the God- and the humans- who were alone in that dark hospital room with you on the worst day of your life. Keep living for that better Day, knowing that the one thing we have going for us in the midst of a truly horrific story, is that this is not the ending.

And a good one is still coming. Someday, your Savior will reign supreme. The islands of sorrow will finally be eradicated for all time, and joy will be the whole dear Sea.

I know that these foundational truths have in fact always been true, and believing this reality is actually the redemptive hope for every human story. But it was my precious son, Charlie James Zeller, born into the arms of Jesus on the morning of January 28th, 2013, whose life made it all poignantly and irrevocably real to me. And I am deeply grateful for his legacy. His was one of the shortest lives in human history, and yet, Charlie’s being has had the most profound impact on mine.

Happy Birthday, baby boy. I love you dearly, and look to the horizon, waiting for the day I will see your perfect face, and finally, properly celebrate your incredible life.









It’s been exactly 365 days since I last wrote on this page. All I remember of Charlie’s birthday a year ago, was the moment the five of us found ourselves sitting together on the couch, looking at Charlie’s baby book…and weeping uncontrollably. That was last January 28th, and ever since- I have been dreading what was coming in 365 days.

Over the last year many people have written and asked if I would update the blog and share a little of what was happening with our family.  Honestly, I just couldn’t.  And if today wasn’t our sweet Charlie’s birthday, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have written today either. It’s not that I’ve had nothing to say, it has just felt too incredibly difficult to get all the things swirling around inside of me, unto the pages outside.

In the years since Charlie’s death I have thought countless times about the words C.S. Lewis wrote after his wife died: “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.  I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning.”  And in the last four years, hellish years filled loss upon loss, as we lost first Charlie, and then two more babies, and then everything we owned, and then finally, the hope of ever again having another baby and a different ending to the story…in all those years C.S. Lewis’ words have resonated true to me.  Grief did feel an awful lot like fear, and I did feel so overwhelmingly fearful at times.  Afraid of more loss.  Afraid of a world that could get this dark and scary.  Afraid of a God who would let it.  Afraid of being this completely out of control of my own story.

And then, we came to 365 days before today.  In January of 2016, I was the very sickest I had ever been.  Our environmental doctor had made it clear to us from the very moment we left the Mold House that it would likely take, “Three to five years to truly feel healthy again.”  From the moment she said those words- we planned on five years, and prayed for three years, and secretly hoped it would take even less time.

Because more than anything in all the world, I so badly wanted to give birth to another living, breathing baby.  I so desperately wanted to hear a baby’s first cries of life…instead of the devastating silence that we had experienced on Charlie’s birthday. I desperately wanted my children to know that sometimes, even after all the “No’s,” God in His infinite sovereignty also choses to say, “Yes.” And far more even than wanting a baby, I desperately wanted the miracle the baby would mean.  But as much as I wanted another baby, I wasn’t about to try to conceive again now that we finally knew why three babies in a row had died in my body.  I wasn’t willing to risk it, until I was absolutely sure my body was healthy, and I hadn’t been anywhere near healthy since the moment we moved out of that abyss of death that stole so very much from our lives.  Which is probably why I felt such despair one year ago today.  Even now, as I read over the last post I wrote, I can feel the deep despair of wanting a baby and not even being able to try. 365 days ago, I was almost certain that another baby would never ever be.

And last year, on this very day, as I sat in the hopelessness of a story I did not want to be living, I had to tell myself the very same thing I told myself in the hospital on the day we found out Charlie had died: “Your life is about one thing and one thing alone: To know God, and make Him known.” Because anytime I have ever wanted it to be about “more than” or “other than” that- the depths of our endless suffering, the despair of this broken world, and the certainty of death that awaits absolutely everybody, simply became too much to bear, and all I wanted to do was drive into incoming traffic.  Not literally, but soul-fully.

There have been so many times since Charlie’s death where I have felt despair set in, and the only thing that made sense of the suck of this earth, and gave meaning to each long day- was the simple reminder of those words- words that give purpose even when absolutely nothing is as you want it to be. And so, last year I dragged my soul through yet another heinous birthday spent apart from our precious Charlie, fighting through each breath to “know Him and make Him known,” and fighting to accept all over again, the hardest thing I have ever had to accept: that God alone writes the story.

And then, something happened that I absolutely did not see coming.  A twist in the story.

God Himself…turned the page.

I don’t know why, or how, or exactly even when, but sometime between Charlie’s birthday and Easter of 2016, God moved my body to heal in ways it hadn’t up to that point, and He moved my soul to ask the question I had basically given up on asking, “Father God, would you give us another baby?”  

One week later, the God of the universe wrote another baby into our story.

And from the moment I saw that little pink line, I realized that the whole C.S. Lewis thing about grief-being-like-fear, needed to be thrown straight out the window…because I had never, ever, ever been so afraid.  I know that every loss is filled with terror, but having a full-term still birth is a particularly terrifying kind of loss because if you ever again want to have a different ending to the story- you have to relive every moment of another pregnancy not knowing what the next ending will be.  And I had already done that. Twice. But I had never been pregnant since we moved out of the Mold House, and in the back of my mind I lived with the nagging fear/hope/uncertainty of what might be if we finally tried to have a post-Mold House baby.  And all of that uncertainty, was just plain terrifying.

Which is probably why I couldn’t blog about it.  I could barely even talk about it as I lived it all out in real time.  Grief brings with it this awful feeling of finality.  Grief is: simply put, the worst thing that could ever happen to you- actually happening.  And then learning to live with that 365 days a year- for the rest of your life.  But fear, is so very different than grief, because fear is present.  Fear is: that the worse thing that could ever happen to you, could still happen to you- at any moment in time.  And suddenly, as Finn’s tiny body grew slowly inside of mine, “grief” felt absolutely nothing like fear. Because, let’s be honest, C.S. Lewis had never had a living, desperately loved and longed for, baby die in his body.  Let alone three.  And though having to put Charlie’s tiny body into a dark hole in the earth was by far the most difficult thing we have ever had to do…carrying his baby brother Finn through the longest nine months of our lives was by far the most scary.  Scary for me, scary for Reid, and especially scary for the little people in our lives.

And I simply couldn’t write about it.  I couldn’t put words to what it felt like to fear every moment of every day, and way too many sleepless nights- that another baby was going to die in my body.  I couldn’t put to words what it felt like to walk into a room and find my six-year-old son vacuuming.  And to ask him, “Freddo, what in the world are you doing?” And to live in the heartbreak of his reply, “I’m vacuuming mommy, because I don’t want you to have to do it, because I really really want to live life with this baby.” I couldn’t put to words what it felt like to see my children’s tears, as they too lived through each long day fearing for this new baby’s life.

And I most definitely couldn’t put to words what it felt like to spend more time thinking about where we might have to bury this new baby, than thinking about all of the things we would have to do for him if by some miracle Finn actually came home to live with our family.  There was no “nesting.”  There was no baby shower.  There was absolutely no dreaming, only very, very fragile hoping.  And when we drove to the hospital before Finn was born- we brought nothing.  No car seat, no pacifiers, no going home outfit.  We left for the hospital with one thing and one thing alone, the almost minute-by-minute reminder to one another and to our kids that, “Life is about knowing God, and making Him known.”  End. Of. Story.  Because God alone makes Himself known, by writing every line of every page, and we simply cannot hope, or pray, or “good-decisions” ourselves into the ending of our choosing.

And until the moment we held our sweet Finn Isaac alive and well in our arms, I held my longing for the story of Finn’s life more loosely than I have ever held anything.  Like Abraham, trudging up that terrifying hill with his precious Isaac, we too trudged through nine months of pregnancy, holding Finn’s story with open hearts and shaking hands. I wanted him to live, more than I had ever wanted anything.  I wanted it for our kids, and I wanted it for Reid, and I wanted it for me.  But more than anything, I wanted it for God’s glory.  I desperately wanted for God to make Himself known to me, as the one who chose to write a different ending to this story.  And chapters later, we are so deeply grateful for the joy of Finn’s life.

It is hard to write about Finn on Charlie’s special day.  I have wrestled constantly with the tension I feel in my heart of waiting for nine long months for Charlie to come home to live with our family, and instead bringing home a different baby boy. I have struggled with how to love Charlie now that he is four years-gone from our lives.  And last night, as we once again found ourselves sitting on the couch weeping…this time a little baby boy was also nestled in my arms and crying along with the rest of the family.  Of course, Finn was crying because he was hungry, and it will be years upon years before he will truly understand why every 365 days on the dot, we cry over Charlie’s life.  But I am learning that I cannot escape the reality that Finn’s and Charlie’s lives are deeply intertwined.  They are different chapters of the same long story: The story of God’s glory.

I am also learning very slowly, one birthday at a time, that God is not less glorified through Charlie’s life spent in heaven, than of Finn’s miraculous life on earth.  Because in the midst of all of the ache over the loss of Charlie’s life- the one thing that has gotten me through each long day since the day he died…is maybe even more true of Charlie’s life than it has ever been of mine: Charlie lives to know God and make Him known.  He is with Him.  He who was born into His very arms.  Charlie knows God in a way I can only dream of and wait with longing to finally know Him Someday.  In the end, Charlie has what I can only desperately pray for each one of my kids on earth to have someday: unbroken fellowship for all eternity with the God who wrote their story.

To know God and to make Him known– that is the heart of Charlie’s story. And more than anything in all of my life, more than marriage, more than being a mother to living children, more than being a missionary- Charlie’s life has made God known to me.  Because Charlie’s life has given me the greatest gift of all: A longing for Heaven, and a genuine longing for the rest of the story.

I long for heaven now in a new way, not just to be with Charlie, but because in losing him we learned that this life has absolutely nothing on Eternity.  Charlie’s death made this life look so… small.  Small, and uninviting, and empty, and ugly, and it has made knowing God and making Him known the best and sometimes only good thing in this life some days.  And that is actually as it should be.  Louis Armstrong can keep his song about “What A Wonderful World.” The truth is that the world is actually filled with infinite pain. And last night, as our precious Emma held Charlie’s picture in her arms and wept like no nine-year-old should ever have to weep, empty words about how “wonderful” this life is- simply wouldn’t suffice.

Because when life actually hits you, when you can no longer run from a world where children get cancer, and marriages crumble, and in our case- babies die, when some of life’s universal pain actually happens to you, and not just to a friend of a friend on Facebook, it is no longer such a “wonderful world.”  Life suddenly only has meaning if you are living to know God and make Him known. And four years ago today, life suddenly, and permanently became merely a stepping stone to a far better place that feels far too long in coming, but coming just the same.

Which reminds me of something else C.S. Lewis said that I can still relate to as I sit here on another birthday, sobbing as I type…“And grief still feels like fear. Perhaps, more strictly, like suspense. Or like waiting; just hanging about waiting for something to happen…”

All this time, I had thought I was waiting for another baby, but it turns out what I was really waiting for…was Eternity.

We love Charlie, and we miss him deeply. We still spend 365 days a year, longing for a life together that is still coming. We also love Finn, and treasure every unexpectedly wonderful moment we have been given with him on this side of eternity.  And at the same time, our life is still broken and messy and far more complicated than I would like.  I still feel completely stuck and confused and sad and angry whenever someone asks me how many kids I have, or why there’s a five year gap between Finn and Sophie. But those same kids are teaching me so much about what living in the midst of a story of suffering should look like, as they grow into the people God has written them to be. The other day, I looked over and saw Sophie standing right over Finn, squishing his cheeks in her hands, and breathing germs all over the place.  I was about to yell at her to, “back it up lady” when I heard her whisper softly into Finn’s face…

“Finn, you have to love God and Jesus more than you love me.  That’s the only way to love God at all. OK?”

And it took my breath away. Little Sophie, who still bites Fred when she’s angry- living to know God and make Him known, and teaching her baby brother to do the same.  Little Sophie, full of temper tantrums and flawed five-year-old theology, offering genuine words to live by.  Words, meant for every last one of us.  365 days of the year.  Words that transcend circumstances, that give hope and meaning to every single one of the years 365 days, whether those days are spent in a hospital room cuddling a cooing newborn, or standing beside a baby-sized grave.  I know now that whatever God has written for the story, the parts that I like, and the lines and pages and chapters that I still absolutely hate, the goal remains the same:  To know Him and make Him known, and to love Him most, so that I can love Him at all.

For someday, every single one of my kids will leave this world for eternity.  And my life will either have been spent loving them, and living to know them and make them known, or loving Him and living for Him alone.  It will either be spent on empty things, and filled with empty when every one of life’s treasures finally disappoint, or living in light of the the tomb that was empty.  And for a God who shockingly wrote a cross of suffering and an empty tomb- right into the world’s most important Story.

As I think back on Easter 2016, and the week that little Finn first came into our lives- I vaguely remember the cold Easter ham I made that day, and the Easter baskets filled with leftover Halloween candy.  Those moments are just a blur though.  I do however, vividly remember the moment last Easter when our family of five sat squished in the darkness of our windowless kitchen pantry, during yet another one of my wacky, “teachable-moment-ideas.” I had wanted our kids to feel the darkness of the tomb. I wanted them to sit in its darkness together, and then to feel the hope of suddenly being brought into the Easter Sunday light.  And as we sat there in the darkness, I got out five of those colorful plastic eggs, and each one of us wrote something on a piece of a paper to hide inside the empty egg.  Just as Jesus was hidden in the darkness of the tomb.  Just as the darkness of despair fell over all the land the moment the world’s Savior died.  Just as the disciples had felt the empty in their hearts at needing God to do something only God could do on that day.  I told them to chose something that felt hopeless and empty and too hard to even trust Him for, because we were going to write it down, and hide it in our eggs, and trust Him for it anyways.

Because if it isn’t big enough that it is actually hard to trust Him for it, is it really trust at all?  After all, “You can’t be brave if you’ve only had wonderful things happen to you.”  And if that is true, we’ve had an awful lot of moments to be brave.  And so, last Easter we filled those colorful, empty eggs with all of our empty, and the brave things that we desperately longed for God to do.  And it felt brave to even ask Him for such things.

And then, exactly nine months later, on the week Finn was born, Reid opened his Easter egg and showed me what he had written and hidden in there last Easter Sunday…

“Another baby boy.”

I can’t believe he really wrote that.  Reid, who grieves each day over the loss of our precious ones.  Reid, who sometimes holds Finn in his arms, and weeps right unto his sweet, balding baby head, over all of the moments lost with the ones who came before his life.  Reid, who lived bravely with a very scared and deeply scarred wife, through each terrifying day of Finn’s pregnancy.  Reid, who has stood over three buried babies, and still had the courage to ask for what we were most afraid of losing all over again: Another precious baby with a different name.

And the God who walked with us through every long day of each of the year’s 365, chose in that one singular moment of time to make Himself known to us by saying “Yes” to that longed-for story written in that Easter egg.  And guess what? The same exact thing was written inside of mine.

I still wish Charlie was here.  I still can’t believe that Finn actually is.  The whole entire story is becoming so complex amidst so many layers of fear and hope, and sorrow and joy, and Here and Eternity, that I am starting to have trouble even feeling all the feelings.  But I can say again, what I clung to 365 days ago, and the 365 days before that, and the 365 before that, and the very hardest ones before that…that life is about knowing God and making Him known, and we trust Him for one reason alone…because the tomb was empty.

Happy Birthday, to our precious Charlie James.  Thank you for teaching me more than anyone ever has, about the God who reigns over all of the empty.  My sweet boy, I think of you 365 days of the year, and I can’t wait for my last one here, and my first one with you There.  Until then, I will follow in the beautiful example that your life has been to me of living to know God and make Him known in my imperfect ways here on earth, just as you get to do so perfectly in Eternity.  And I will cling to the words of your spicy big sister…and live to love God most.

One long day at a time.  For 365 days a year.  Until finally, there are no more days.




It’s raining today.  Which is unremarkable, here where it rains most every day.  But sometimes, just sometimes, the rain feels less like a meteorological event, and more like tears from the sky.

Today, is a tears day.

I look out a window, at the towering pines behind our home, and watch the sky weep.  And tonight, as the clock ticks on toward that fateful moment between 11:59 of one birthday and 12:00 of the next, more tears will fall.  And even though I hate everything about this story, and certainly the timing of this pain, this is and will always be: The birthday week of our boys.  Our sons’ birthdays.  Which feels hard to even say, because I never ever use the term, “our sons’.”  I have absolutely no reason to.  They never got to be together in any way, except for one- our sons share this week.  The best week of our lives…and the worst week.  The moment I held Freddo in my arms and turned to Reid and said, “We have a son.” And then, the moment exactly three years later…when I held Charlie in my arms, and wept in the silence and stillness of the kind of hospital room that should never, ever be.

The other day Freddo asked me if all babies cry when they are born.   As my mind flashed back to the utter silence of our birth room, I looked at his big brown eyes filled with questions and concern, and tears filled mine. He’s been asking lots of questions like this lately.  Some of his questions are because, seriously…he is a brilliant little being. Like the other day when he asked me, “Mom, do identical twins have a “split-wire” placenta,” followed by a peppering of questions about the exact nature of “the sack” where babies are carried by their mommies. I’m trying to keep up with our little Doogie Howser MD, but honestly, I’d rather play legos…than fight to sort out these mysteries of life.  And so, we sort while we play.

Some of these questions, are because of our story.  Questions that most children will never have to think through and ask…ours do.  Questions about cemeteries, and procreation, and suffering.  This last fall, after a solid week of Emma’s incredibly deep, excruciatingly painful questions about the cause of suffering, I finally just broke down and told her the whole story of Job and his family.  Not the cutesy, children’s-Bible version…the real thing.  I figured if she has to be in a Job story, she deserves to know the truth about these things.

I know our children are suffering, and in ways even deeper than they did in the days that  followed January 28th, 2013. They are reliving our story, through eyes that can finally see and hear and feel the pain.  And in that, there is new pain. When we lost Charlie, it was the most agonizing sorrow of our entire lives.  The actual person of Charlie, gone forever from our story.  His little hands.  His sweet cheeks.  His name, and narrative, and uniquely-fashioned soul…irreplaceable in every way.  But in that very moment, we also lost the hope of Charlie…the hope of having a baby brother exactly three years younger than his hero Freddie.

And eventually, slowly, in future moments, written on pages deeper into the story…we also lost the hope of anybody.  For some people who lose a child, they get to have more.  They will never replace the unique person lost…but they do get to replace the hope of having a new little person join their lives.  The hope of having a different ending to the story.  The hope of a rainbow, and not just this endless, drowning rain.

And then, we lost that hope too, as baby after baby died.  The one we wanted and what we wanted, gone forever on the same day. Both losses horrific, and both needing to be grieved.  And though we big people suffered through the loss of all of that at once…I realize now, that our little people have only truly grieved the first thing.  Now as they grow, they are beginning to grieve the entire package of our suffering. And though I have tried fervently to protect them from the depths of our pain, by talking about Charlie mostly only when they initiate, this is the first year where they are beginning to lead us into the pain.

At least once a week, usually while we are playing together in his room, Fred will ask me, “Mommy, if Charlie were here…how old would he be?”  This is the question he asks when he is lonely.  When the girls are in the other room playing dolls or Nail Salon, and he is alone, in the quiet of his bedroom…another silent room much like that hospital room from three years ago tonight.  Another room I had thought would be filled with Charlie’s life and cries and joy and voice…but isn’t.  Freddo is alone in his room, and in that silence, the questions come.  And I say, “Well, if Charlie were here, he would be almost three.”  And then we both sit there, silent again, with our Lego creation growing between us and our hearts breaking inside.  Both thinking of what it would be like to have the daily joy of a wild and wonder-filled, three-year-old-boy who looks just like Freddo, tearing into his precious things, and driving him bat-crazy.  And…hugging him tight at night.  And…asking for another bedtime story.  And…filling this death-ache with life.

I know just how deeply he is hurting right now, because our Freddo is generally regarded by all who know him, as one positive little fellow.  In a childhood filled with the darkest storms, he has had a remarkable ability to see silver linings.  And yet, there is a sadness creeping in, that is real and completely reasonable, and so deeply devastating.  Like the other night, when he asked me again how old Charlie would be and what crazy, little-brother things he would be doing. We chatted a while longer about several other I-don’t-want-to-go-bed-so-I’m-stalling-type-things, and then he leaned back into his pillows, and said softly, almost to himself, “I have had such a hard life.  I have lost my little brother.”  And suddenly, it didn’t feel like 1,096 long days ago, it felt like Charlie died yesterday.

And in those moments, days when I might have even been having an “Ok-I’m-almost-surviving-the-suck-that-is-our-life”-kind of day…suddenly I am so not ok.  Because half my children are dead in the ground, and the other half are hurting. Deeply.  And I can’t take any of it away.

He doesn’t know how much it hurts my mommy heart to see his grief, and I don’t want him to, because my greatest fear is that the grief would be buried, and that he would learn to manage his pain in an attempt to manage mine.  Or even worse- that our kids would learn, through our response to their grief and pain- that grief is not ok.  That the unspoken sorrows of death, and suffering, and unanswered prayers, are taboo subjects on this long road called life.  And then, they would become so, so…American.  They would become the kind of people, who most hurt us in our grief.  The kind of people I still fear we will someday be…people who can’t live in pain.  People ill-equipped for this spinning sphere we’re all stuck on- where everybody dies and every life is brimming over with seen and buried pain.  And since I am more terrified of that, than even of suffering…we sit in grief together, and ride the waves of one another’s pain, as the sea billows roll right over our kid’s souls and stories, just as they crash on forever in Reid’s and mine.

Our children couldn’t possibly understand the new kind of hurt I feel, foreign in nature and yet familiar in agony, as I watch them relive my grief in their own tender lives.  In those moments, I suddenly feel very, very old, and akin to God’s Father heart in a new way: The pain of watching as your child is suffering.  I’ve heard He knows a thing or two about that kind of pain.  I’ve heard He wrote the Book on it.  And as today marks three horrifically long years spent being His children in suffering, somehow, in the midst of this, I am beginning to see God’s heart in new ways.  How small I am as his child, and how little I really know about Him.  I see this so much more clearly now, as I see myself through the new waves of grief in Fred’s life.

Because my Freddo- is the seriously the smartest little person I know, and yet you could fill a book with all he doesn’t know about…me.  He doesn’t know…that for the last month whenever he would say, “Mom! It’s almost my birthday week,”…I couldn’t even breathe.  So happy for him that his birthday was coming, and so deeply dreading the sorrow of this week.  There are limits to what my child could know of my heart and my grief…and in those limits, I see how little I must know, of what these years have been like from God’s side of the sky.  Just as I save most of my tears over Charlie, for the moments at night when our kids are asleep…does God perhaps, hide His tears from me?  Might He, maybe just maybe, be hurting for us as His children far beyond what I can see?   I don’t know.

My Freddo is seriously the most kissable little person I know.  I am absolutely convinced that his cheeks are made of a special kind of butter cream.  He knows I love him, and he knows I love to kiss him.  He doesn’t know…that he gets a double portion of my kisses each night- as I sneak into his room like a less creepy version of the “I’ll Love You Forever” lady.  He doesn’t know that I come in each night to put two extra kisses on those cheeks.  I didn’t intend to, it just happened during that first agonizing bedtime after grief, when I had to kiss someone, and my Charlie was suddenly ten billion miles from me.  But it’s got me thinking- just as I love Fred in ways He doesn’t even know because of the suffering in our lives…might He, maybe just maybe, love me in the same special way, far beyond what I can see.  I don’t know.

And my Freddo is seriously, the most affectionate person I know.  He says things that could melt pretty much anybody, and especially a very broken Mommy.  But he doesn’t know…how much his affection means to me.  Like this week when he declared, “Mommy, if you’re sick on my birthday, I’m going to cancel the whole thing.” Or how much it meant to me when he cried big crocodile tears about turning six, “Because it means that someday I’ll have to go to college and I won’t get to be with you for always!”  Fred doesn’t know how those are the moments when I feel most loved by him. He knows I love him, he just doesn’t have a clue how much his love back means to me.  And as I sit here, on this day, THE day every year when I feel the absolute least loved and cared for by God…it makes me wonder if I’m missing something.  If…might He, maybe just maybe, be moved by even my broken-version of love back to Him, far beyond what I can see. I don’t know.

All I know, is that if there are limits to what my own children can know of the depths of my love and the breadth of my grief…maybe, just maybe, there is a chasm of unknown, between my Father and me.  I look at the picture of our celebration of Charlie’s life, and I don’t feel the love.  I don’t feel cared for by God, and I certainly don’t feel lovingly carried up to this very moment in time.  I feel like we have limped here, with three blue balloons in tow, bleeding and broken, through all 1,096 days.  Even this morning, as Reid and I looked at one another and said, “I don’t think I can do this day, ” what immediately came to mind was my new version of that chipper little verse. “This is the day that the Lord has made…and so I will suffer through it.”  And I believe that.  I absolutely do.  I hate it, but I believe it.

But, I believe with all my heart that something else is also true.  That just as Freddo will fall asleep tonight and wake up to a room covered in streamers and a sea of balloons in Seahawk blue and green…other surprises have been written into the story.  Because what Freddo doesn’t know…is that we’ll be up late tonight, turning Daddy’s old t-shirt into a Jedi robe, and making the world’s most awesome Death Star cupcakes.  He doesn’t know that tomorrow he is getting his first real hiking backpack, and his first Swiss-army knife.  He doesn’t know that Daddy is taking him on a waterfall adventure, or that Mommy is planning the very best birthday breakfast surprise.  He knows almost nothing.  He just trusts me.  He simply trusts that deep down, it’s going to be a really good day and a really good life, filled with really good things, in spite of it also being a life filled with pain.

And Freddo just wants, above all else, to be in it with me.  Heck, he doesn’t even want to HAVE a birthday if I’m not coming.  And that is how my Father wants me to be.  I don’t need to apply my theological degree to this one, or even search deep in my heart through the university of suffering we have endured for the last 1,096 days…the deepest theological truth ever to be known, is already buried deep inside.

And best lived out by the little boy still in my life…

Jesus loves me.

This I know. And I don’t know much right now. Suffering and grief is messy and horrific, and in our case it seems, absolutely never-ending.  But I do know this- Freddo is right.  Just as a birthday isn’t worth having if the one who loves you most isn’t there…so too is life with God.  I have no idea where He is some days, or if He’s hearing our endless cries, or if He sees our forever pain…but if Freddo and I are any indication of what I might not know as God’s child…I’m just going to close my eyes tonight, and try desperately to be a little more like Fred and a little less like me.

And so, I will go to sleep tonight, on my least favorite day of the year, during years upon years I don’t particularly like much anyways, believing that maybe just maybe, God comes into my room, and gives me a double portion of love just as I do for my Freddie.  Even love that I cannot see.  I don’t know.  But I’m going to believe it by faith.  Until the day when we no longer have to send balloons up to the sky, and finally get to celebrate our Charlie face-to-face.

In a place of no more tears, and no more rain.

Where maybe just maybe, becomes forever and always.IMG_4748






We’re Leaving Anyways

A week from now, everything we own, and everybody we have left, will be packed up in a U-haul that’s driving away from this place.  We are moving to Seattle, and with genuine excitement about the new things God has in store for our family.  It’s the getting there that’s the hard part.  These last few weeks have been filled with playdates and packing, tearful goodbyes and packing, last-time-we’ll-ever-do-this-moments and packing.  And did I mention we’re packing?

I hate packing.  Mostly because it reminds me of the last time our family was sent packing. I was so physically sick I could barely make it through the day, and in less time than that- 23 hours to be exact- we went from finding out there was toxic mold in our house- to living in a completely different one.  My last memory of “packing” was watching from a distance as some very kind college boys frantically boxed up our entire life, while I sat on the phone with my doctor determining the things we could and could not safely keep.  In the end, what we could keep was almost nothing.

What we could keep…were the memories.  Some of them sweet.  Sophie’s first steps happened in that place.  Emma’s first day of school happened in that place.  “Blue Ice Cream Day” celebrating Charlie on the way…happened in that place. Countless friends and family and college students made sweet memories with us…in that death trap we called home.  There was laughter and moments of redemption, and times where we genuinely encountered the Lord and His love for us in that place.  There were three beautiful children who lived in that home, and filled its rooms with sunshine and joy.  But most of our time there…it was the very valley of the shadow of death.  The place where three equally beautiful children died.  Like Sheol.  A place of suffocating stillness and darkness. Our life in that place was the very pit of human suffering.  The suffering of being broken people, living in a broken house that broke our bodies.  And took our hearts right along with it.

When I think of our life in the mold house- I think of tears every time.  I cried for 368 days straight in that home.  Every.  Single.  Day.  From the moment Charlie died…until the moment we fled that place.  There is actually a plot of land on this earth that symbolizes the darkest and hardest year of our life.  The year baby, after baby, after baby died.  The year God said “No” to almost every single prayer we prayed.  The year we watched our children suffer almost wordlessly…because how many words could you possibly have to describe your suffering when you’re only 1, and 3, and 5?  The year that endless sorrow reigned, and God seemed to be incredibly far away, and Satan seemed to roam on an incredibly long leash. THAT year- lived out in this town we will soon leave.  The year we will never get back.   The year that looms dark and ugly and so impossibly long, and I desperately want it back in a different and brighter version of our story.  And we’re leaving anyways.

We aren’t going to get it back.  And we aren’t going to get them back.  Our babies are dead. Buried in three separate graves around this place.  A place where our family became a family of four, and then five, and then six, and then seven, and then eight. But we will leave here as five.  And it is the one and only reason the tears fall as I keep on packing.  We are leaving behind not just “chapters of us” or “parts of us” or “memories of us” in this place.  We are actually leaving us behind.  Our very children.  Our very flesh and blood. The ones we would die for in a heartbeat. Except they died first. And it is the absolute heartbreak of our lives.  But we are leaving anyways.

We are leaving them.  And while I know with certainty that they are in heaven, that doesn’t take away the ache.  It doesn’t make it feel any better in the moments when I drive past the hospital where I gave birth to our precious Charlie.  Every day- I look up at the very room where I sat alone on the darkest night of my life, until the doctor walked in and said, “I’m sorry. Your baby died.”  Every day- we drive by the parking lot where we were forced to drive away from our baby.  And every day we have to drive past the doctors’s office where we found out two more babies had died in my body.  And any days we don’t want to drive by all that heartache, we have to get to town the only other way we can…on the road that takes us past the cemetery where our baby boy is buried.  And even though this place holds memories of more raw moments of agony and suffering than many people will face in a lifetime…we are leaving anyways.  

Because if we can’t have them…I honestly don’t need to live by their graves.  I could live by their graves, it’s not that I have to get away.  It’s just not a reason to stay. Graves are for the living.  Lest we forget.  But I know I will never, ever forget my babies.  I think about them every single day.  I guess motherhood gives you a built-in inability to ever forget those most precious to you.  It’s not a reason to stay, but it is certainly another reason to grieve. We are moving both literally and figuratively further away from the only place where our babies who are in heaven were a part of our daily story, and it makes my mama’s heart ache.  We are leaving them.  But we are leaving anyways.

I wanted them here with us, filling our house with joy and our day with crazy.  And I don’t mind living by the things that remind me of our babies, even though all those things make me sad.  I want to remember them.  What has become infinitely more difficult…is living by all the things that remind me of when we were happy.  And we were So. Very. Happy.  Right up until January 27th, 2013.  It has been incredibly difficult being reminded day after day…of our old life here during the time of happy.  The time when this sleepy little town on the Central Coast was officially named, “The Happiest Town On Earth.” And when it actually felt that way.  It hasn’t been our happiest place.  The shocking speed at which we went from being in the very “best years of our life” to the absolute worst…has left us reeling in it’s wake.  And even though our hearts are still somewhere on that journey of grief and no where near finished…we’re leaving anyways.

We are hoping that making new memories as a family in a place where we have no memories of being either devastatingly sad or deliriously happy…will be good for us in some ways.  But even as I type that, I know that something else will be lost as we drive away next week.  We can pack up our stuff…but the people we have to leave behind.  And even though this is the place where we experienced some of the most hurtful and disappointing relationships of our lives…this is also the place where God met us the very most through the literal hands and hugs and hearts of the people who make up His body. This is the very place where God loved our family through encounters with thousands of friends and strangers all over the world. This is where God decimated our bank account through suffering…and where He filled our U-haul through His body.  His kids literally packed our U-haul in this place.  And more of His kids will very literally pack our U-haul next week.  And we are leaving anyways.

We are leaving them all behind.  Not just any people.  The people who brought our family meals- our very mana on some days.  The people who babysat our kids during the deepest days of grief.  Who took the risk and said, “I know your children just buried their baby brother, but I will be a safe place for them to come and play and even grieve…I will not leave you alone in this day.”  The people who drove hundreds of miles to be by our side as we buried our baby boy.  These aren’t just friends.  These are trench-friends.  Battle friends.  Heaven friends.  Forever friends. And we are leaving anyways.

And while this isn’t the first place where Reid and I have encountered the love of God in human hearts…it is the first and only time our kids have seen that in their lives.  Because it’s the only place they’ve ever lived.  Almost all of the words ever written in the books of their lives…have been penned in this place.  And we are leaving anyways.  

The other day, Emma came up to me and said, “Mom, I’ve been working on the story of my life.  I’ve been writing some things down.  Can I read it to you?”  I left it exactly as she wrote it, spelling problems and all.

“Are Story-  And God’s Love for us. (and Animals!)

I was 6 on Valentines day and we found mold in are hous.

And mom got varee, 10,000,000 varee sick, and we moovt to Morro Bay.

And slept on air mattresses.  Until we fownd beds.

And then we had the worst day ever.  And we gave are things away.

And almost every day was Christmas! And God loved us by it.”

I’m still not sure what happened to the “God’s love for Animals” part…but as she read her life-story to me, I just wanted to weep.  I don’t want this to be her story.  I wanted this to be her happy place.  A place where she welcomed baby Charlie into our home…not sat weeping by his grave.  A place where she skipped off to school every day to learn great and mighty things…not where she lost even more by losing her school and all her friends- about six minutes into second grade.  A place where she made “core memories” filled with sunshine and rainbows and unicorns and happy.  Not the place where she also lived out the worst days of her life.  I wanted this to be everything magical and holy and protected about childhood that every parent wants for their kids, and few kids really have…and we had the extreme of not having it.  And I want to fix it even still.  Fix it quick before we leave.  And I can’t. And we’re leaving anyways.

What she will remember…is that life is incredibly hard.  And people are incredibly broken. And that many of them- are so very kind.  And the one’s who love Jesus…well, sometimes those ones see how much you are suffering and rise up and declare it’s Christmas…smack in the middle of February.  And she will remember the God who made them that way.  And that He is worth far more than this life filled with pain that He doesn’t always fix, and stories of suffering He even personally writes.  She will remember.  And she will take all of the mess and beauty of this place with her. And I have run out of time to try to fix the story He wrote that I don’t like.  It is time to move on to a new chapter.  Because like it or not, dreams fulfilled or not, unfinished prayers or not…we are leaving anyways.

I could go on forever.  When you leave a place…you leave all the good.  And all the bad. And none of the good.  And none of the bad.  You take it all with you.  In different ways, to the next place.  To a new chapter and new people.  Loving people. Trench people.  Battle people.  Heaven people.  I’m convinced they’re everywhere.  Forever friends, who you will also someday have to look at and with fresh tears say, “This has been so…EVERYTHING. But, we are leaving anyways.”  Because. That’s.  Just.  Life.

A few weeks ago, I ran into someone at Target that I didn’t really want to say goodbye to. She was across the parking lot and I just didn’t feel like making the effort of another goodbye. And I said to myself, “Oh wellwe are leaving anyways.”  And in that moment, I felt like God spoke to my heart.  Through His still-quiet voice, which always seems to reach me at Target, far more than any other place…

That…is how I want you to feel about this WHOLE Earth-place. Hold it loosely.  Even the goodbyes.  ESPECIALLY the goodbyes.  Make it count.  Make it good.  Fight to know me.  Fight to love others through Me.  Fight to love Me through others.  But in the end…you and everyone you know and love…are leaving anyways. This whole earth place is temporary. There is no such thing as a “Forever Home”…except the One that I am making.  But you had better believe it’s in the making.”

Oh, dear people.  You who have been the people who sat with us by Charlie’s grave. Who babysat our kids during the hardest days of our lives.  Who helped us buy new and exotic things like socks, and backpacks, and books, and tupper-ware during the second hardest days of our lives. Friends, this world is all so very alarmingly and comfortingly temporary.

We, each and every one of us…are leaving anyways.

Let’s fight to make it count.  In the midst of a world where we have been promised nothing but trouble.  By the One who said, “In this world, you will have trouble.”  And then added, “But take heart…I have overcome the world.”

It would be easy for me to dismiss those words, if they had been said by any one else. But they were said by HIM.  A man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.  Who has gone to prepare a Place for us in the only place where we will never again have to unpack our bags, and then sigh and say, “Well, let’s not get too comfortable kids…we’re leaving anyways.”

Finally, there will be no more moving.  No more U-hauls.  No more goodbyes.  And no more bad tears.  Only good ones.  And then the words, “Get comfortable kids, we are staying for a very long always.  Ten thousand years.  And no less days.”





Kids Say The Deepest Things

I used to think that the best years of parenting would be the very first ones…when they were cute and tiny (and thought the world of me).  And then the later ones…when they went off to college (and once again began to think the world of me.)

But let’s be honest…most parents are so desperately sleep-deprived during those “cute and tiny” years…that they kind of miss the whole thing.  I vividly remember the very moment, several months into Freddo’s life, when I stumbled upon a Sealy mattress ad in a magazine…and started to weep.  The advertisment said something sappy like, “The people in your life depend on you to get a good night’s sleep,” and after nine straight months of waking up at least nine times a night with our acid-reflux-plagued-little-puker…oh how that ad was speaking to me.

All of THAT to say…it turns out that my theory was a little off.  Because I have found that it’s actually these floundering “elementary-school” years, when they can finally think and feel and speak and reason and relate…that have become infinitely precious to me.

But they are especially precious to me…because I will never have them with my sweet Charlie.  I feel like we have been totally robbed.  Robbed, not just of the sleepless nights I would have GIVEN ANYTHING TO HAVE HAD with our baby boy, but also robbed of these precious middle years that were coming.  If Charlie were here he would be two and half now…getting into all sorts of adorable mischief, and talking up a storm.  And. We. Missed. The. Whole. Thing.

Even two years later, it hurts so badly I physically ache.  I wanted to hear his voice.  I wanted to know each and every wild thought that came into his little mind.  And as much as I longed to hold him through those long, sleep-deprived nights and care for him as a baby…as my other little ones began to share the very depths of their souls one conversation at a time…I feel so much more deeply all that we will miss of Charlie’s life.

We will miss his every thought.  We will miss his dreams.  We will miss his fears.  His off-key songs.  His endless lists of favorite things.  His crazy-but-they-might-just-work-ideas he would have wanted to try.  We will miss every single thing that makes him laugh, and even the painful things that make him cry.  And I am finding that as I move into these “messy middle years” with Charlie’s big siblings…these years of akward, missing-teeth smiles, and the millions of wacky life-questions that fill my days…I most grief Charlie’s unlived life.

Because I know that I am not just missing out on Charlie…I have missed my opportunity to know Christ-in-Charlie.  I had wanted to know Jesus more through the joy of sharing this life…not through the suffering of being denied the whole thing.

I’d like to put a bow on that, and say something deep and holy about how great Heaven is going to be, and believe me…it is.  Sometimes I wonder if there is anyone on the planet who longs for it more than me.  But down here, stuck on this broken earth, I have found that you need to see Jesus in THIS day…and not just in the hope of the Heaven-ones coming.

And that…is why I’ve started the #kidssaythedeepestthings project.  For all of us, stuck here on this earth, whose souls groan and ache through Earth’s dark days, and yet whose lives have been made a bit brighter…by the little ones in our lives.  And honestly, that’s…everybody.  

You may have heard of the #100Dayproject.  Simply put: DO SOMETHING, anything for 100 days.11138613_10203820200125472_2719113668350978182_n

The moment I saw this on a friend’s Insta-feed I thought to myself, “What a great idea…ANYTHING is doable for 100 days!”  It’s short-enough to make it happen, and yet long enough to maybe just maybe change your life. I read somewhere once that it only takes 21 days to make a “habit” out of something.  I think of this fun fact…every time I renew my commitment to become avid about the habit of flossing.  And yet, here I am, all these years later…still standing before the principal (I mean, dentist) fudging about my flossing habits biannually.  (I’m starting to think 21 days is too short to change your life.)  But 100…?  Well, maybe just maybe.

And it got me thinking, “What could I really do for 100 days, that would create a habit that would permanently and eternally impact my life?”  My friend decided to talk to 100 people about their spiritual journey’s, and the journey has been totally amazing.  But I just don’t see all that many people in my mom-days.

And then it hit me…Who do I see every day?  Who has God called me to listen to as I go through the glamorous task of wiping the crumbs off the same 5 x 5 foot floor space three meals a day and snack times in between?

My little glories.

And as I began to think of not just the mundane, and insanity-inducing moments of our daily life…but also the holy and wholly amazing ones when the little people I live with say something that truly stops me cold by the brilliance and depth of their tiny minds…I realized how good it might be to commit to stopping and listening to them a little (read: a lot) more closely.

And so, I began to listen.  To listen to their phrases.  To listen to the conversations coming from the backseat.  To listen to their whispered words in the hushed (and sometimes NOT so hushed) moments of bedtime.  And most of all…to listen to their words when I am busy, and most prone to only pretend to be listening.  I began to listen all day long for glimpses of the incarnate Christ in my little glories…one conversation at a time. And it has been life-changing.  I haven’t even made it to the coveted 21st day, but I’m feeling pretty confident that this habit is here to stay.

Because what I’ve realized ten days into this journey…is that I just wasn’t listening very closely.  Oh, I heard them.  But I’m not sure I always saw them.  And worst of all…I’m not sure I always saw Him in them.  Weekly?  For sure.  But hourly?  Hardly. But now that I’m searching for hidden treasure in the simple words my kids speak…I am amazed at the radiant display of God they are showing me daily…through their simple and child-like lives.  In the last ten days alone, of really truly listening, my children have deeply challenged me in the ways they both encounter and reveal the living Christ.

I know so many moms who fear that life and ministry are kind of “over” when they have a child.  Friends, I will die on this hill…being a mama is the best ministry you will ever be invited to, because it is the one, and perhaps the only one…where you cannot hide.  You actually literally cannot hide.  (Believe me, I know.  I found myself in the hall closet one day, and thought to myself, “This is ridiculous.  Eventually, they are going to FIND me…and think this is a rad game of hide-and-go-seek.”)

And you figuratively cannot hide.  They are around you so much, and in so many behind-closed-doors moments, that it is unavoidable friends: by the time they get to college, if you were even half honest about your sins and struggles in this life…your kids will be utterly convinced that you’re one hot mess and not the chief of saints.  They just will.  Believe me, I know…I’m in college ministry.  You simply cannot escape.

But in that not escaping, you might be their very best glimpse…of someone who desperately needs a Savior…and has found one by His grace.  Every single time I yell at my kids too loudly, or drop a colorful word I wish they hadn’t heard me say…I think to myself, “There it is again:  My front-row, moving picture, Film-festival worthy display…of my need for Someone more holy than me.”  But the same is true for the flip-side.  If Jesus is in you, you will also be one of your children’s clearest pictures of Christ-in-you, the true hope of glory. Because being someone’s mama is a Colossians 1:27-kind of ministry.

“To them, God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory…” (Colossians 1:27.)

No one will think it’s a bigger and more glorious mystery that Christ is in YOU…than your kids.  They who get to see the “real” you on display day after day.  And no one has the opportunity to see Jesus more clearly than they will…through your broken and redeemed life. I’ve always thought this…and been both terrified and excited about this reality.  But in these last few years, as we have suffered beyond our wildest imagination, and been forced to do real life together in even deeper ways- a new reality has hit me.  That same hope of glory is also for ME to see…through the great mystery of Christ-in-their-lives.

Believe me, I know that I’m raising a bunch of little sinners.  That’s usually my first proclamation when my husband calmly strolls in the door at closing time each day.  But lately especially, as I’ve begun to really listen to the little things they say, I have become awe-strikingly aware that we are also raising a bunch of saints.  I have 90 days to go…but even 10 days into #my100dayproject…my kid’s have downright shocked me with their own radiant displays of “Christ-in-me” the hope of glory.

And so…I wanted to invite you to be a part of this journey.  You could take part, by simply listening alongside me as my kids show me Jesus one conversation at a time.  The hashtag is #kidsaythedeepestthings.  (I forgot the “s” so plan accordingly.) Or, even better…you could JOIN me.  And post your own Colossians 1:27 moments with the communal hashtag #kidsSaythedeepestthings.  I would SO love to hear how the little people in your life…be they grandkids, or nieces and nephews, or the kids you nanny, or your very own little glories…are showing you the very heart of Jesus, one conversation at a time.

Now I know that when they are young…the verdict is still out on how the little ones in our lives will walk with Jesus through the upcoming “Wonder Years” of middle school, high school, and college.  But I also know that the Jesus our kid’s reflect to us each day, had some really strong words about the preciousness of kids, and how MUCH they reveal to us of the King.  He was crystal clear: “The Kingdom of Heaven BELONGS to such as these.”  Belongs.  I love that word.  We humans spend our whole lives longing for belonging, and here we are…surrounded by short people who belong to Him in a really special way.

So…Will you join me?  Will you commit to truly listen to your littles, and the big and glorious things they say?  I have a dream that someday, when we big people are gone, our little people will be able to look back and see that we knew that each one of them had something deeply precious and holy to speak into this life.

The other day, I made an “Earth Day” lunch for the kids.  The sandwiches were a little too “earthy” for their liking so I added the last of our watermelon to each plate.  Two minutes later, I came back into the kitchen, and found 3 plates, with 3 Earth sandwiches on them, and 3 slices of water melon…nibbled right down to the rinds. I looked up at Freddo, his soft, sweet cheeks dripping with watermelon juice and said, “Umm, Fred…what happened to the watermelon?”  He dropped his head and said to me, “I ate them.  All of them.  I was so hungry and that watermelon tasted sooooo juicy.”

Well, one Time-out and two apologies later, and I was back from the store with more watermelon for the sisters who hadn’t gotten any.  I thought nothing of it, as I cut three more juicy slices and plunked them on the plates.  And in that moment, Freddo looked up at me and said softly, “Mommy, thanks for giving me grace and letting me have more watermelon.  It makes me so happy.”

Um…did he just say, “grace.”  In it’s proper context?  Like someone who actually gets that big and glorious word?  And feels unworthy of it and grateful for it just the same?

Yes.  He.  Did.

And I realized in that moment, that this little man who is only five years into this life filled with endless opportunities for God-sized grace, is indeed learning about it…one watermelon slice at a time.  And as I sliced him another big piece, I had to stop and ask myself, “How often do I stop and THANK GOD…for endless moments of grace in my own life?” Not enough. Not nearly.

And so, I am stopping and saying it for the next 100 days.  In honor of all six of my little glories- who are the greatest reminder of God’s undeserved grace I will ever encounter in this life.  In honor of the three who are in Heaven waiting for me. And in honor of the three who are on Earth…waiting for me.

Waiting for me to hear them, and see them, and know them more and more each day. And even more…to know better the God of all grace, through the simple experience of listening to their hearts as they chatter through our days. The King who ordained long ago, when He set up a world where we start as little-people, that they would teach us so much. He, who knew full well, far better than we, that #kidsSaythedeepestthings.

And why?  Well, because Grace…is so very sweet.1743463_10152730430125863_4720193356260092646_n


The Damn Yes Fight

We call it our “Damn Yes” Fight.  It was a fight about a great many things, but at its core…it was fight about the question of the ages, the question that hangs in the air between every couple from here to Beijing… Do You Really Love Me?

The fight happened early on in our engagement, on a balmy night in Daytona Beach, right outside an ugly-green hotel called “The El Caribe.” (If you’re thinking of putting it on your Bucket List…no need.)

As pretty much all fights go, it was really about me asking, “Do you cherish me?”  and him asking, “Do you respect me?”  But for the sake of deduction…the fight was more specifically about “spiritual leadership.”  I don’t remember how it began.  I don’t even remember how it ended.  All I remember is the crucial middle part.  That point in the fight where you both snap, and finally say what you actually mean.

I remember saying that I wanted him to “lead me spiritually.”  I wanted him to initiate quiet times together, and prayer times together, and to help encourage me in my walk with the Lord in really specific ways.  It probably didn’t help that I had recently graduated from the Moody Bible Institute with a degree in Bible and Theology.  Or that my “idea” of what a godly husband looked like, bore an awfully strong resemblance to the perfect blend of John Piper and Chuck Swindoll.  I don’t even remember exactly how I explained my expectations for “spiritual leadership” in marriage, but I do remember the moment when he stopped right there in the middle of that dark street and yelled, “You mean you expect me to lead you in a Bible devotional every morning!?”

I also vividly remember my response.

I remember feeling angry.  And frustrated.  And disappointed.

And I clearly remember shouting back, “DAMN YES!”

And do you know what he did?  My thoughtful, tender husband, who has more emotional awareness and emotional maturity at thirty-four than most men will acquire in a lifetime…HE LAUGHED AT ME.

Yep.  Right there on the street.  As I poured out my deepest frustration about not being “led better spiritually” to The Throne Room of the KING OF KINGS…he laughed at me.

“First,” he said, “We need to teach you how to swear.  Because your first attempt just went so badly.  And second, you’re crazy if you think THAT is what spiritual leadership is going to look like.”

“Fine!” I shouted back.  “Teach me how to swear!”

Just kidding.  What I actually said was, “Fine!  What DOES it look like?”

And that my friends, is the million dollar question.  What DOES it look like for a man to love and lead his family?  We talk about a man “leading his family spiritually”  All.  Of.  The.  Time.  And I’m sure many a book has been written on the subject.  But I have yet to read one I truly like.  Because they all seem vaguely out of touch with the reality I see all around me as we do ministry, and especially as we minister to couples who are at the very beginning of their marriage.

And as I think of the those couples, and of my friends and their marriages, I can honestly say…I don’t have a single friend who kicks off every married morning with a husband-initiated Quiet Time.  They.  Just.  Don’t.  And I’ve got some very godly friends.

Please hear me.  I am not saying it is bad to spend time together in the Word, and it is certainly not bad for a husband to initiate time in the Word or prayer with his wife.  Most wives I know would drop the laundry, the dirty dish, or the crying baby still in their arms at any moment…if their husband initiated such a thing.  But I am saying that I don’t think that alone is the measure of a man, and whether or not he is truly leading his family spiritually.

So, what is?

Well, I’m going to go out on a limb here and share what I have personally experienced spiritual leadership to be.  One, because it’s Valentines week, and there’s a lot of red hearts flying around, and an equal number of expectations on love flying right along with them. And more importantly, because after a decade of ministry to college students, which has created an almost permanent revolving door of newly married or almost married people in our lives, I am convinced that when we say “leading someone spiritually” there are an awful lot of couples stuck in the “Damn Yes” Fight.

And deep down, I think that the Church is full of way too many wives who are discouraged and disappointed…and way too many husbands who are weary.  Weary, and feeling like they are failing, no matter how hard they try.

And deep down, I think Satan likes it this way.  I think he likes to keep things “vague,” so that we performance-oriented American Christians can feel beaten-up and battered over things we don’t even clearly define.  I think he strokes his evil chin and says, “Yes, let’s keep ’em guessing. Let’s dangle the golden carrot of “leading spiritually” out there long enough to make them want it, but keep it vague enough that everyone will just feel pretty fed up with the whole thing.”

Which is pretty much exactly where we were at on that fateful night by the El Caribe.  And it wasn’t the first time we were having that fight.  We’d already had it many times, packaged up in different ways.  But that was the best part about the “Damn Yes” night.  We were both finally discouraged enough to begin asking people we trusted what they thought “spiritual leadership” looked like.

And let me tell you, the answers were both surprising and convicting.

First, we asked the pastor who was going to marry us.  The man who had led us through an exegetical study on the book of Romans, which was then and probably always will be…the best Bible Study of our entire lives.  The pastor of a large church whose own wife learned Greek and Hebrew too, just so they could study the Bible together in its original language.  He wasn’t exactly a “spiritual slouch” and yet…his answer totally surprised me.

He didn’t even hesitate.

“You know, at the end of the day, I really believe that spiritual leadership is getting out of bed every morning and going to work to provide for your family.  Day, after day.  Because, it’s just…not…easy.”

I was shocked.  I wanted it to be, “Lead your family in the Word.”  “Pray for everyone at sunrise, noon, and midnight.”  “Fast weekly.”

But no.

Go to work?  How could that be?

Well, let me tell you, after the two hardest years of our lives…I now get it in ways I never did before.  I now understand that it is no small thing that, in the midst of all of our suffering, Reid has loved our family by getting out of bed and going to work for our bread and butter and bacon EVERY DAY.

He does it because it’s his job…here in 21st century times.  And he does it even more, because it’s his curse…from all the way back in Garden times.  Adam sinned, so Reid goes to work.  Tilling the soil of hard and broken hearts, just like farmers and bankers and candle-shop makers till the hard soil of this cursed earth in their own ways.   And though simply “going to work” isn’t glamorous, or particularly “deep”,,,it is a deeply spiritual thing because God made it that way.  And if your husband gets up morning after morning to painfully toil over the “soil” of this world, I truly encourage you to sit in the weight of that for a moment and bask in how amazing it actually is that you have been loved so extravagantly.

Reid works for our family.  He also works for the glory of God, and the eternal impact his life’s labor will have on the lives of college students.  But let’s get real here…at the end of the day, I have a pillow under my head and food in my fridge, because my husband fights against the curse every day and works with his hands FOR OUR family.  It is a burden I don’t even fully comprehend as a wife.  But one I am blessed by every single day.

Last night, my loving husband led our family so well by driving all the way home from campus to help me with the dreaded Bedtime, just to turn around and go back to campus for a leadership meeting he got home from at midnight.  Right now Reid is doing his job, and because I’m so very sick…he is also doing so much of mine.  He works the soil all day, and then does our laundry all night.  And he does it, because he truly believes…

Spiritual leadership is providing for your family.

Please hear me, I know there are about as many unique situations as there are human beings, and if your husband cannot work, or if you both work, that does not mean that this is the only way to lead your family spiritually.  But I am convinced that this is a very big, deeply underestimated reality that I think millions of godly men are under-appreciated in EVERY SINGLE DAY.  And I’d bet if you polled a group of men, and asked them if it is a significant and weighty burden on their hearts to live in Adam’s dread curse, and to care for and provide for their family…most would probably give you a rather resounding, “Damn Yes.”

And it makes sense.  Because Jesus also cares for and lovingly provides for His Bride.  Every.  Day. Despite our ingratitude.

But wait, there’s more.

Because even after we said “I Do,” and I really began to internalize the idea that Reid was loving me and leading me in ways “Beyond the Quiet Time”…I found myself with new expectations.  (Read: we found ourselves in new fights.)

I truly believe that fighting is a VERY important, and healthy part of any good marriage.  I hold to the old adage, “If you never of you is not representing.”  And I really believe that the most cleansing, soul-bonding moments of our marriage have been in times of conflict, and the healing conversations that came after it.  But…how you fight, and how you pursue one another towards resolution in a fight, is an equally crucial thing.

And to be honest, for the first few years of our marriage, I did most of the pursuing.  Until one day I snapped.  Actually, lots of days.  We would have conflict and I would feel hurt, and vulnerable and misunderstood, and I would really want him to reach down into the mire of my ugly, wounded heart…and pursue me.  And I would feel so angry that I was the one doing the pursuing.

For those of you who know Reid, you know that he is so gentle and compassionate, that you probably can’t even imagine him fighting with anybody.  Well, he does.  Me.  Just me.  And early on in our marriage I began to accept the fact that we would work through the conflict when I pursued him.  I was discouraged about it, but certainly not willing to let the sun go down on my anger day after day…just to prove a point.

And then…enter outside counsel via podcast.  I don’t remember the name of the talk, probably because I never even heard it.  But I distinctly remember the night Reid came home and said to me, “Hey, I was listening to a sermon today from John Piper.  And he said that when a husband and a wife are in a fight and it is the husband’s fault…it is the HUSBAND’S job to pursue the wife.  And when you are in a fight and it’s the wife’s fault…it is the HUSBAND’S job to pursue the wife.  And I am so sorry that it has not been that way in our marriage.”

And that was it.  One of those classic moments in life when someone hears something from the person they needed to hear it from…and it sticks.  And it changes your life.  And quite honestly…it changed our marriage.  To know that Reid would pursue me and fight for me no matter what, and no matter when…even in the ugliest fights…was an enormous comfort to me.

It doesn’t mean that I never pursue Reid when we are in conflict, but the idea that Jesus pursued His bride when she as far off and it was ALL HER FAULT…and that He keeps on relentlessly fighting for us in all our wretched ugly…has changed what conflict looks like in our marriage.  It has meant the world to me that Reid truly believes and lives out the wisdom of Piper’s admonition that…

Spiritual leadership is being the pursuer in every fight.

This is by no means a comprehensive list.  And I could go on forever, about the ways that Reid has loved and led me spiritually in ways that do not show up in classic “Spiritual Leadership” books.

But, this last one is most precious to me.

When we were engaged we heard the story of a pastor who officiated his son’s wedding.  Mid-wedding, he made his son turn to his bride and said to him, “Now, repeat after me:  “I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever…leave you.”  And then he made the bride do the same.

On our wedding day, after we said our vows and exchanged rings, we moved to the “Candle Lighting Ceremony.”  I know it’s symbolic and all, but that’s an awfully long time to just sit there and stare at a candle, while everyone’s staring at your backsides, so Reid and I planned on sharing something special during that time.  And in that moment he turned to me and said, “I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever…leave you.”

I am crying even as I type.

Not so much because of the promise.  But because he’s kept it.

Through hell, he has kept it.

I don’t even have to give you the “statistics” for couples who’ve buried a child, or lost all their worldly possessions, or suffered complete financial decimation, or live daily with debilitating chronic pain.  And in the last two years, we’ve experienced all of these.  It was a year ago this Valentine’s, when our doctor called us with the news that we had indeed been exposed to toxic mold, and we would have to get rid of literally everything.  These are absolutely the moments that destroy marriages.  When the crushing pressure of death and loss and suffering and hardship bear down until you can no longer breathe, let alone treasure and love and care for another rather sinful and equally devastated human being.

And he did not leave.

And though my body is broken, and I can’t feel my legs or arms when I go to sleep, and he has to give me a back-rub every night and I’m too weak to ever give one back…

He does not leave.

And though my soul is broken, and I scream horrible things at the sky, and sound dangerously similar to Job’s wife because I am so completely sick of being the people who people think of when they read the book of Job for their Quiet Times…

He does not leave.

He does not lead me in our “Morning Devos.”  He might not even pray for me every night.  But he loves me.  He fights for me.  He pursues me.  He speaks the truth of God’s love for me and care for us in the midst of these endless storms every day as he speaks the Word of God into my life.

And as this boat rocks on and on and on, and we are pounded by endless wave after wave of suffering…

He does not leave.

Because spiritual leadership is never, ever leaving.

Just like the One who once promised us, “I will never forsake you, I will never leave.”

And spiritual leadership is more than just not leaving…it’s loving in a way that shows them that the real you…is there to love the real them…until your dying day.

He has seen me, the real me.  And he has accepted and held unto the real me.  He has held me by our babies graves.  He has held me after every fight.  He has held me when I screamed in anger over the absolute misery of our lives.  He has stayed.

And as we prepare to celebrate another Valentine’s day, and I see junior high boys scrambling around the grocery story trying to buy flowers for the girls they “love,” I can only smile.

Because love…is not about flowers, or chocolate, or words on heart-shaped Valentines…and it’s not even about how well you “lead” someone through truly optional, albeit wonderful spiritually-healthy routines…love is staying.

Love is being, what is simple, and yet so incredibly hard to be.  A provider.  A pursuer.  And someone who stays.  And every man who is and does those things…has given his wife a far greater gift than anything that could ever be packaged on an arbitrary day.

If your husband has been these things you are the luckiest woman in the world.  Because while you may not have been through all that we’ve been through- the curse is over all the earth, and as I look around at this broken world…none of this is easy.  We are all knee-deep in this cursed soil, struggling desperately to believe that we are loved in a world so broken and still breaking.

But is this broken heart…deeply grateful for the equally broken man who is beside me?

Umm…damn yes.


If I Were Writing This Story

This morning I woke up, body tired and heart heavy.  I spent most of last night laying awake in bed, battling neuropathy…my current and least favorite symptom of mold poisoning.  I spent most of last night staring at the ceiling, and thinking of that other night two years ago…when we did not even sleep.  The longest night of our lives.

Waiting for him to come.

Knowing he was already gone.

Today, is Charlie’s birthday.  Tomorrow, is Fred’s.  He would have been two.  He will be five. And they would have been “birthday twins,” celebrating the endless fun and excitement of the most awesome birthday week to ever grace a family’s January...if I were writing this story.

And it would actually be the most awesome week of January…if I were writing this story.   

His precious, perfect cheeks would be covered in chocolate frosting right now.  His nut brown hair would be sticking up in all directions under his little party hat.  And his beautiful eyes would be dancing with excitement as his big siblings took it upon themselves to blow out the candles on his birthday cake…if I were writing this story.

But that is not our day.  Because we did not get our story.

And tomorrow, as we celebrate our sweet Freddo’s life and hug him extra tight, it will not be the day I had wanted it to be…because I never, ever would have written that we would have to spend one day at a cemetery and the next day at Chuck-e-Cheese for as long as we all shall live…if I were writing this story.

And this, the hardest week of our lives…is only the worst reminder of the reality of every single breathing moment of our lives…that we live in the valley of the shadow of death, and I wouldn’t have chosen to write us within ten billion miles of this dark and desolate valley…if I were writing this story.

I feel it every Christmas…as we try to decide what to do about the “Christmas Card.”  That proverbial, annual send-out that supposed to capture “Another Great Year” for a “Growing Family.”  But Charlie isn’t growing.  His soft cheeks, and knobby little knees, and tender little heart are not growing where I wanted them to be.  They are not growing in my home, near my heart, and with his siblings.   And they never, ever will be.  And I ache in places I can’t even articulate trying to figure out how to capture our “family”…when half of my children are stuck on earth and the other half are somewhere a billion light years away.

I don’t want a happy, smiley picture of the five of us at the beach…because it isn’t our family.  And it certainly isn’t the picture I would have drawn beside our lives…if I were writing this story.

If I were illustrating our story…I’d have Charlie and Fred side by side, in matching Christmas plaid, and Charlie’s little eyes would be looking up at Fred, making sure he was doing the picture “just right,” just like Sophie does with Emma every moment of every day.

If I were illustrating our story…I’d have young souls staring back at the camera instead of the broken ones I see.  My heart would be thirty-three, with all that thirty-three-year-olds are supposed to have suffered and experienced by this point.  And even more…my little ones souls would be three, and five, and seven.  Not eighty.  Because in the midst of all of the child-like moments our kids still bring to the dinner table each night, there are so very many times when I look and listen and live in the soul-moments of each day, and realize once again that there is nothing child-like about their lives.

And in that…I see something that I absolutely know I would not have seen…if I were writing this story.  

I see Christ.

And His Sovereign plan over the horrendous pages that have become the ink of our lives.

And His grace in each and every dark and tear-stained line.

And as I think of today, the anniversary of the absolute darkest moment of my life, and sadly, the one and only day I got to hold and kiss and love and treasure my sweet baby Charlie…I can think of absolutely no better way to honor the memory of his short but immeasurably valuable life…than to share what has happened in our hearts only because I did not get my wayand am clearly not writing this story.  

Things…only God could write.

And so, as the neuropathy rages on and my fingers struggle to even work well enough to type…I am going to love him and remember him in the only way I can…by sharing how very different we all are now…because of his life.

My deepest heartache over Charlie’s death, is that our sweet Freddo lost his very best buddy.  I see Fred’s tears when he feels excluded from his sisters, I see his exasperation when he throws up his hands and says, “This is such a GIRL house,” and I see his deep soul-ache when sometimes, I hear him whisper ever so quietly from the back of the car, “Mommy, I miss Charlie.”  These are the moments when I want to rage.  To scream at the sky.  To shatter a few more of our dinner plates.  To pack up my heart and permanently walk away from this life of blind and unyielding faith in a God who seems absolutely disinterested in every suggestion I ever have for how I would write this story.

But then, there are times when I am stopped cold in my angry tracks…by the One who actually did write this story.

About a million years ago, back when Fred was two…we would have many a conversation about what it looked like to be a “Prince among Ladies.”  Every.  Day.  Same conversation on repeat.  “Freddo, I saw you hit your sister.  Let’s review this again…What are those strong muscles for?”  And then he would mumble, “For protecting the ladies.” And I’d inevitably walk away feeling awfully proud of my parenting finesse. Convinced that I was deftly raising a real man of God who’d be ever-quick to protect and defend a kingdoms’ worth of ladies. And then, a day or two would pass, and we would be back where we began with Fred and his fists.

Enter, two years ago this very day.  January 28th, 2013.  And the most painful moment of my life.  The moment when suddenly, every grandiose parenting notion I’d ever held, took a very back seat to the hellish throes of grief.  I was fighting for my life.  And for my faith. And for every breath I took because, suddenly, even breathing was an enormous fight. And in that moment, I couldn’t have cared less if Freddo was beating up the ladies.

But somewhere in these last two years…as I grieved my baby’s death, and buried two more babies, and got sick enough to spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars at countless unhelpful doctors, and then found out about the mold and lost literally every single thing we had…somewhere in the heinous suffering that became our life on every line of every page…something else was happening that would not have happened…if I were writing this story.

Freddo, my sweet Freddo, who is solid as an ox and can pack quite a punch…learned how to protect the ladies.  And he learned it from the One who is writing this story.

I see it.  Every single day.  Things I simply did not teach him…that suffering did.

I see it…when he takes Sophie’s hand as she walks down the stairs, just because he worries about her slipping on those socks of hers that always seem extra slippery.   I see it…when he takes on kids twice his size at the playground…in defense of our very tender-hearted Emma Leigh.  And I saw it the other day, when we were walking along the bay and he said to me, “If you fall…just grab my hand and I’ll catch you Mom.  Actually, maybe you should just grab it now for safe keeping.”

And I know why he does it…because each and every one of his ladies are more fragile and broken and in need of care and love and protection than I will ever be comfortable with, and ever would have allowed myself to be…if I were writing this story.  

I don’t want to be so sick and frail that my little boy actually feels the need to look out for me…but he does.  And that IS our story.

Deep down, I don’t really need Fred’s pint-sized muscles to save me from falling.  I’m frail. But most days I’m not quite that frail.

What I need…is grace.  And a tender-heart that understands compassion and suffering and the deep reality that every human being walks around with broken and bleeding hearts that are more fragile and frightened than any of us would like.

But how do you build that into a little boy?  How do you keep him from being shallow and thoughtless and insensitive and mean?

You don’t.  Or at least I myself most certainly didn’t.  God did.  While I was busy simply trying to survive this horrible story.

The last few weeks have been incredibly difficult.  I have been in excruciating and debilitating pain.  My neuropathy symptoms are at all-time low, and I have felt so deeply weary on the nights when I can no longer even use my hands or feel my feet.  Sometimes I wonder if I am going to eventually need Fred’s little arms to catch me.

And on top of it all, my soul is bone weary.  The process of starting a new school we don’t like, and saying goodbye to an old school we loved…has been so deeply painful for me.  I had thought that we had lost all that one family could possibly lose…but watching our kids lose their friends and their teachers and a school that they adored was deeply breaking for me.

I wanted to fix it.  And since I couldn’t fix it…I desperately wanted to control the only part I could…I wanted The Perfect Goodbye.  And I thought I’d found that in the school’s “Caroling Field Trip” to the local nursing home.  I had it all planned out.  We would meet up with the school, sing a few rounds of “Jingle Bells” with the octogenarians, and say goodbye to all of the most precious people in their lives over some punch and cookies.

But, of course, it didn’t work that way.  We had to be at Emma’s new school at the exact same time as the field trip, and so we got there late.  Actually, “late” is an understatement.  We got there as the whole school was filing out the door, and I was devastated.  Our kids had been so excited to finally see their best friends, and there they were…literally in the doorway of this random nursing home, giving awkward side-hugs, and issuing two-second goodbyes.

About three-seconds after we got there…it was over.  The school had to get back for lunchtime, so there our little family stood…alone outside the nursing home, completely dazed and dizzy from such an abrupt and messy end to such a precious chapter in their lives.  And something deep broke in me.

I made it all the way to the car…and then I sat right down on the curb and began to weep. And weep.  And weep.  I couldn’t stop weeping.  I wept because I am sick and tired of being the people in excruciating pain.  I wept because I am absolutely fed up that our kids have to be the ones to say goodbye to literally everything…friends and teachers and every one of their worldly possessions, and most of all…their baby siblings.  And I wept because I would never ever even make our kids leave a place they love, and I certainly would have at least planned a better goodbye…if I were writing this story.

I wept because I hate our story.  And I’m tired of being the people bleeding and limping through every tear-stained page.

And even though I felt miserable crying hysterically in front of our kids, the dam had finally broke…and I sat down right there on that crazy busy street corner, in a town where we know literally everybody, and wept over our nursing home-goodbye.

Finally, after I got it all out, I got back in our car.  Our very quiet car.  And it was there, where God cut through the silence with words that I’ll never forget, no matter how many pages are left in this truly miserable story.  Because in the quiet of the car, I heard Freddo’s four-year-old voice echo the wisdom of a very long life when he said softly,“It’s ok Mommy.  I care way more about you…than I do about caroling.”

And in that very moment…I saw the legacy of our baby Charlie’s life.

He has made us tender.

Each and every one of us.  Most days, I don’t see it in myself.  Most days (ok, most every day) I see absolutely NOTHING good that has been born in my soul out of what has become page after page of suffering.  I do not feel closer to and more in love with the Author of our story.  I do not feel like I am better able to love others, and especially my kids…in a deep and meaningful way.  I feel broken.  Not beauty-broken. Ugly-broken.  Limited-broken.  Barely-hanging on to my sanity and my faith-broken. Damaged-broken.  And there are many, many days when I wonder if God is ever going to make anything beautiful out of the dust of any of these pages of this story I now hate.

But in that moment, in the quietness of our car, quiet simply because I don’t think anyone knew quite what to do with Mommy’s-Nursing-Home-Meltdown…I saw beauty.

The beauty born out of suffering.  The unsurpassing gift of seeing that my Freddo is being made into the image of Christ…one jot and tittle at a the One who is writing this story.  

I want to put a bow on this.  To say that that moment in the car was a real “break through.” To say that I am “ok” with Charlie’s death, because something so eternally good is being born out of all of this bad…something big enough, good ENOUGH…that it is worth all of the pain of this story.  But there is nothing, absolutely nothing that would EVER make this worth it to me.  Nothing that would ever make me think, “Charlie’s death is worth it for God to be THIS MAGNIFIED.”  

I will never think that.  At least not for the next seventy years.  I wanted him.  Yes, I wanted our family to know Jesus and make Him known, but I didn’t want it to be because of our endless suffering.  I wanted it to be the way that everyone else (it seems) gets to “know Jesus and make him known”…by gradually receiving all of the wonderful things He has to give.  I wanted it to be by getting my version of the story. And His version is absolutely NOTHING like my version of the story would be.

When you set out to write a story, you write it with an end-goal in mind.  The author labors over each and every word because he wants to get it “just right.”  He wants something to be remembered.  Something to last beyond the story.  And when the quill is in your hand…the story is for the Author’s “good, pleasing, and perfect will.”

His.  Completely and exclusively.

And if I have learned anything over these exactly two years of suffering it is this:  I am in the story.  I care deeply about the story.  I love deeply, so very many people in this story. But this…is not my story.

And it never will be.

It’s His story.  He sat down with the blank pages.  He owns oceans-worth of ink.  He writes every line on every page, and will fill them according to His intended will…each and every day.  And He will end it exactly when and how He sees fit, because it always has been and always will be…His story.  

For His purposes.  

Far beyond this life.

I can pray to Him, and pour out my dreams and hopes and longings for the story, but ultimately, that has far more influence on the relationship between the author and the character…than the lines on the page.

As I sit here today, I have no bow.  There is no place to buy literary bows, when your baby is dead and your body is broken, and your kids by default, have eighty-year-old souls because of the world-weary weight of their suffering.

But I do have one illustration for our story.  One I actually like.  One that actually captures us in a way that makes my heart happy.  One that actually does justice to our family.  Our real family…the one that no picture on earth will ever represent rightly.  One that actually captures both the beauty and the brokenness that fills to overflowing the pages of our lives.

One that gives a glimpse of both of the precious boys who have captured so very much of this Mama’s heart.  My boys.  My birthday twins who I would never, ever have chosen to celebrate like this….if I were writing this story.

So here it is.  Our Christmas picture.  Me, in my Heaven shirt. Precious Fred in his lone plaid.  And maybe just maybe, my sweet baby Charlie…looking down upon a story that he is still so very much a part of, and always will be.

Here we stand…small and frail, and hidden, of course, in the shadow of the big Rock He planted our little family by.  As we wait for Him with tears and trust and trembling.

For the day when we will finally meet and fall before…the Author of this story.