Today marks three months to the day our sweet Charlie died. On one hand, I can’t believe it’s been three months already, it feels like only yesterday when his baby toes were kicking the inside of my belly. On the other hand, these have been the longest, darkest, and most painful ninety five days of our entire lives. So much pain. So much suffering.
And the sharpest pain usually comes at the most unexpected times. The other day Emma’s school took a field trip to the Santa Barbara Zoo. Overall, it was a super fun day, and really special for the kids since they rarely have Mommy all to themselves. It was also an extremely painful day for me in a lot of ways. First, because it was a field trip I had never planned to take. I had expected Charlie would be with us now, and that the field trip would be unrealistic. And yet, there we were, boarding the train at 6:30, on a morning I had planned to be at home caring for my baby boy.
But the hardest part of the zoo trip were the spring babies. There were babies everywhere at the zoo this week. Newborn babies, three-month-old people babies, fluffy little black swan babies, and the cutest little six-day-old giraffe baby named Dane. The kids grew so accustomed to seeing the babies that when we got to the lion enclosure Emma said, “Mommy, where are the little lion babies?”
And thats when I heard Freddo quietly say, “Mommy, I think all the lion babies died.”
Deep. Soul. Sigh.
My wild and fun little boy, who still eats boogers in his spare time…has grown very, very deep. Deep in ways that I never wanted him to be.
Or did I?
Obviously, it is incredibly painful to see the weight of the world on the shoulders of a three-year-old boy. I wish so very much that Freddo was playing with his baby brother right now, not grieving the loss of his life. I wish so badly that it wasn’t the first thought on sweet Freddo’s mind that there were no lion babies at the zoo because they had all died. But at the same time, as someone who highly values depth and authenticity, and empathy in others, I am so thankful that those are the ends that God is bearing in each of our lives, even though I absolutely hate that Charlie’s death is the means.
I keep thinking about this Emma Thompson quote I heard recently. She said, “It’s unfortunate and I really wish I wouldn’t have to say this, but I really like human beings who have suffered. They’re kinder.” Now, obviously not all people who have suffered are more kind than all people who haven’t, but I do think it’s true that God uses our sufferings to make us kinder…and a great many other things. And I do think its true that some of the things we most long to shelter our kids from…are the very things that will develop the deepest character in their lives.
I love how Paul unpacks this truth in Romans 5:3-5…
“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Did I want my children to experience the deep suffering of losing a sibling? Never. Did I want their precious child-like faith to be tested so deeply at the tender ages of three and five? Not exactly. But I do long for them to have a faith than endures through the storms of this life. I do long for my children to have godly character. And I do long that my kids would have true hope…hope in God and His love being the best part of life. Hope in eternity with Jesus who will finally put an end to all this heinous suffering. I realize now that suffering produces hope…because when life becomes truly, deeply painful…you can no longer put your hope in any of the things that used to make you happy.
And I see this promise in Romans becoming real to each of us as we continue to be broken and also, by the grace of God, healed in certain ways through Charlie’s precious life. I see it in my kids lives, as they grow more thoughtful and aware of the deep realities of life, and in turn grow more tender towards others…especially others who are hurting.
And I see it in my own life. I yell less. And hug more. I complain less. And treasure more. Sweet moments like the day at the zoo…moments I know I will never get to have with Charlie…have become a greater treasure to me.
Does it mean we are always grateful, thoughtful, gentle, and kind…ummm…not exactly. But, we are more tender than we used to be. More deep. More kind. And perhaps, most of all…more grateful for each moment together now that we know acutely that we’re not promised endless days of bliss on this side of eternity. That’s Heaven. And endless joy is reserved for Heaven’s side.
My kids now know, in ways I never could have taught them through words or flannel board stories, that heaven is the one place where there will be no more tears or crying or sorrow or pain.
And they know that until then…life will be filled more often than we’d like…with many painful things.
They know that until then…it’s our privilege to love others as they walk through pain, and to let others love us as we walk through ours each day.
And they know that until then, we’re going to enjoy together the unexpected moments of sweetness that come along the way…