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Imagining Pain

I’ve been thinking all week about the families in Oklahoma whose lives have been affected forever by the recent tornadoes.  Do I know exactly what it is like for these people who are now reeling in pain?  No. Not entirely.  But I can try.

I’m reminded of a blogpost I read just a few days after Charlie died.  Molly Piper’s blog is both honest and raw, and I have so deeply appreciated the things she has shared about her journey of suffering after they buried their precious baby.  One post she wrote has particularly been on my mind this past week…

“When we say to grieving people, “Oh, I can’t imagine” we might be saying “I don’t want to imagine.”  I say that because, if we took a few minutes and put ourselves inside that person’s situation, we would (in part) imagine.  I have dear friends who aren’t married, have never been pregnant, and yet are extremely sensitive and caring about things they haven’t experienced. It just means that they’ve taken the time to enter into someone else’s heartbreak.  Real love gets into the trenches of grief and suffering. It imagines. It lets it’s mind’s eye linger. Real love will not avert its eyes. It won’t say, “Your disaster is too much for me.

This has been our experience as well, as we have walked through grief.  We have seen how the people who have really loved us…have been the ones who have “imagined” what we have gone through.  They have not necessarily been people who have lost children, or who were pregnant at the same time as we were, or who are even necessarily parents…they are simply people who have tried to imagine our pain. There have definitely been some very dear people in our lives who have loved us in the last few months because they have lost babies, or who were pregnant at the same time, or who have held their children and cried over us as they realized what it would be like if their arms were also empty…but it still takes imagining.

No one…except for us…lost Charlie.  No one else knew him like we did.  No one else held him in those precious moments after he was born.  No one else had to pick out that tiny baby casket.  No one else has to live in the silence of a house we had thought would be filled with the sweet sounds of a newborn baby.  Losing Charlie…is our suffering, and to love us at all, no matter who you are…it takes some serious imagining.

But I’ve been so incredibly grateful for each person who has tried.  One day, we received a huge manila envelope in the mail from one of the churches who partners with us in our ministry.  The church had asked their junior high youth group to write notes to our family, and the notes were incredibly sweet.  I’m not sure anyone needs to do more imagining of our situation than a junior high boy…but I can’t tell you how much those notes from junior high kids ministered to me.  They did their very best to imagine our pain, and wrote some really thoughtful things in their trying.  Each note was a reminder to me of Molly Piper’s words that anyone can minister to someone who is hurting…if they are willing to take the time to imagine someone else’s heartbreak.

Why is all of this on my mind?

Well, when I apply this principle of caring enough to try and imagine someones pain…it brings me closer to the hearts of the people in Oklahoma who are suffering this week.

The kindergarteners who were trapped in that school with no escape, terrified of the howling winds and flying debris…I can imagine that pain.   I wasn’t there.  But I grew up in a town where our school mascot was a Tornado because the threat of tornadoes was so common to our lives.   I vividly remember having to put my face on the disgusting floor of the boys bathroom during a tornado drill in the fourth grade.  I vividly remember being so afraid every single time we hid in our basement during a long, dark, tornado night.  I am so very sad for those little ones who had to huddle in terror as they hung on for their very lives.   I can imagine their fear and suffering.

And the family in Oklahoma who lost a four-month-old baby…I can imagine that pain.  Charlie would have been four months old this week.  I would have given anything to have even four precious months with our sweet baby, but I can still imagine this family’s pain.  I can imagine how each one of my last four months of suffering…have been their last four months of joy…and now, all of a sudden, this baby they have loved for four beautiful months…is gone forever from their lives.  I can imagine that suffering.

Living in California, I will probably never experience what it’s like to go from a calm, still day, to suddenly having life as you knew it torn forever from your grasp through devastating winds and flying debris.  I do however, know exactly what it’s like to wake up one morning to a perfectly normal Sunday, and to suddenly have life as we’ve known it torn forever from our grasp…by the end of that same night.

And when we try with the minds and hearts we’ve been given to imagine what it must truly be like to be someone who is in deep pain…it changes how we think.   It changes how we love.  It changes how we pray.  This is the definition of empathy.

One of the greatest reminders to me of this precious truth…is my children.  I have been absolutely amazed by my kid’s capacity to love us through the deepest sorrow of our lives.  A few weeks ago, I had a total melt down in our garage.   It was one of my lowest moments of sorrow over baby Charlie’s life, and Reid came out into the garage to hold me.

Suddenly, we heard this “Creeeeeeeeak” as the door opened, and all three of our kids marched out quietly in a single file line.  First Emma came up to us and said, “Mommy, we know you are so very sad about Charlie.  We thought we could read our “Heaven” book together, just like you do for us when we are crying.”  Next Freddo came up to me and said, “Mommy, I made you a card, because I know it will make you feel so happy to see this picture I made for you of Charlie.”  And then Sophie came up to me, and gave me a grunt and a hug…which, I must say, is A LOT for Sophie.

And in that moment, seeing the incredibly loving and thoughtful children God is making my kids into through our story…I was reminded of what real love looks like.  Our kids have loved us so well through this deep valley…not because of their vast experiencs as “parents,” or because of all of the heartbreak they’ve seen in their relatively short and charmed lives…they love us because they care.  And in caring, they try.

May we, as the “big” people of God, learn to love as well as so many of the “little” people in our lives.  May we use these brilliant minds He has given us to care enough to try and imagine one another’s pain.  May we use these hearts He has given us to love one another in our trying.  And may we reveal to the world that we have a God who did so much to imagine our pain…that He took on flesh and walked right into the heart of human suffering.

To read more on Molly Piper’s blog about this topic, here’s the link…http://mollypiper.com/2011/02/when-you-want-to-say-i-cant-imagine-just-try/


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When You’re Led Where You Never Wanted To Go…

I love stories. I love reading stories. I love watching stories. I love telling stories. And I believe that God actually writes our stories. I LOVE how the Bible is filled with stories of the flawed and frail human beings who the Lord loved and wrote into the parchment of history. I am so thankful for the stories recorded for us, that we might know God more through each story He’s written.

But what do you do when you don’t like a chapter of your story? What do you do when the chapter you don’t like…is a permanent chapter…a chapter on death…and one that will affect every page of the rest of your book?

That is where I am at. Though I truly believe that God’s goodness and mercy do follow (literally: wildly pursue) us all the days of our lives…I also believe in the rest of the Psalm. I also believe that sometimes, we are led by our Shepherd right through the valley of the shadow of death. And just as there are hard chapters to read, to watch, and to tell…these hard chapters are even infinitely harder to live.

In this journey through the valley of the shadow of death, there is one biblical character in particular that I have really identified with. I thought it would be David…but it isn’t. It’s Peter. Clumsy, broken, vocal Peter.

I so identify with Peter’s desperate words to Jesus, “Lord, to whom else shall we go…You have the Words that give eternal life!” I identify with Peter’s struggle to walk with Jesus as Satan literally sifted him like wheat and a war was fought over his very soul. I identify with Peter’s broken heart, as his entire world fell apart with the death of the One he loved.

But the part of Peter’s story I have most identified with is that scene on the beach. You know…the one with the cozy bonfire, the delicious fish, and the resurrected Christ. The one where Jesus has a very significant heart to heart with his beloved friend…

“Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” -John 21:17-19

I feel like Peter in so many ways. I wake up every morning in my new life and I think, “How did I get here?” One minute I was decorating a baby room, feeling Charlie kick, and preparing for my life with him…and one heartbeat later I was planning a funeral for my own child. All of the life I had thought I was going to have with my sweet son…is suddenly spent living without him. I feel heartbroken and disoriented and very, very uncertain of what is next.

I also feel more certain than ever of the truth that my life is not my own. More certain than ever that I can’t control nearly as much of it (read: any of it, ultimately) as I had thought I could. I obviously didn’t think I could control major world events, the weather, or the conception of a child…but once someone you love has died, you are hit sharply with the realization that you actually can control much, much, much less of life than you had thought you could.

Now I hear verses like I Corinthians 6:20, “You are not your own, you were bought with a price,” and I realize that God is actually talking about my life. My life is not my own. My kids are not ultimately my own. My life story is not my own. The quill is not actually in my hand. And nothing makes you realize this quite like death.

It’s not surprising that death is what Jesus is referring to during their little beach side chat. Ultimately Peter’s physical death, but also, I believe, the death of self, the death of dreams, the death of his life as he knew it.

I feel this too. Like when I was young (read: before Charlie’s death) I mostly went where I wanted to go (read: I didn’t HATE my life) and now, I’ve been led where I did not want to go. A silent hospital room. A cemetery. A grief support group. These are places I have literally been led…that I never, ever wanted to go.

It doesn’t mean I no longer see GOD in my story. Or that I no longer like any part of what is being written by Him…but honestly, I would never have written it like this. My heart often feels what Job cried out from the deep valley of death’s shadow, “I loathe my life. I will give free utterance to my complaint. I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.” (Job 10:1-2.) Please hear me…I, like Job, also see that my Redeemer lives and that God is very much at work in even the hardest chapters and the deepest darkness…but do you honestly think Job liked burying TEN of his kids? Absolutely not.

And it was the heartbreak of my life to bury one.

Death takes each and every one of us…places we never wanted to go. And I really believe that the same was true for Peter. Peter…who was mercilessly crucified upside down on a cross. Peter…who was led there by Someone who had endured the suffering of crucifixion as well.

Maybe that is why I find such comfort in Jesus’ words to Peter that this was coming. That Jesus not only knew about this suffering, but that this was what He had written for him. And in classic, Peter fashion, he was none too happy about it. Right after Jesus tells Peter what was going to happen in his life, Peter asks, “But, Lord, what about (John)?” And Jesus replies, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”

I don’t think Jesus could be any clearer with him, that even in the hardest parts of Peter’s story...He was writing every single word. This is SO VERY IMPORTANT. Because I really believe that one of the biggest lies of the American church “prosperity gospel” isn’t about prosperity at all. It’s not about money or houses or jet planes or cars…the biggest lie is that your most precious treasure…your life…is YOURS. Yours to give to God, or to keep if you’d prefer. And that if you do decide to grace Him with your life…it’s still yours to control. Yours to go where you want, when you want, how you want. Yours to withhold from others. And yours to even withhold from Him.

All I can say to that big fat lie is “Nope.” It’s just not true. It’s not the real Gospel. Not from the real Savior Jesus whose sovereign will ultimately led every single one of his closest friends to painful deaths.

And it’s not true for my life either. A BABY…my baby whom I had wanted so very much DIED inside of me, and his sweet body is buried in the ground. And now, we, all five of us, are slowly learning to live with the broken pieces of our shattered life…

We talk about death every single day with our kids, because death is now very, very real. We also talk about Heaven.

We talk about prayer and how we pray the desires of our hearts…not our demands to God of what He must do. And we pray like that together.

We talk about how Jesus promised that He came to “bind up the broken hearted.” And this means so very much because right now there are five broken hearts where we had once thought six less broken ones would live. And yet, Jesus is here with us.

This is where we have been led.

And THIS is the Christian life. For each and every one of us. And no matter who you are…I know that there will be chapters in your life with Christ where you will experience being led where you never wanted to go. And honestly, this is what most of the Kingdom world experiences…through most of the chapters of their stories. So many of our brothers and sisters around the world are undergoing incredible suffering as they live out the Gospel The Lord Jesus is telling through them in their corners of the world.

And I know that many of you are walking through deep pain as well. In the Third World this being “led” through dark valleys has names like hunger, poverty, slavery, persecution, and death. But here in America there are different names for the painful valleys of the human heart… abuse, cancer, soul poverty, and still, as much as we fight it…death.

And yet, in the midst of all of this suffering…He who conquered even death…calls us to do the very same thing that He once told Peter. That whoever you are, and wherever you are…if you are His…you’re to feed His lambs. To let your story reveal to this hurting and broken world…that His Word still feeds the hungry soul. To let the story He is writing through you show that even in the darkest valley…He is still the Shepherd who loves his lambs, and binds up their broken hearts. One heart at a time. In every corner of the world.

Sadly, this world will always be filled with hungry, hurting, broken lambs.

Until one day…when we’ll finally be in the Place where nothing is broken. Where there is no sickness, or sorrow, or mourning, or death.

And it is There where the story, His Story…will begin it’s very best chapter.

The one where He is worshipped forever as the great Shepherd of our souls. The great Binder of the broken hearted. The great Author and Perfector of these stories we have lived.


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“One Thousand Gifts”

Every spring, for the last three years, I’ve read the book “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp.  The first two years I loved the book and felt really challenged by the idea of “Euchristo.”  The idea of counting gifts, and seeing God’s hand as the great Giver.

Last spring, I even wrote out on the inside cover my interpretation of the book.  This was helpful because it’s an incredibly profound book, and because I can sometimes get lost in her poetic writing style. Here’s what I wrote on February 24th, 2012…

“Jesus took the bread, gave thanks and broke it…”

Did He thank the Father for the bread? Or for the whole night?

For the friends who wouldn’t betray Him?

Or even for those who would?

And in giving thanks and making lists…

The Euchristo List: “Thank you God, for this gift of __________.  I like it.”

The Hard Euchristo List: “Thank you God for this ___________.  I don’t like it. But, I trust You.”

I know that others might have an entirely different interpretation of what Ann Voskamp is saying.  But this was my best guess at the essence of her book one year ago.  That God’s grace is known deeper through the gratitude we list, whether on paper or on heart.  Whether in sickness or in health.  Whether for richer or for poorer.  As we’re growing better or as we’re getting worse.  And in acknowledging the gifts, it is a way we live in the grace, and live out the grace, of our covenant relationship with God.

Why am I saying all of this?  Well, reading the book for the third time this spring was an entirely different experience.  For one, because the book was built upon the wounds and suffering of the loss of a child…Ann’s baby sister.  I ache for her family, and now know more acutely, the agony they have suffered.  And two, after the wounds and suffering of burying my own child…I know exactly how desperate I am.  Desperate for God.  Desperate for good.  And desperate to see that God is still the great wooer of our souls…even when what He has given me is the sickness.  The poorer.  The worse.  And even…the death…of my son.

And so, knee-deep in the cess pool of grief…I started making yet another “1,000 Gifts” list.  I’ve made lots of lists before, and I think they really do help.  But this list is different.  This list has rules.  At least ten a day.  Every day.  Texted to a friend.  No exceptions.  And always at least one “Hard Euchristo” included on the list.

Some days it takes me a profoundly long time to come up with ten things I’m thankful for in the moment.  Ten evidences of grace.  Ten reminders of God’s presence and goodness.  Ten tangible ways I’ve seen His face, His heart, and His hands.  And on the days when the list making is the hardest…that’s when it’s felt the most necessary to write it.  But no matter how easy the list comes, it’s always a sacrifice of praise right now.  It’s a sacrifice because just beneath the surface of every list…is the deep sadness of the hard euchristo buried below it.

Iridescent bubbles.

Sophie’s delight in chasing them.

Freddo exclaiming, “Mommy, we’re sending these bubbles to Charlie in Heaven!”

Stop.

Driving along the sparkling Pacific coast.

That moment on a road trip when you look back and see your little cherub has finally dozed off.

Looking back and seeing our precious kids safe and snuggled in the car. Wait, one seat is empty…

Stop.

I list, and I list, and I list…and then suddenly, each time, I am stopped by the reality of Charlie’s death.  The reality of the hardest thing God has ever given.  And it reminds me yet again of why we make the lists.  Because if I don’t…I also miss the bubbles.  I miss the joy on Sophie’s face at seeing them.  I miss the simple sweetness of the road trip.  I miss the reality of the three kids I have been given today with.  And eventually…I’ll miss the whole life I have left.

Never, in a million years, would I have chosen for the darkest valley of my entire life to come smack in the middle of my kids happy childhood.  But if we don’t take ALL of this as a gift…we miss all of it.  When we skip the dark night of the crucifixion, we miss something of the beauty of the resurrection, and even the beauty just before it.  The warm, unleavened bread.  The starry Passover night.  The fellowship with His friends.  But which friends?  The faithful friend in John.  The someday-to-prove-faithful-again friend in Simon Peter.  And what about the unfaithful friend in Judas?  Do we list even him?

What would have happened if Judas hadn’t betrayed Jesus?  What would have happened if Pilate hadn’t handed Him over?  What would have happened if the Jewish crowds and the Roman soldiers hadn’t crucified Him?  What would have happened without the hard euchristo in the life of Jesus?

Well, I wouldn’t be sitting here today making a list.  I wouldn’t be sitting here free from the curse of sin and the power of death.  I wouldn’t be sitting here with confident expectation of meeting my baby someday in the presence of Christ.   I wouldn’t even know Him.

Maybe, just maybe, what Jesus was thanking the Father for that night was all of it…because all of it was His.  His will.  His to make happen or His to have willingly stopped.  His to be glorified in.  That is, after all, what Jesus taught us to pray for…Thy will be done.

And maybe, in even the deepest sorrows of our lives…seeing His goodness and nearness in the midst of all of it gives us the courage to say to Him all over again…

For my better or my worse.  For richer or for poorer.  In heath, and even in sickness and death…I will worship You, as the Giver of every good and perfect gift.  I will worship you as the Giver of all of it.

Ever since I was little I had this picture in my mind that one day in Heaven, Jesus would knock on the door of my mansion and say to me, “Come, today is your turn.”  And we’d walk together to this amazingly beautiful movie house, and the lights would dim, and the screen would flicker on…and we would watch The Movie together.  The Movie of every single moment of my life…from womb to tomb…from His perspective.

And sometimes we would weep together.  And sometimes we would laugh.  And sometimes He would explain for me in greater detail the scenes of my story that were the hardest for me to understand…

But finally, I’d be able to see all of it…as a gift.


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Mother’s Day By A Grave

Today is my first Mother’s Day without Charlie. I never actually had one with Charlie because he arrived sometime around the very end of May. Since Mother’s Day usually isn’t a huge deal in our family anyways, I didn’t have many expectations of this day.  Every day is a hard day. Every day is a day I deeply miss my baby boy.

And honestly, it isn’t usually on holidays when I feel the most grateful for my kids anyways. It’s on the random Tuesday mornings.  The mornings when Fred cuddles up next to me while we’re reading. I can’t believe I get to be his mommy.  The Sundays when I pick up Sophie from the nursery and she lights up like a Christmas tree. She gets so happy every time Mommy comes back for her and she gets to go home with me. I can’t believe I get to take her home with me. It’s those moments with Emma when she’s out on a special date with Mommy, and I can tell she feels like the luckiest girl in the world because she gets to be alone with me. These are my Mother’s Days. Those moments when my heart skips a beat and I think, “I can’t believe this tiny treasure is all mine.”

And that’s what makes my heart ache so much today. Today, and every day. I will never have any of those moments with my Charlie. No unexpected cuddle times, no smiles when I walk in the room, no special Mommy dates.

Instead, I have a Mother’s Day spent by a grave. There’s fresh flowers everywhere at the cemetery today. Mostly, I’m sure, from the children who came to visit their mommy’s grave. But what do you do when you’re the mommy who’s come to visit your baby’s grave?

People often say to us, “I can’t imagine….” And you can’t, honestly. We can barely imagine the depth of sorrow and agony we’ve experienced daily since January. I honestly didn’t know that the human heart could endure this much pain and still keep beating. Some days I’m still so shell-shocked that I go through much of the day in a cloudy haze. Some days I’m angry and throw my dinner plates. Some days I weep so hard I have to remind myself to breathe in and out so that I don’t suddenly hyperventilate.

But everyday…I feel so very proud to be Charlie’s mommy. That moment when the nurse asked for his middle name so she could write it on his newborn card, I could barely breathe out the words…but I felt so proud of the baby boy we got to name. That moment when she wrapped him in swaddle clothes and placed him in my arms for the first time, I was so proud of that perfect little face who looked just like me and just like Daddy.

And every time I see God using Charlie’s”short” life to give people a deeper longing for heaven, heal broken relationships, make the Gospel of Jesus known, and show me a new and clearer picture of the face of One who made his face…I am so very proud to be Charlie’s Mommy.

And though I wanted it to be so very different, and I still hate my new life of constant brokenness and pain…if I could go back to last May and have skipped Charlie and all of this endless pain…I would not trade one moment of his life. He is mine. And I am so grateful for the honor of being Charlie’s.

And someday…being his mommy will mean joy upon joy upon joy. The glorious day when I finally, truly meet my Charlie James. When I finally see his eyes. When I finally hear him sing. That will be my best Mother’s day.

Until then, I am so very grateful for each one of my precious babies. My cup overflows at the joy I feel at belonging to them, and they to me.

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Reflections on Marriage…After the Hardest Year of Our Lives

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Today, we celebrate seven years of marriage.  Seven years of more adventures, more babies, more joys, and more heartache, than I ever could have conceived of when we said “I do” on that brilliant June day.

But even if God would tell us all that He has in store for our lives…would we really want to know all that anyways?  Could we even handle the knowing?  Would it help us to take heart and to walk in greater faith?  Or would it cause our hearts to break?

It’s funny, because in some ways…God did tell us.  He did kind of tell us what was in store for our marriage, by the things we vowed on our wedding day.

We chose very traditional vows for our ceremony.  Things tried and true.  Things simple and packed with meaning.  Things we could actually…remember. We didn’t want to make a bunch of rambling promises that we couldn’t even recall to mind, let alone keep.

And some of our vows come to my mind almost daily.  I do promise, and covenant before God and these witnesses, to be thy loving and faithful wife.  Am I actually being loving? Am I actually being faithful?  These questions can, and do, and should come up almost daily in my mind.  They are after all, why promises are made.

Because there is beauty and life and freedom…in the keeping.

Other promises we made at our wedding, do not come up daily.  They come up in the rare, (ok, not so rare in my case) moments when I’m in a hospital room, or struck by one of my many bizarre ailments and disease.  In our brief seven years of marriage, Reid has walked with me through viral menengitis, shingles, campliobacteriosis, NINE spinal taps, and most of all…the birth of each one of our precious babies.  It’s been a WILD ride to say the least.

And then there are those promises made that come up only, it seems, once or twice in a lifetime.  Those moments when you look into the eyes of the person you love most and realize you are knee-deep in a moment which holds, at once, ALL of the hardest things you vowed to love one another through on your wedding day.

Moments…like the night we gave birth to our precious Charlie.

For better or for worse.  In so many ways, the worst and hardest moment of our entire lives.

For richer or for poorer.  We had never felt so poor, so broken, so helpless, and so needy in our entire lives.

In sickness and in health.   I am convinced that there is no more physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally anguishing moment in life…than giving birth to a baby who has already died. I can’t even think about this day of our life, without weeping now, even as I type.

And yet, when I think about our vows…those bright and bold words promised in the height of love at a wedding ceremony…Charlie’s birth is the FIRST thing that comes to my mind. Because moments like Charlie’s birthday are the meaning of marriage.

The meaning of marriage is to glorify Christ.  To show, in the love between two people who love and are loved by God, how tenderly Christ loves His bride all the way through this messy, broken, miserable life.  And perhaps, more than any moment of our lives…the nurses and doctors saw this…as they watched Reid carry me that night.  As they watched us love Charlie…this little person whom OUR LOVE had MADE.  As they watched us love one another through the unspeakable sorrow of having to say goodbye to a baby we had so desperately wanted to keep.  This…is marriage.

And because marriage is meant to reflect Christ…I am convinced that marriage is also meant to reveal His suffering.  Reid and I are best friends.  We have more fun, more laughter, and more adventures than most couples I know.  We also have lots of suffering. It’s been seven years of learning to be long suffering with one another in the messy, unfinished places in each of our lives.  It’s been seven years of many moments of suffering because of one another at times.  If you truly love someone…their sin will be your pain.

And it’s been seven years of suffering alongside one another.   After the hardest year of our lives I have seen almost daily how Christ weeps over His broken and bleeding Bride.  One night, at one of the lowest moments of my grief, I turned to Reid and asked him in all sincerity, “What if I don’t make it?  What if I don’t get to the end of this suffering still believing in and loving Christ?”  And without a moments hesitation Reid looked at me and said, “Then I will still be your husband and you will still be my wife.  And I will still love you more than anything and pray for you constantly.”   This…is marriage.

Usually, I’m filled with excitement on our anniversary.  Excitement that another mysterious, exciting new year awaits.  But this year, all can do is look back, and to sit in the precious reality that we actually survived.  We did it.  We made it through the seventh year of our marriage.  Some people go through 60 years of marriage and don’t experience this much suffering.  And I’m absolutely convinced that the only reason we made it…is because of Christ.  Christ in us.  Christ in between us.  Christ carrying us.  Every.  Single.  Day.

I am also convinced on this anniversary that I have been given an incredible gift in the person God gave me to “get through” this life.  Even when our souls were so ravaged and the brokenness so deep that the getting through…meant simply surviving to the next day.  The point is…we survived.  We, who’ve been given to one another to “get through this life”…got through another year of it together.  This is marriage.

I am so very thankful for you Reid Zeller.

We…have had it tough. And the road has been so incredibly bumpy and rough.  But it has been the greatest joy of my life to journey together.  Life with you has been full of adventures. Lizard infested hikes.  Hotel rooms crawling with poisionous scorpions and C.O.U.S. (That’s short for Centepedes of Unusual Size.)  Hospital rooms filled with unimaginable sorrow and anguish.  And days filled with children…children we’ve watched take over our lives, our hearts, and our dreams in the most beautiful and breathtaking ways.

Our life together has taught me that this bittersweet journey isn’t really so much about the journey after all…it’s about the destination really.  And we’ve been destined for Eternity. Thank you for reminding me that a Destination awaits.  Thank you for journeying with me in the meantime.  Thank you for the many times you actually just picked me up and outright carried me.  Thank you for reminding me of the One we made our vows to, and for showing me His deep, unwavering love for His broken Bride.  And thanks for being my exit buddy as we ride each wave through this wild, glorious, messy life to the Place where we’ll finally get to meet our baby boy.

And just in case we do have the privilege of sitting on that park bench at ninety, and we’re no longer able to remember very much of this crazy ride…here’s my seven most memorable moments of our journey to date…

1.  The day we hitchhiked through Italy, met an angel, and had the best dinner of our lives.

2.  The night Emma was born…and we saw, for the very first time, someone our love had MADE.

3.  Battling foot-long centepedes, snorkeling Trestles, and our two hammocks by the bay.

4.  Every single time we found out God had given us a new baby to love. Every. Single. Time. (Sophie’s especially comes to mind. I guess all those baby pickles, baby goldfish, baby carrots, and mini Oreos I bought didn’t really communicate clearly enough that we were having a baby…)

5.  That time the sun shone during our stroll along the Seine.

6.  The moment when I was in the ER and we realized it was very possible that this was “goodbye” for you and me.

7.   Charlie’s birth. And all of the days we have walked as one through the hardest journey of our lives.  I never knew what it truly meant to be one heart in two separate bodies.  Now, I do.  Thanks for sharing a heart with me.

If we had to do our “first dance” over again…this, of course, would be our song.

You’re no longer alone.
We’ve found a space to name our own.
There aint no need to fret or fuss.
We’ve got all the strength we need in the shape of us.

And I know you’ve had it tough.
Your road’s been bumpy and rough.
But say goodbye to a world that you once knew.
I have every faith in me and you.

Hold my hand.
Hold my heart.
Let go your fear.
Darling I will always be here.

I never felt quite so at home.
Your sweet caress is the best I’ve known.
Now that I’ve proved to you that I’m worthy of your trust.
Let us build a world in the shape of us.

I love you Reid Zeller…and I am immeasurably thankful for God’s great kindness to us over these last seven years.  I have loved building a world in the shape of us.

Yours Until Death Do Us Part,

Misty


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Mona Lisa and Mother’s Day

sell-dafen-oil-painting-on-canvas-classic-mona-lisaOver the last few months, I’ve felt an unexpected kinship to Mona Lisa.

Most people know her as the mysterious woman behind the world’s most famous painting. More than 6 million people visit her at the Louvre in Paris every year, and many have pondered the half smile on her face, and that tired look in her eyes.

But do you know what I discovered recently about our dear friend Mona? We probably know the secret behind both of those things.

Mona…was someone’s mommy.

After hundreds of years of debating this lady of mystery, just a few months after we visited Paris on our honeymoon in 2006, art historians did a special infrared scan and discovered something they hadn’t known before about this lady of intrigue. Mona is actually wearing a thin black veil on her shoulder’s, the kind of veil a woman who had just given birth to a baby would have worn in her day.

Art historians believe that Leonardo da Vinci was commissioned to paint Lisa Gherardini in 1503…right after the birth of her second son. Her. Second. Son. Now, I’m listening.

It would explain her tired eyes. And that half smile on her face. Mommies get those from time to time. (Read: every day. Especially just before bedtime.)

I had expected this Mother’s Day to look so very differently. All those months of waiting I had planned that baby Charlie would be here with me this May. I had dreamed of his tiny presence filling my heart and my day as I celebrated the four little ones who made me a Mommy.

And yet, here I am…with empty arms and a broken heart, and feeling deeply misunderstood most of the time. In the grocery store…no one knows by my cart that there are actually FOUR babies in my life. When I’m out shopping for post-pregnancy clothes…no one knows I’m a new mommy and that I just gave birth to somebody.

And sometimes I feel misunderstood even by my own sweet children…they simply cannot fully comprehend the depths of sorrow Mommy is carrying that make for my extra tired eyes, and the often half smile on my face. I feel so very misunderstood, even by myself some times, in this season of life. My baby is not with me, and yet, not a moment of my day goes by that my second son isn’t on my mind.

I feel a kinship with Mona Lisa, the Mommy. She gets us. She fits us. She’s in the tired, new Mom club. And she joins the ranks of the millions of women in this world who will be somewhat misunderstood this Mother’s Day.

The woman who knows her baby’s name and every precious feature of his face…but has to wait until heaven to finally see his smile and his eyes. I still cry with longing over those unseen eyes.

The woman who knows she was once the home for a precious unborn life…but she never got to hold her little ones body. She never knew her babies name.

The woman who prays every day for the child who will someday be in her home…but right now lives only in her heart. She waits as the months turn into years, for the adoption to be complete.

The woman who longs so much to be pregnant, though it isn’t happening no matter how hard she prays or how many months she tries. She feels stuck in an endless cycle of hope and then defeat, and wonders if she will ever know the joy of feeling a fluttering life inside.

The woman who has loved her nieces and nephews and been “Auntie” to her friend’s kids for a decade. She has loved those little ones as if they were her own, though she so desperately wanted to be called “Mommy” herself someday.

There’s a half smile on each and every face. Because we know the truth that to love someone…to truly, truly love someone with a mommy kind of love…is a painful and oft misunderstood thing. We also know that the children whom we love…are absolutely worth the ache. And so, we keep on loving.

That is the beauty of Mother’s Day.


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Three weeks ago, Reid had the privilege of speaking at his grandfather’s funeral. This has been a season of much reflection for our family on the meaning and purpose of our lives. We believe, deeply and unwaveringly, that life…ALL life…is precious, whether that life is lived only in the womb, like our sweet baby Charlie, or for the “full” eighty-nine years like Reid’s grandfather James. We know life is precious because God says so…the God who creates, sustains, and eventually takes away…the breath of each and every life. We could never have foreseen that our baby boy would meet Jesus just a few short weeks before his great-grandfather would join him in that place, but it brings a deepened sweetness and poignancy to the words Reid shared at his grandfather’s goodbye.

Here’s a part of what Reid shared on April 23rd, in honor of the man who made the man who made the man…who made our sweet Charlie James.

“Once I got to college…I started to really appreciate the time period in which Grandpa lived his life, and the choices that he made to fight for and defend our country. And so, whenever I was around Grandpa Jim, I would ask him to share stories of his adventures as a pilot in WWII.

And he would always say, “Oh… I don’t know…” And then he’d proceed to tell grand tales of his adventures during that time.

One of my favorite stories was the one he would share about the time when he was flying on a particular mission, and a bomb actually hit his plane. Instead of exploding, the bomb opened up and smeared some kind of jelly all over his windshield, blocking his entire field of vision, to the point where he couldn’t see anything.

I’ve thought about that moment often… A bomb hit my grandpa’s plane, and in a breath, the story of the Zeller family could have looked incredibly different than it does today.

And so, Grandpa does nothing short of being heroic, rolls down his side window, and flies back to base looking only out the side. Incredible. That was my Grandfather.

He lived great stories, and based on the twinkle in his eyes when he told them, Grandpa loved telling great stories too.

I have one more thought I wanted to share about Grandpa, but before I do, I wanted to share something about my wrestling with the idea of story in our lives.

Twelve weeks ago, the story of my life got flipped upside down when my son Charlie went to be with Jesus. And I was, and still am, a confused man – wrestling with why God would choose for this to be my story.

Not long after Charlie died, the Lord took me to the story of Abram in Genesis 15, a man who was also very confused, and very much struggling with God’s plan for his life. Because God had promised to make a great family through the line of Abram, and the fact that Abram and his wife were well beyond the chid bearing years, he was amiss. He did not understand. Sitting in his tent that night, he asks God, “Is it through my servant that you ‘intend to make a great heritage through my family?’”

God replies, “Abram, come for a walk with me outside.”

Now you know the story, God tells Abram to look up and count the stars, and tells him that will be how big his family will be!

Now, I probably blame this on my flannel graph Sunday school education for lack of imagination, but every time I’ve heard or read that story, I imagine that this was a great counting exercise that God did with Abram. “Look up and count. Oh, too many? Well, that’s how many.” And I think I missed the point.

But, this time around, when I read this story after my son died, God gave me a vision. It’s almost as if he transported me right under that middle-eastern desert sky, and gave me a picture of what it was like to look up and see what Abram saw. And it was not the same city sky that I look up at where I’m from. It was a beautiful, desert sky – where the stars were so bright, and the galaxies so wonderful. This was no mere counting exercise.

This was God showing off. This was God saying, “Oh Abram, you’re confused about your story because you don’t have a son yet. That’s what you’re putting your hope in – a story that includes you having a son? That’s it? Look up! This isn’t actually about your story! It’s about my story, and my glory! And guess what, I’m going to write your family.”

And that’s what God spoke to me. This isn’t about my story. It’s about His story, and His glory – and He’s writing His story through my family.

And that leads me to my last reflection about Grandpa…

He believed that God has a great story…and that He’s writing it through our family.

Over the past few years, any time our family would gather en mass, mostly at weddings, Grandpa would talk about this family. And inevitably, that would move him to tears. He felt so incredibly blessed to have this family flow from him and Grandma.

And he believed that this family would leave an incredible impact on the world. But he didn’t believe that because we’re all great people. He believed that because we have been called by a great God to bear witness to His love and grace and glory, and that God had chosen our family to write His story. That’s what Grandpa believed. That was the joy of his life.

You know, being a father is a great gift. And one of the most amazing privileges in the world is naming a person. I have loved naming my kids. And honestly, I have given careful attention when naming my boys. I wanted to tell them things, to instill beliefs and hopes I had for them through their names.

One theme that I wanted both of them to know is that my boys will be warriors – that they will be strong and courageous, loyal to their king. And so I chose middle names for them as such, naming them after great warriors, two of my heroes.

My oldest son Fred, was given the middle name Uriah – named after one of King David’s mighty men, who in the midst of tragedy, betrayal, and the cost of his very life, remained faithful to his king till the very end.

And my second son Charlie, was also named after a great warrior, who fought in a great battle and was loyal to His King until the day he died. My son Charlie James was named after a great man, a great warrior – my Grandfather.

And today, my son is standing with the great man he was named after…standing before their King, and waiting patiently as He writes the final chapters of His glorious story and we are joined together with them forever.