charlie's song

Imagining Pain

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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…


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