charlie's song


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The Dot and the Line

My Sweet Charlie James,

It’s been six months today.  And I miss you baby.  I still ache.

I had wanted you, and all I have is your picture.  It’s still so hard to look at your sweet face on our picture wall.  It’s you…and yet, it’s not you.  It’s you, but you’re not growing. My real picture of you, the daily one your Mommy so longed to see, isn’t changing.  Your little limbs aren’t getting stronger as you try new things.  Your angelic face isn’t deepening with new smile lines.  All I have is an old picture of you…a picture that isn’t changing.

That doesn’t mean that you are not growing, learning, smiling, and changing.  I know that you are.  But it’s happening in a far away place that I simply cannot see with my weak, earth-bound eyes.  And it hurts so badly.

I had wanted to see your life.  To see your smile.  To see your eyes.  I had wanted to see the movements of your tiny limbs as you explored and adventured in the true fashion of a little boy.  And I ache in this void.  We waited almost nine long months to see these things…and then suddenly, devestatingly, a nine month wait turned into the rest of our lives.

And we’ll keep on waiting, until we finally see your eyes.  Will they be brown like Freddo’s, green like Sophie’s, or blue like mine?  They already are…I just can’t see.  All I know is that I will see them someday.

And I’m finally six months closer to Someday.

There’s an analogy we often share with college students called, “The Dot and the Line.”  The Line…is eternity.  Stretching on forever, as far as the eye can see.  The Dot…is our brief moment here.  Each one of us, from your great-grandpa who lived to be almost ninety, to your tiny sibling who lived for only 8 short weeks in Mommy’s tummy, is only given a Dot of time in this life.  A big dot?  A small dot?  Who really cares?  Does it really even matter compared to the length of that glorious, infinite Line?

Sometimes, I actually stop and think about these eternal Lines.  And amazingly,  your Line, my sweet little guy, is just as long as mine.

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For all I grieve that you have “missed” by having a “small” Dot…our pictures look surprisingly alike.  Both are but a breath.  A vapor.  A fading flower.  A sun-browned grass blade.  And then, when each Dot is over, the forever Line awaits.

Eternity.  Yours and mine.  You and me.  I.  Can’t.  Wait.

Our family drove across the country last week.  We saw wild sunflowers in Utah, desert sunsets in Arizona, and a starry Colorado night.  As we drove, my heart ached thinking of all that you would never get to see and enjoy with our family.  I had wanted to drink in all this splendor with you, Charlie.  I had wanted to teach you about fireflies and sun dogs and soft spring rains.  I had wanted to be the one to introduce you to all of this beauty the hands of God have made.  I had wanted to laugh with you as our crazy family took wild adventures each glorious day of our ordinary life.

But I realized something important as we drove past all of the things you were “missing.”  I was looking out the window at the fading sunset and suddenly it hit me…Who painted a sunset like that?  Who knew that every flower looks even better next to a little dash of green?  Who made the trees to dance and cast shadows of beauty on the ground beneath?  Who made Freddo funny?  Emma thoughtful?   Sophie sweet?

I have honestly wondered at times, my precious boy, if the Heaven you are seeing could possibly be as beautiful as the Earth you are missing. Why do I think that?  When all of the best things here… came from There?

And I realized suddenly, that all of the things I treasure most in life…the sweetness of relationships, the beauty all around us, the adventures we take as a family…all of those things…come from God.  The God who dwells forever in the LINE.  The God who you are with, even as you wait for us to finish our dots, and join you in eternity.

It helps knowing that all of the best things I see Here…are things you are experiencing in their raw, glorious, forever forms There.  Jesus told the thief on the cross, Today you will be with me in Paradise.”  Sometimes your Mommy forgets exactly how good Paradise must be.  I mean, if I were God, I would make the long part…the Line part…the part filled with perfection and glory.

And He has.  You know that by sight.  And I, too, will know that someday.

But, I still wish we were in the same place today.  I more than wish it…I ache for it.  It’s been six months of ache.  Six months of tears.  Six months of suffering.  Six months of endless wait.

But I am six months closer to forever.  Closer to you.  Closer to an eternity spent enjoying together the best God has made.  And for that, I can honestly say, even after the six most devastating months of my entire life…our God is so incredibly good and kind.

I love you, my sweet Charlie James.  Please ask Jesus to give you an extra kiss for me today.  Just as King David once said, I know that you will not come back to me…but I will go to be with you.  I am coming to the Line someday.  Wait for me.  Mommy’s coming.

Until then, I will enjoy God’s best gifts, and you will enjoy the presence of the very Giver Himself…I on the dot, and you on the Forever line.

Love, Your Mommy

The sunsets of Arizona, the sunflowers of Utah, and the last moments before a Starry Night.

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The Math Of Grief

Well, we’re back. After four thousand miles through fives states and more Happy Meals than I can count…our family is back from summer travels.

I’d like to say that it was nice to get away. And in some ways, it was. But there were many tears as we traveled to a conference I had thought Charlie would be going to with us. I had always pictured Charlie traveling with us in the fourth seat of our Sequoia. And then that dream died, and another was born when I pictured a new little person traveling with us to Colorado in my tummy. Another dream lost in a single heartbeat.

But all those hours in the car, and even more importantly, the hours we spent with other parents who have suffered as we have…have led to some new thoughts on grief. I cannot tell you how valuable it was to sit across the table from other people whose dreams have been shattered, hopes deferred, and hearts made sick.

You don’t really know how normal you are, until people who have actually walked your pain, validate it. There is a preciousness in the fellowship of suffering which I cannot even put into words.

And while Reid can attest to the fact that I’m no math wizard, I want to share what I have been learning lately about the arithmetic of grief.

Grief subtracts innocence

A few days after Charlie died a friend said to me, “But you’re OK, right?”

“Um…no. And I can tell you exactly when I’m going to be OK… NEVER.”

I can understand why she said it…probably because she loves me and so badly wants me to be “OK.” She wants me to come back.

I’ve spent six months thinking about what “back” looks like. Can I go back? Can I go back to happiness? Can I go back to “OK”?

I’ve buried two babies in five months…I’m not ok.

I realized after our conversations with other parents who have lived through the horror of losing children…there is no going back. There is no OK. There is only a new, different life. A life where innocence is gone. Permanently.

I like the Mumford & Sons song that says, “Death is at your doorstep, and it will steal your innocence, but it will not steal your substance.” Innocence is gone. It does not mean that our substance is gone, but when you look into the precious face of a baby who looks like you and whose eyes you will never see…you know innocence has died. Something precious is over.

I think Nicholas Wolterstorff says it best in his book “Lament for a Son,”

“The world looks different now. The pinks have become purple, the yellows brown. Mountains now wear crosses on their slopes. Something is over. In the deepest levels of my existence something is finished, done. My life is divided into before and after. Something is over.”

The happy-go-lucky notion we once had that everything was probably going to be ok (Read: go the way we want, protect everyone we love, never break our hearts beyond belief)…that is over. That view…the one that almost everyone around me still gets to keep…that is over for me. And it’s been a good process this summer as I’ve realized what is true. That I am NOT ok…and that is ok. This is my life.

Grief adds sorrow

There is so very much sorrow that grief adds to life. I realized as we drove thousands of miles, through towns I’ve never seen, that I now look at the entire world through new eyes. As we drove through one sleepy little town after another I would actually catch myself looking intently and thoughtfully at cemeteries. Yes, cemeteries. I found myself assessing the quality of the cemetery…just like other moms assess the quality of a park or a preschool they see.

I’m realizing that this is actually not morbid…it’s just my life. It is a great sorrow to bear that I have to visit a cemetery to feel closer to my little one’s body…but that is my reality. I’ve been concerned about this, sad about this, angry about this…but I am learning that this is just my life. There is a sorrow to my life that will always be. And as much as people who have never buried babies want it to NOT be in my life…it’s my life.

I love how Nicholas Woterstorff says,

“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.”

I can’t even read those words without weeping. Sorrow is the sea…and it hurts so badly. I had wanted JOY to be the sea. I had wanted to sail smoothly and sweetly on a sea of ease right into Heaven’s pearly harbor someday.

But I am learning that acceptance is looking out at the real sea I am sailing on. The one I would do anything to change. The one God has actually lovingly and mysteriously ordained for me. And that faith is saying, “OK, God. I take Your will. Just please sail with me, because I need You desperately.”

Grief divides hearts

I want to be in two places. And I simply cannot be in both of them at the same time. I want so much to live life with Reid, Emma, Fred, and Sophie. But I also desperately long to be with my other babies. And I ache beyond belief that I cannot be with my whole family at the same time. Some day, by the grace of God, I will get to live life with baby Zeller and my sweet Charlie. But for now…they are not with me.

And so, I spend my days doing laundry, wiping runny noses, looking for Barbie’s lost shoe, and…thinking about Heaven…every single moment of the day.

I know this just isn’t usual. Most moms, deep in the throes of “The Little Years,” no matter how much they love Jesus, DO NOT think about Heaven every moment of the day. But that’s because they don’t have to. All the little people they love and carried and long to care for…are strapped in carseats in their messy mini-van as it speeds merrily down the freeway.

But that is not my life. I carried those five babies, and I long for them, and my heart will be divided in its affections, attentions, and longings, as long as my little ones are not in the same place. I am learning to be ok with a divided heart. Half my heart is in heaven. This is my life.

And that is one thing that grief has added that is a great sweetness to my life…Grief multiplies longing for eternity.

All those hours spent thinking of my little ones who live light years away…has multiplied beyond measure, my longing for Someday.

At first, I just so desperately longed to be with the baby who had just come from my body. I looked at Charlie’s tiny frame and cried out to God a thousand times, “Please God, please just let me go with him.” Then, I felt a desperation to be in Heaven just so I could be near to Jesus and finally understand all of this brokenness and pain that has suddenly become my new reality.

But now…growing deep within me, at first slowly, but with greater force as time goes by…is this longing for all of it. The whole package. Charlie. Baby Zeller. Jesus. A longing for the hours I will spend at Jesus’ feet hearing His gentle voice and searching His sorrow-seen eyes. I feel beckoned by the beauty of a place where everyone around me isn’t broken and sinful and hurting and frail…but whole and holy and strong and free.

This is my life…someday.

And for all that grief has added and subtracted and divided with its relentless, pounding waves…I’m so grateful for God’s kindness to deepen in my broken and bleeding heart…a stronger longing for eternity.

Charlie would have turned six-months-old this week. I LOVE that time in a baby’s life. They can finally eat and smile and roll and BE…and I’ve always looked forward to the six-month-turning point. This week would also have been the 13th week with Baby Zeller in my belly, which would have marked the end of the hard First trimester, and the beginning of the fun Second one.

But our home is forever missing the sweet coos and smiles of Baby Charlie. And my belly is forever missing those precious first kicks of Charlie’s little sibling.

So what this week marks in reality…is that we’ve actually made it through six months. We’ve actually walked with God through the six most excruciatingly painful months of our entire lives.

We’ve waited six months.

For Him. For Charlie. For eternal right.

And we continue to wait. We wait with tears and trust for the day when all of this will finally be right. When finally, all will be OK.

Someday, on a distant shore…these painful days will fade away…and it will finally be JOY. A land of Joy for all eternity.

And no islands of sorrow ever…as far as the eye can see.


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Grief Is A Free Fall

This weekend, Reid went sky diving. It’s been on his Bucket List for a long time, but I decided to give him that as a birthday present this year.

Come Friday, I was really regretting that decision. I realized Friday morning that it was probably going to take more courage for me to let him go…than it would have taken to just jump out of that perfectly good airplane myself. I began to panic just thinking about suddenly having to walk through this deep valley that has become our lives, without my most favorite part of it…him. I even thought about locking him in the bathroom.

But the things that take courage…real, trembling courage, are always the moments when we risk losing what we love most. And the reality is…I actually risk losing Reid every single time he runs to the store to buy milk. Whether jumping out of a plane at 8,000 feet, or making a quick trip to the market…I simply cannot keep those I love alive for one millisecond past what God has ordained for them.

So, Reid jumped.

And I held my breath, and waited to find out God’s will.

But the reason I had wanted him to go in the first place…was because grief is such a free fall.

And somewhere between Reid’s experience of actually jumping, and my experience of letting him go…I want to share why.

I know that every single one of you will someday be forced into the free fall of grief. If you live long enough, one of the few things you are promised is to lose someone you love. And I’m here to tell you…the depths of emotions you feel in grief will absolutely shock you. When that happens, I don’t want you to feel as crazy and alone as I felt. So, I want to be real, and honest, and name just a few.

Fear.

One of the very first emotions I felt on the night Charlie died, was fear. Fear of losing my faith. Fear of losing my mind. Fear of losing my hope. Fear of losing more of the people I love most. When death happens, you suddenly realize how fast it is, how universal it is, and how real it is. One heartbeat, and someone you love is gone forever.

And the moment Reid jumped out of that plane…the free fall of fear began. Will the parachute actually open? Will I just end up a broken, and bleeding heap on the ground? Will this downward spiral ever stop? I’ve had those very same thoughts hundreds of times since January 28th, 2013. Grief initiates fear.

Disorientation.

The night we found out baby Charlie had died I felt instantly disoriented. One moment, my beautiful, happy life was speeding merrily along, and with just four words…life was changed forever. The moment the doctor said, “I’m sorry. He’s gone,” I felt myself spiraling into confusion.

Confusion about who God is. Did God actually just let my baby die? Confusion about my body. Am I still pregnant? For weeks after Charlie died I woke up every morning still thinking I was pregnant. And every single morning I had to remind myself that my baby had already come, and our sweet boy was never coming through the front door of our home. Confusion about my purpose in life. I was just pregnant! I was planning on having a baby for the next year. I was planning on having a son named Charlie for forever. And suddenly, all of it was gone. Suddenly he was gone. And my life, as I had known it, left with him.

I felt so confused. And I felt spiritually, emotionally, and physically disoriented. So much so, that I actually began to play a little game with myself that I picked up from Katniss Everdeen. Like Katniss, who suddenly found herself in unfamiliar territory, and wearing a bracelet that said, “Mentally disoriented,” I started to list all of the things that I actually did know to be true.

To be honest, the list was pretty short. My name is Misty Zeller. I am a child of God. I am married to Reid. I am the mommy of four kids. I kept telling myself what was true, even the things that my life did not in any way reflect. I had just had a BABY, a real, full-term baby, and yet no one at Target had a clue why my belly was jiggly and my heart was broken.

Then our next little one died…and I had to start my list all over again. I am still Misty Zeller. I am still a child of God. I am still a mommy of five…even though almost half of the little ones I have carried and loved, no longer live with us in our home. It is so incredibly confusing and disorienting losing someone you love. One minute, they are with you and all is well, and the very next moment, you are spiraling to earth in a dizzying free fall. You were just sitting safely in a plane, and you are suddenly spiraling headfirst to the ground. Grief initiates confusion.

Sickness.

I literally felt nauseous for weeks after Charlie’s death. I couldn’t breath. I felt physically sick some days, and always so miserably heartsick. My arms ached with a longing to hold him there. My ears and heart actually hurt when I would hear the cries of other newborns. And my eyes couldn’t even look at another baby without brimming with tears.

Interestingly enough, sky diving actually made Reid feel sick too. Reid is NOT a fearful person. I’m afraid of everything. Plane crashes. Lizards. Death. Another Great Depression. You name it, and I’ve probably been afraid of it. But Reid is miraculously unafraid of so very much. I don’t even think he was all that nervous about jumping out of a perfectly sound airplane and falling to the ground. But he did get sick. Really sick. There’s something so jolting about suddenly careening 8,000 feet through the air. And I was amazed to see how everyone who jumped during our little Operation Skyfall was sick for even days after.

And so too with grief. I finally have days where I feel kind of physically normal…but I doubt I will ever have a day where my heart does not hurt. Grief initiates the greatest heartsickness the heart could ever know.

But there is one final thing that I’ve learned from Reid’s sky diving adventure…

It comes with an incredible view.

And so does grief.

I would so rather have Charlie in my arms. I would rather still be pregnant with his sweet little sibling. And I would happily trade every single thing I have seen of the Lord and His great love through grief… just to have them with me here and now. I would rather be learning about the Lord and His love through my little ones in my arms. But I wasn’t given that choice. I have only been given the choice to take in this view from the free fall He has initiated.

But it is indeed, a spectacular view.

And I am convinced that there are some things that you can only see when you are in the deepest depths that you have ever known. Things you can only see…when He carries You.

Things about the Lord’s sovereignty and love. I have had moments, in even this dark valley, when I have felt deeply loved by the very God who has allowed us to suffer.

Things about eternity and the real Home waiting for us. We long for the lasting city, and the Home that grief has forced us to anticipate…like never before.

Things about God’s sustaining power. We know now, that we are so fragile we can no longer do anything but latch ourselves to Him…and careen downward. This has always been true, but we know it now.

And sometimes, through all of the tears, and heartache, and disorientation, and fear, I really do see the most incredible view of the world below.

And of the One who has never let us go. The One who will carry us all the way Home, and someday set us gently on the golden ground.

Until then, we free fall.

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