I’ve been a little mia lately, because I was at a conference this last week. On one hand, it was good for my heart to spend time with other mom’s in my same season of life. There were also moments of deep pain. I’ve pretty much resigned myself to the fact that it’s just always going to be really painful to sit in a room full of pregnant ladies and newborn babies. It’s hard to watch those sweet bundles resting on their mommies…and to feel the ache in my arms of babies missing.
It’s hard to hear another mom introduce her baby, and to think, “I don’t even know their names.” I know Charlie’s name, and I cannot even breathe most days…so great is that ache. But it’s a totally different ache, not even knowing the last two babies names.
And so…sitting in a room with other moms who know their babies names, and moms who are pregnant with new ones, and moms who are not dealing with a toxic neurological poison that is devastating their children’s tiny bodies…I do feel like I’m standing on the other side of the fence in many ways.
But there is something else going on in my heart right now, that makes me feel a deep bond with every one of the world’s mommies, and it’s the thing that keeps me awake at night.
And I’m willing to bet…it’s also keeping you awake.
Yesterday was a hard day. I woke up as usual, took my morning dose of mold medicine, started getting ready for church, and then…Bam!…everything went black. One minute I was daydreaming about escaping to Ireland for St. Patricks day (thank you Pinterest for that unnecessary distraction), and the next minute I was shaking violently and hearing Reid yelling at me from a far away place. I heard, “Babe! Babe! Are you OK?” And then I was back. I’m not even sure what to call it. I just know that I was shaking, I was not aware of what was happening, and that even in that terrifying moment, escaping to Ireland was oddly on the forefront of my mind. Most of all…I know that I was scared.
I was scared. Reid was scared. And I’m still feeling scared today.
My symptoms list is getting too long to even name at this point, and the neurological symptoms are definitely starting to scare me in places I can’t even articulate. But what has struck me the most is that no matter what each new day holds for me…the one question ever on my mind is, “Are they going to be ok?”
I know I’m not ok. I’m so not ok that it took me so long to find my parked car at Costco the other day, that a Costco employee actually came out of the store, and said to me, “I’m going to help you find you car, Sweetie, because you’ve been out here for a very long time.” Besides the embarrassment of being that girl who now needs parking lot assistance, I really don’t care that I can’t find my car. Life has been so hard for so long that I’ve become quite ok with being not ok.
But not knowing if my kids are ok…well, that terrifies me.
We have always teased Emma for being slow. We fondly call her “turtle” and can count on her to be the last one out the door every time we go someplace. But watching her struggle through her neurological tests at the doctor the other day…I couldn’t even breathe. Couldn’t. Even. Breathe.
I kept thinking, “What if she isn’t naturally a turtle? What if she isn’t just someone who likes to stop and smell the roses through every moment of life? What if she DOES have neurological damage from toxic mold poisoning? What if she isn’t ok?”
This may seem like a simple thing, but the tears are pouring as I write. Because this is the thing. This is the thing that cuts to my heart more than any other thing. Because Charlie isn’t with me. And neither is the next baby. Or the next. I couldn’t protect them. Even though I would have walked through fire to have protected them if I could. I look at the three little ones God has entrusted to my care for today…and I want to protect them. Desperately.
And I realized as I was talking with other moms at the conference this week…that they feel the same way. That you feel the same way.
And since this is the thing…that cuts to our hearts as mommies more than any other thing…I’m just going to put it out there. I’m going to share with you the secret I have learned through this endless year of pain. The ultimate secret to protecting your kids from this world’s deep suffering…
You. Just. Can’t.
You can’t actually, really, protect them from anything. And what hurts so bad is that we kind of think we can. We pack their lunches in the morning, and pray against that little bully on the playground they may have to face. We stick the Barbie band-aide on their scraped up knees and think, “I’m going to make sure I stop you the next time you run full speed ahead into that tree outside by the driveway.” We wipe the tears from their chubby little cheeks and we vow, “I’m never going to let someone say that to you ever again.”
I know you think these things…because I I’ve thought the same things. Yesterday. This morning. And tomorrow too, probably.
But I am here to tell you, if I have learned one thing from holding three tiny babies in my arms that I didn’t get to keep…you are far less powerful than you think.
You can buckle their seat belts. And fold their laundry. And make their PB & J’s. But you are not writing their story.
You are only reading it.
Line by line. Page by page.
And you have no idea, and even less control…over the story that a Sovereign God has written for your children’s lives.
I’m so sorry to say this. And no one hates this more than me. But those are the breaks.
I vividly remember the day we buried baby Charlie. I stood by his tiny grave and thought to myself, “Why couldn’t it be me? Why couldn’t he have lived, and You have taken my life in his place?”
But I didn’t get to make that choice. And I absolutely know I would have. I know that it wasn’t for lack of love that Charlie died. Ask any mom, on any pediatric cancer ward, in any hospital, in any country…it is not for lack of love that they watch their babies suffering.
They didn’t get to make that choice. And neither do we.
Because we are just dust. Our kids may think that mommy is big and strong and powerful, but we know. And we are haunted by the knowing. We know deep inside that there are so many things we are not sovereign over. Like for instance…everything.
The friends they will make. The car passing by on the street. The sincerity of their teenage faith. The cancer cells in their body. The neighborhood bully. The number of their days.
The list is endless and deeply, deeply depressing.
Because we love them desperately.
And I sit in the weight of this list every day. With three babies sick and three babies buried…I feel deeply the weight of all that I cannot protect my kids from…I, who am a fanatic about seat belt-buckling, gummy vitamin-taking, and tricky people-watching. I feel the weight of all that I am not Sovereign over…and it is so very soul crushing.
And that’s when God comes on the scene. Or rather, that’s when I remember that the whole thing is actually His story in the first place.
I want it to be my story. I would have written a far different one. I am deeply committed to a pain free life, and my story would have been filled with happy. But then, it would have been mine.
And it simply isn’t mine. I didn’t even choose to live. He chose me. And He made me. And this is His story. And He has gone out of His way to remind us of that difficult but precious truth, time after time, line after line, page after page.
A few weeks before Charlie died, Reid had decided to get a tattoo with four stars on his arm. One for each of our babies. We knew we were going to be “done” at four, and since tattoos are such a permanent thing, it seemed like the perfect time.
And then…our little Charlie star died. And with heavy hearts, four stars were etched permanently on the arm of the one I love most. And that tattooed arm hugged and held me as we grieved and cried out the to God of Abraham, day after sorrow-filled day.
And then…another little star fell from the sky on a brilliant June morning.
And a little more of me died.
And then…when we didn’t think we could possibly endure any more pain…another star fell the week before Thanksgiving. I remember thinking in that moment, “HOW long O Lord! HOW MANY stars are going to end up on that arm before we are done with all this suffering?” I envisioned my husband, who loves our kids more than anything, with an arm full of rows and rows of stars, and I just wanted to weep.
In the midst of this fresh loss, we had to attend yet another conference full of babies and pregnant ladies. I was struggling a lot at the conference with why God has written our story to be so full of pain and suffering, while so many around us have been given a far less painful story.
One day when I just couldn’t take it anymore, I went back to our hotel room and cried out, “God, please speak to me. Please say something?” And then I got this wonderful idea to start reading the Psalms…backwards. I was feeling really hopeless and weary and uncommunicated with as I waded through 150,149, 148. I was just about to close it up for the day, and then my eyes fell on Psalm 147:3…
“He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.”
Ok, fine. Speak Lord, your servant is listening.
And then I looked down at the very next words burned on the page,
“He determines the number of the stars;
he gives to all of them their names.”
I’m sure it’s always been there. Buried in Psalm 147, and missed by most well-intentioned Psalms readings, since most normal people start at the beginning. But there it was. Hidden there just for me.
He numbers the stars.
He knows their names.
I read it. And then reread it. And then read it to Reid.
And I’m still reading it. Every. Day.
Every time I feel tempted to fear that Emma will always struggle in school because of toxic mold poisoning…I cling to the promise that He alone is Sovereign. That He alone made her and sees her and knows her. That He alone is the one who numbers and names.
I had thought I was naming her Emma…but God was naming her through me. Emma, slow moving, sweet-hearted, stop-and-smell-the-roses, Emma Leigh.
I had thought I was naming them Freidrich Uriah and Sophie Noel...but God was naming them through me.
I had thought we had named him Charlie. Charlie, whose name means “Free man, Strong”…which we didn’t even know until after he died. Definitely named by God…is our little Charlie James.
And for the babies whose names I won’t even know until I someday meet them face to face…I rest in the Sovereign God of Abraham who has always been deeply committed to a sky full of stars and kids full of grace, and most of all…His glory and His story.
I am absolutely convinced that He has written our lives. Convinced that He numbers and names both your stars and mine. And convinced that while we have been called to be good stewards of such a precious gift as living stars…we are but characters in a great eternal story.
Reading, and not writing. And shining brightly for the glory of the Author of stars and lives.
I used to wonder all the time, “If we ever had a fire, what would be the one thing I would take?” And now that we’ve basically lost all of our things…it has become very clear to me what I’d take from our new little house by the beach.
I’d take this shelf. The most important reminder God has ever given to me, that as a mommy I may feel wildly out of control…and I am actually.
But I belong to a God who has numbered the stars, and knows their names.