If a picture is really worth a thousand words…we have a new one on our wall that speaks volumes about our life. There are so many things that I love about this picture. And so many things that make me ache…A few weeks ago, some friends of ours came to town to shoot a “Thank You” video for our family. We’ve been trying to figure out the best way to thank the (literally) thousands of people around the world who have supported and loved on us during this season dubbed “The Rain.”
When our friends offered to make a video, it seemed like the perfect way. And then, on the day they came to do the shoot, in the middle of the biggest drought of the century, the weather forecast predicted rain. Of course it did.
So…I grabbed these umbrellas. And it wasn’t until a friend asked, “I wonder if you had special significance using those three umbrellas,” that it hit me.
Honestly, right up until the moment she said that…it had never crossed my mind. I didn’t pick three umbrellas because of our three babies who did not make our family picture that day. I picked three umbrella’s, because I thought it was going to rain.
I stood in the middle of Target and thought to myself, “Can Sophie honestly hold this umbrella without poking someone in the eye?” Landed on “No.” And then decided, due to my very high value on sibling fairness, that Sophie would feel left out if she was the only one who didn’t have a beautiful big red umbrella. So I bought three.
I figured three would safely cover our little family.
Our little family.
I cannot tell you the lifetime of pain…hidden in those three words. Nothing, nothing, nothing is as I had wanted it to be. But they are mine.
This picture is ours.
This picture…is our happy.
And it’s also…our very sad. Our suffering. And our heartbreak.
And what is heavy on my heart as I prepare for my second Mother’s day apart from baby Charlie…is how unspeakably hard these holidays can be. Holidays can be so very painful, because they force every one of us to take a long look at our happy.
Or in some cases, our not so happy.
Because Mother’s day, simply put…is yet another holiday for the “Haves.”
There was a time when I didn’t think much about it. I went to church, stood up when the Pastor told the moms to stand, got my homemade crayon card from my kids, and usually enjoyed the day.
But for many people this coming Mother’s day, like so many holidays, will be a very painful day.
Painful because they’ll be surrounded by someone else’s “Happy.”
It may be a painful day for some…because the woman who gave them life is no longer here to call or write. And it will be hard to not envy the joy they see on the faces of other mom’s and daughter’s who get to be together on that day. Hard to not compare their sorrow…to other people’s joy.
It may be a painful day for others…because her lifelong dream of being called “Mommy” by a tiny somebody…is just never going to be. And she will have to fight so hard to not envy the frazzled woman at church with her five little matching ducklings waddling in behind…when her arms are still so, achingly empty.
It may even be painful for others…because her mother was not someone she ever felt loved by. And it will be hard to not compare the other moms they see…with the one in her life who was called by the same name.
And for some, like me…this Mother’s Day will be filled with ache.
Because we will spend it in a cemetery.
I had never, ever thought that I would spend Mother’s Day weeping beside my baby’s grave. But that’s exactly where last Mother’s day found me. And it was every bit has painful as it sounds to be.
I had so desperately wanted to just close my eyes to the pain, and get through the day. To put on my Sunday finery, stand when the Pastor ordered “Stand,” and somehow survive the day.
I. Just. Couldn’t. Do. It.
I couldn’t pretend that someone so special with Freddo’s very cheeks, and Sophie’s wispy, nut-brown hair…had never come into my life. I couldn’t pretend that a little boy named Charlie whose sweet baby chin with the exact same dimple as mine…didn’t make me a mommy. That he didn’t make me just as much a mommy…as the other three. I couldn’t pretend that his life somehow mattered less to my heart than the three who are still here to hug me with sticky arms, and stamp their chocolatey kisses all over mine.
I missed every single one of Charlie’s chocolate kisses. And yet…I am still his mommy. He was knit together in my womb, by the very hands of God…just like all the others. He was held by me, every single moment of his life…just like all the others. And perhaps even more than the other three…he has made me realize what being a mommy really means.
Because I have never, ever had to love someone so selflessly. I love him so very much that I am literally, even now, weeping as I write. And I missed his entire life.
All of this was a lot to process…as I sat alone in that cold graveyard last May.
And as I drove away from the cemetery a year ago this Sunday, I remember only one thing vividly, crying out to God over and over and over again...”I am not going to make it through this life.” The despair I felt over the loss of Charlie’s life weighed so heavy after my first Mother’s Day by a grave. I felt so deeply broken, confused, devastated, and angry. And there were lots and lots of words thrown out to the sky.
And then…when I got home, God replied.
I had decided that I simply could’t cook on such a low day…so we headed to our usual spot…that towering culinary wonder of CPK.
We like to go there early, so as not to disturb the other diners with our noise, and so we get the waiter’s undivided attention for our very eatery-needy family.
We were literally the only people in the restaurant, besides one other family. And as I sat there miserably counting down the moments until I could finally say that, “Baby’s First Mother’s Day” was safely behind me…I found myself face to face with what so many people face on these many “Haves Holidays”…the dangerous demons of comparison and envy.
Because there, directly across the room from us, was another family with not one, but two baby boys just a few months older than Charlie would be.
I had gotten it in my head a few weeks before Mother’s day, that I was going to pray for twin baby boys. I felt so cheated by God that I had gone through all of the agony of labor and an entire pregnancy…and didn’t get a baby. I thought it would be so great if He would just have mercy on me and give me twins, so that I could end up with two babies after two pregnancies. And I prayed for it every day. Some days, it felt like the only prayer I had left…that I could truly pray in faith.
So…imagine my surprise when I looked up from my Thai Crunch salad…and there was the family who had my new “Happy.” There was the family who had my three big siblings, and then twin baby boys. And though the Dad looked kind of frazzled, between trying to eat and having to juggle the craziness of five, I kept thinking to myself, “They are just so lucky.”
But it was more than just that. It was, “Why Lord? WHY? Why did they get TWO babies boys…and you took my only Charlie from me?” “Why Lord, did you give them so much happy, and completely forget about our family who are hurting so very badly?”
These questions continued as I kept watching this cute family…all dressed up for Mother’s Day in their Sunday best…who had everything. Or at least everything I now wanted. I found myself deeply envying these total strangers in CPK, and my heart felt so heavy with longing for someone else’s life.
I wanted their happy.
And isn’t that what we all do? We compare ourselves to everyone…who has our current, deeply desired version of “happy.” And as we compare…we do one of two things. We either 1. envy what they have that we don’t, or 2. take subtle pride in what we have that they don’t.
We do this in California Pizza Kitchen with total strangers, but let’s be honest…we do this at church. We do this at small group, and MOPS, and extended family holidays.
We want what others have…and we want it now.
And I have one piece of advice. One pithy little Pinterest pin that I pinned months ago, and God actually still brings to mind every single day…
That Teddy…he was so wise.
Because as I sat there at CPK, surrounded by my amazing husband and my three beautiful little glories, all I could think about…was what God had taken away from me.
And given to that family across the restaurant from me.
And then, as the minutes turned into an hour of my broken-hearted people-watching…it suddenly hit me. I have watched this family eat their entire meal together…and I still haven’t seen the Mommy? This is their MOTHER’S Day dinner…where is Mommy?
I thought it was strange, but as often happens when we envy from a distance…I figured I just didn’t have the whole story. I didn’t think too much of it as we left CPK and headed for the parking garage. I was mostly thinking about me.
And that’s…when I heard from the Holy of Holies.
I was about to get into our car when I suddenly looked across the parking garage, and there they were again. That same family. The happy family. Getting into their mini van, with all those healthy, living kids.
And that’s when I saw it.
The stick figure that moved me to weeping.
Because there, on the back window of their mini van, was the stick figure version of the very family I had just seen. A dad. Three little kids. And then two baby boys.
And the mom, who I hadn’t seen all day…was a stick figure angel. An angel. Flying above the rest of the family.
Mommy had died.
There I was, struggling through a deeply painful Mother’s Day dinner, surrounded by the precious family left to me. And here was this dad, across the restaurant from me…struggling through an equally miserable Mother’s Day.
And I started to weep.
Poor. Reid. He was already dealing with a completely heartbroken Mommy whose arms were devastatingly empty, and now he had to deal with all of my new tears about a total stranger’s life.
But I learned something deeply important that day about envy.
Dont. Even. Bother.
Here I was, fighting through every moment of my dinner at CPK, just desperately wishing I had his happy. And he was probably looking across the same room…wishing he had mine. Wishing…he could have, even just five more minutes, with the woman who had made all those beautiful children he’d painstakingly dressed up and dragged out to dinner for “Mother’s Day.” Wishing…that she was still there to cry beside that night.
There were many, many tears that night. Tears of sorrow that no matter how much “perspective” God gave me in parking garages outside of CPK…I buried a perfectly healthy, deeply loved and wanted baby boy. And I am convinced that that’s something my heart will rightly ache about, every single day, right up until eternity.
There is just so much to grieve.
But there were also tears of gratitude that night. I felt grateful that, as I cried myself to sleep for yet another night, I wasn’t alone in my incapacitating grief. That the husband I loved so much, was still there to hold me as I cried. That for all God had taken away, in His mercy, He had left Reid by my side.
I had so very much to hurt about last Mother’s Day…and yet, all I clearly remember from that day was my joy.
The same gratitude that I feel when I look at the broken picture of three red umbrellas being carried by our family. Three bursts of color…deeply symbolic of a life filled with more suffering and sorrow than I ever would have wanted to call mine. But gratitude that, for all the pain contained in one small picture, there are still moments of joy.
JOY…that wells up in me every time I look at this picture, and see Reid still walking by my side. We have made it through the hell of grief, and we love each other infinitely more now than we did before our suffering.
I am so grateful for Reid.
JOY…that for all of the beautiful faces who are missing from our family…there are still soft, sweet cheeks to kiss each night. Freddo doesn’t know it, but every single night since Charlie died…he has gotten a double portion of my kisses. One for him. And one for Charlie. It am grateful every time I look at this picture and see Fred’s fuzzy little head as he walks beside me.
I am so unspeakably grateful that God left me Freddo’s cheeks. And Emma’s. And Sophie’s.
And JOY…in Sophie’s defiant little kick. We are still us. In spite of the deep sorrow our family has faced. Sophie is still spunky. Freddo is still sweet. Reid is still a tender warrior, with more strength than most men will ever be forced to trust God for daily.
And our little Emma…is still deep and full of faith. In spite of more unanswered prayers than most people face in a lifetime.
I am grateful for Emma’s faith.
And I, am still me. I’m still the girl who envies total strangers in CPK, and then cries over their hurting hearts for hours that same night.
And I still struggle deeply with comparing our life that has been filled with so much unhappy…with other people’s happy. Sometimes…I envy people who have never had to endure the sorrow of burying a baby. Sometimes…I even envy people who actually have…but who didn’t have to do that twice. Or three times.
Sometimes…I envy people who didn’t have to loose everything single thing they own because of exposure to toxic black mold poisoning. I envy people who don’t have to live with a debilitating sickness from a neurological poison that wrecked their body, and took their babies lives.
And that…well, that is almost everybody.
But the people who I most envy…are the people whose faith God has protected from all of these things. You don’t even realize the unfathomable weight of all that you are being protected from…until you’re not. What hurts the most, what I struggle the most to not envy, are the people who have also been called to walk with God…and for them, it seems He has made that just so, so easy.
Faith is no longer easy for me. It is a fight for faith in the goodness of God. Every. Single. Day.
And I have one prayer for this coming Mother’s Day. For my heart. And for yours also, really. That in this era of social media, where we now have to fight even harder against comparison and envy, that we would chose joy.
Joy in what He gave.
Trust in what He didn’t.
And faith as we wait to find out why.
Faith that God’s version of our Happy…the lives He actually gave…though filled with sorrow, can also be filled with Joy. Because what I have learned, through the endless unhappy we have faced, is that if you do not stop comparing…you will be paralyzed by everyone else’s happy.
I am not talking about shallow, mind-over-matter “positivity”…I am talking about deep, unshakable, gratitude-born joy. The kind that God gives when He gives you HIS perspective of your happy.
When He gives you tears and joy…all wrapped up in the same moment of time.
And when He gives you hope as you endure an endless wait for the real Happy…the one we’ve all been waiting for our entire lives.
Someday, Mother’s Day is going to be downright amazing. In a place where there is endless happy. A place where happy…will be permanently redefined.
A place where everyone who ever loved anyone with the selfless love of Christ…will feel the weight of their worth in light of the Body of Christ.
A place where we will finally see with our own eyes, that broken, nail-scarred body, as He goes around personally introducing millions of mommies…to the babies they never had the joy of knowing.
And a place where three little umbrellas…will finally meet their mommy.