It’s been exactly 365 days since I last wrote on this page. All I remember of Charlie’s birthday a year ago, was the moment the five of us found ourselves sitting together on the couch, looking at Charlie’s baby book…and weeping uncontrollably. That was last January 28th, and ever since- I have been dreading what was coming in 365 days.
Over the last year many people have written and asked if I would update the blog and share a little of what was happening with our family. Honestly, I just couldn’t. And if today wasn’t our sweet Charlie’s birthday, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have written today either. It’s not that I’ve had nothing to say, it has just felt too incredibly difficult to get all the things swirling around inside of me, unto the pages outside.
In the years since Charlie’s death I have thought countless times about the words C.S. Lewis wrote after his wife died: “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning.” And in the last four years, hellish years filled loss upon loss, as we lost first Charlie, and then two more babies, and then everything we owned, and then finally, the hope of ever again having another baby and a different ending to the story…in all those years C.S. Lewis’ words have resonated true to me. Grief did feel an awful lot like fear, and I did feel so overwhelmingly fearful at times. Afraid of more loss. Afraid of a world that could get this dark and scary. Afraid of a God who would let it. Afraid of being this completely out of control of my own story.
And then, we came to 365 days before today. In January of 2016, I was the very sickest I had ever been. Our environmental doctor had made it clear to us from the very moment we left the Mold House that it would likely take, “Three to five years to truly feel healthy again.” From the moment she said those words- we planned on five years, and prayed for three years, and secretly hoped it would take even less time.
Because more than anything in all the world, I so badly wanted to give birth to another living, breathing baby. I so desperately wanted to hear a baby’s first cries of life…instead of the devastating silence that we had experienced on Charlie’s birthday. I desperately wanted my children to know that sometimes, even after all the “No’s,” God in His infinite sovereignty also choses to say, “Yes.” And far more even than wanting a baby, I desperately wanted the miracle the baby would mean. But as much as I wanted another baby, I wasn’t about to try to conceive again now that we finally knew why three babies in a row had died in my body. I wasn’t willing to risk it, until I was absolutely sure my body was healthy, and I hadn’t been anywhere near healthy since the moment we moved out of that abyss of death that stole so very much from our lives. Which is probably why I felt such despair one year ago today. Even now, as I read over the last post I wrote, I can feel the deep despair of wanting a baby and not even being able to try. 365 days ago, I was almost certain that another baby would never ever be.
And last year, on this very day, as I sat in the hopelessness of a story I did not want to be living, I had to tell myself the very same thing I told myself in the hospital on the day we found out Charlie had died: “Your life is about one thing and one thing alone: To know God, and make Him known.” Because anytime I have ever wanted it to be about “more than” or “other than” that- the depths of our endless suffering, the despair of this broken world, and the certainty of death that awaits absolutely everybody, simply became too much to bear, and all I wanted to do was drive into incoming traffic. Not literally, but soul-fully.
There have been so many times since Charlie’s death where I have felt despair set in, and the only thing that made sense of the suck of this earth, and gave meaning to each long day- was the simple reminder of those words- words that give purpose even when absolutely nothing is as you want it to be. And so, last year I dragged my soul through yet another heinous birthday spent apart from our precious Charlie, fighting through each breath to “know Him and make Him known,” and fighting to accept all over again, the hardest thing I have ever had to accept: that God alone writes the story.
And then, something happened that I absolutely did not see coming. A twist in the story.
God Himself…turned the page.
I don’t know why, or how, or exactly even when, but sometime between Charlie’s birthday and Easter of 2016, God moved my body to heal in ways it hadn’t up to that point, and He moved my soul to ask the question I had basically given up on asking, “Father God, would you give us another baby?”
One week later, the God of the universe wrote another baby into our story.
And from the moment I saw that little pink line, I realized that the whole C.S. Lewis thing about grief-being-like-fear, needed to be thrown straight out the window…because I had never, ever, ever been so afraid. I know that every loss is filled with terror, but having a full-term still birth is a particularly terrifying kind of loss because if you ever again want to have a different ending to the story- you have to relive every moment of another pregnancy not knowing what the next ending will be. And I had already done that. Twice. But I had never been pregnant since we moved out of the Mold House, and in the back of my mind I lived with the nagging fear/hope/uncertainty of what might be if we finally tried to have a post-Mold House baby. And all of that uncertainty, was just plain terrifying.
Which is probably why I couldn’t blog about it. I could barely even talk about it as I lived it all out in real time. Grief brings with it this awful feeling of finality. Grief is: simply put, the worst thing that could ever happen to you- actually happening. And then learning to live with that 365 days a year- for the rest of your life. But fear, is so very different than grief, because fear is present. Fear is: that the worse thing that could ever happen to you, could still happen to you- at any moment in time. And suddenly, as Finn’s tiny body grew slowly inside of mine, “grief” felt absolutely nothing like fear. Because, let’s be honest, C.S. Lewis had never had a living, desperately loved and longed for, baby die in his body. Let alone three. And though having to put Charlie’s tiny body into a dark hole in the earth was by far the most difficult thing we have ever had to do…carrying his baby brother Finn through the longest nine months of our lives was by far the most scary. Scary for me, scary for Reid, and especially scary for the little people in our lives.
And I simply couldn’t write about it. I couldn’t put words to what it felt like to fear every moment of every day, and way too many sleepless nights- that another baby was going to die in my body. I couldn’t put to words what it felt like to walk into a room and find my six-year-old son vacuuming. And to ask him, “Freddo, what in the world are you doing?” And to live in the heartbreak of his reply, “I’m vacuuming mommy, because I don’t want you to have to do it, because I really really want to live life with this baby.” I couldn’t put to words what it felt like to see my children’s tears, as they too lived through each long day fearing for this new baby’s life.
And I most definitely couldn’t put to words what it felt like to spend more time thinking about where we might have to bury this new baby, than thinking about all of the things we would have to do for him if by some miracle Finn actually came home to live with our family. There was no “nesting.” There was no baby shower. There was absolutely no dreaming, only very, very fragile hoping. And when we drove to the hospital before Finn was born- we brought nothing. No car seat, no pacifiers, no going home outfit. We left for the hospital with one thing and one thing alone, the almost minute-by-minute reminder to one another and to our kids that, “Life is about knowing God, and making Him known.” End. Of. Story. Because God alone makes Himself known, by writing every line of every page, and we simply cannot hope, or pray, or “good-decisions” ourselves into the ending of our choosing.
And until the moment we held our sweet Finn Isaac alive and well in our arms, I held my longing for the story of Finn’s life more loosely than I have ever held anything. Like Abraham, trudging up that terrifying hill with his precious Isaac, we too trudged through nine months of pregnancy, holding Finn’s story with open hearts and shaking hands. I wanted him to live, more than I had ever wanted anything. I wanted it for our kids, and I wanted it for Reid, and I wanted it for me. But more than anything, I wanted it for God’s glory. I desperately wanted for God to make Himself known to me, as the one who chose to write a different ending to this story. And chapters later, we are so deeply grateful for the joy of Finn’s life.
It is hard to write about Finn on Charlie’s special day. I have wrestled constantly with the tension I feel in my heart of waiting for nine long months for Charlie to come home to live with our family, and instead bringing home a different baby boy. I have struggled with how to love Charlie now that he is four years-gone from our lives. And last night, as we once again found ourselves sitting on the couch weeping…this time a little baby boy was also nestled in my arms and crying along with the rest of the family. Of course, Finn was crying because he was hungry, and it will be years upon years before he will truly understand why every 365 days on the dot, we cry over Charlie’s life. But I am learning that I cannot escape the reality that Finn’s and Charlie’s lives are deeply intertwined. They are different chapters of the same long story: The story of God’s glory.
I am also learning very slowly, one birthday at a time, that God is not less glorified through Charlie’s life spent in heaven, than of Finn’s miraculous life on earth. Because in the midst of all of the ache over the loss of Charlie’s life- the one thing that has gotten me through each long day since the day he died…is maybe even more true of Charlie’s life than it has ever been of mine: Charlie lives to know God and make Him known. He is with Him. He who was born into His very arms. Charlie knows God in a way I can only dream of and wait with longing to finally know Him Someday. In the end, Charlie has what I can only desperately pray for each one of my kids on earth to have someday: unbroken fellowship for all eternity with the God who wrote their story.
To know God and to make Him known– that is the heart of Charlie’s story. And more than anything in all of my life, more than marriage, more than being a mother to living children, more than being a missionary- Charlie’s life has made God known to me. Because Charlie’s life has given me the greatest gift of all: A longing for Heaven, and a genuine longing for the rest of the story.
I long for heaven now in a new way, not just to be with Charlie, but because in losing him we learned that this life has absolutely nothing on Eternity. Charlie’s death made this life look so… small. Small, and uninviting, and empty, and ugly, and it has made knowing God and making Him known the best and sometimes only good thing in this life some days. And that is actually as it should be. Louis Armstrong can keep his song about “What A Wonderful World.” The truth is that the world is actually filled with infinite pain. And last night, as our precious Emma held Charlie’s picture in her arms and wept like no nine-year-old should ever have to weep, empty words about how “wonderful” this life is- simply wouldn’t suffice.
Because when life actually hits you, when you can no longer run from a world where children get cancer, and marriages crumble, and in our case- babies die, when some of life’s universal pain actually happens to you, and not just to a friend of a friend on Facebook, it is no longer such a “wonderful world.” Life suddenly only has meaning if you are living to know God and make Him known. And four years ago today, life suddenly, and permanently became merely a stepping stone to a far better place that feels far too long in coming, but coming just the same.
Which reminds me of something else C.S. Lewis said that I can still relate to as I sit here on another birthday, sobbing as I type…“And grief still feels like fear. Perhaps, more strictly, like suspense. Or like waiting; just hanging about waiting for something to happen…”
All this time, I had thought I was waiting for another baby, but it turns out what I was really waiting for…was Eternity.
We love Charlie, and we miss him deeply. We still spend 365 days a year, longing for a life together that is still coming. We also love Finn, and treasure every unexpectedly wonderful moment we have been given with him on this side of eternity. And at the same time, our life is still broken and messy and far more complicated than I would like. I still feel completely stuck and confused and sad and angry whenever someone asks me how many kids I have, or why there’s a five year gap between Finn and Sophie. But those same kids are teaching me so much about what living in the midst of a story of suffering should look like, as they grow into the people God has written them to be. The other day, I looked over and saw Sophie standing right over Finn, squishing his cheeks in her hands, and breathing germs all over the place. I was about to yell at her to, “back it up lady” when I heard her whisper softly into Finn’s face…
“Finn, you have to love God and Jesus more than you love me. That’s the only way to love God at all. OK?”
And it took my breath away. Little Sophie, who still bites Fred when she’s angry- living to know God and make Him known, and teaching her baby brother to do the same. Little Sophie, full of temper tantrums and flawed five-year-old theology, offering genuine words to live by. Words, meant for every last one of us. 365 days of the year. Words that transcend circumstances, that give hope and meaning to every single one of the years 365 days, whether those days are spent in a hospital room cuddling a cooing newborn, or standing beside a baby-sized grave. I know now that whatever God has written for the story, the parts that I like, and the lines and pages and chapters that I still absolutely hate, the goal remains the same: To know Him and make Him known, and to love Him most, so that I can love Him at all.
For someday, every single one of my kids will leave this world for eternity. And my life will either have been spent loving them, and living to know them and make them known, or loving Him and living for Him alone. It will either be spent on empty things, and filled with empty when every one of life’s treasures finally disappoint, or living in light of the the tomb that was empty. And for a God who shockingly wrote a cross of suffering and an empty tomb- right into the world’s most important Story.
As I think back on Easter 2016, and the week that little Finn first came into our lives- I vaguely remember the cold Easter ham I made that day, and the Easter baskets filled with leftover Halloween candy. Those moments are just a blur though. I do however, vividly remember the moment last Easter when our family of five sat squished in the darkness of our windowless kitchen pantry, during yet another one of my wacky, “teachable-moment-ideas.” I had wanted our kids to feel the darkness of the tomb. I wanted them to sit in its darkness together, and then to feel the hope of suddenly being brought into the Easter Sunday light. And as we sat there in the darkness, I got out five of those colorful plastic eggs, and each one of us wrote something on a piece of a paper to hide inside the empty egg. Just as Jesus was hidden in the darkness of the tomb. Just as the darkness of despair fell over all the land the moment the world’s Savior died. Just as the disciples had felt the empty in their hearts at needing God to do something only God could do on that day. I told them to chose something that felt hopeless and empty and too hard to even trust Him for, because we were going to write it down, and hide it in our eggs, and trust Him for it anyways.
Because if it isn’t big enough that it is actually hard to trust Him for it, is it really trust at all? After all, “You can’t be brave if you’ve only had wonderful things happen to you.” And if that is true, we’ve had an awful lot of moments to be brave. And so, last Easter we filled those colorful, empty eggs with all of our empty, and the brave things that we desperately longed for God to do. And it felt brave to even ask Him for such things.
And then, exactly nine months later, on the week Finn was born, Reid opened his Easter egg and showed me what he had written and hidden in there last Easter Sunday…
“Another baby boy.”
I can’t believe he really wrote that. Reid, who grieves each day over the loss of our precious ones. Reid, who sometimes holds Finn in his arms, and weeps right unto his sweet, balding baby head, over all of the moments lost with the ones who came before his life. Reid, who lived bravely with a very scared and deeply scarred wife, through each terrifying day of Finn’s pregnancy. Reid, who has stood over three buried babies, and still had the courage to ask for what we were most afraid of losing all over again: Another precious baby with a different name.
And the God who walked with us through every long day of each of the year’s 365, chose in that one singular moment of time to make Himself known to us by saying “Yes” to that longed-for story written in that Easter egg. And guess what? The same exact thing was written inside of mine.
I still wish Charlie was here. I still can’t believe that Finn actually is. The whole entire story is becoming so complex amidst so many layers of fear and hope, and sorrow and joy, and Here and Eternity, that I am starting to have trouble even feeling all the feelings. But I can say again, what I clung to 365 days ago, and the 365 days before that, and the 365 before that, and the very hardest ones before that…that life is about knowing God and making Him known, and we trust Him for one reason alone…because the tomb was empty.
Happy Birthday, to our precious Charlie James. Thank you for teaching me more than anyone ever has, about the God who reigns over all of the empty. My sweet boy, I think of you 365 days of the year, and I can’t wait for my last one here, and my first one with you There. Until then, I will follow in the beautiful example that your life has been to me of living to know God and make Him known in my imperfect ways here on earth, just as you get to do so perfectly in Eternity. And I will cling to the words of your spicy big sister…and live to love God most.
One long day at a time. For 365 days a year. Until finally, there are no more days.