A week from now, everything we own, and everybody we have left, will be packed up in a U-haul that’s driving away from this place. We are moving to Seattle, and with genuine excitement about the new things God has in store for our family. It’s the getting there that’s the hard part. These last few weeks have been filled with playdates and packing, tearful goodbyes and packing, last-time-we’ll-ever-do-this-moments and packing. And did I mention we’re packing?
I hate packing. Mostly because it reminds me of the last time our family was sent packing. I was so physically sick I could barely make it through the day, and in less time than that- 23 hours to be exact- we went from finding out there was toxic mold in our house- to living in a completely different one. My last memory of “packing” was watching from a distance as some very kind college boys frantically boxed up our entire life, while I sat on the phone with my doctor determining the things we could and could not safely keep. In the end, what we could keep was almost nothing.
What we could keep…were the memories. Some of them sweet. Sophie’s first steps happened in that place. Emma’s first day of school happened in that place. “Blue Ice Cream Day” celebrating Charlie on the way…happened in that place. Countless friends and family and college students made sweet memories with us…in that death trap we called home. There was laughter and moments of redemption, and times where we genuinely encountered the Lord and His love for us in that place. There were three beautiful children who lived in that home, and filled its rooms with sunshine and joy. But most of our time there…it was the very valley of the shadow of death. The place where three equally beautiful children died. Like Sheol. A place of suffocating stillness and darkness. Our life in that place was the very pit of human suffering. The suffering of being broken people, living in a broken house that broke our bodies. And took our hearts right along with it.
When I think of our life in the mold house- I think of tears every time. I cried for 368 days straight in that home. Every. Single. Day. From the moment Charlie died…until the moment we fled that place. There is actually a plot of land on this earth that symbolizes the darkest and hardest year of our life. The year baby, after baby, after baby died. The year God said “No” to almost every single prayer we prayed. The year we watched our children suffer almost wordlessly…because how many words could you possibly have to describe your suffering when you’re only 1, and 3, and 5? The year that endless sorrow reigned, and God seemed to be incredibly far away, and Satan seemed to roam on an incredibly long leash. THAT year- lived out in this town we will soon leave. The year we will never get back. The year that looms dark and ugly and so impossibly long, and I desperately want it back in a different and brighter version of our story. And we’re leaving anyways.
We aren’t going to get it back. And we aren’t going to get them back. Our babies are dead. Buried in three separate graves around this place. A place where our family became a family of four, and then five, and then six, and then seven, and then eight. But we will leave here as five. And it is the one and only reason the tears fall as I keep on packing. We are leaving behind not just “chapters of us” or “parts of us” or “memories of us” in this place. We are actually leaving us behind. Our very children. Our very flesh and blood. The ones we would die for in a heartbeat. Except they died first. And it is the absolute heartbreak of our lives. But we are leaving anyways.
We are leaving them. And while I know with certainty that they are in heaven, that doesn’t take away the ache. It doesn’t make it feel any better in the moments when I drive past the hospital where I gave birth to our precious Charlie. Every day- I look up at the very room where I sat alone on the darkest night of my life, until the doctor walked in and said, “I’m sorry. Your baby died.” Every day- we drive by the parking lot where we were forced to drive away from our baby. And every day we have to drive past the doctors’s office where we found out two more babies had died in my body. And any days we don’t want to drive by all that heartache, we have to get to town the only other way we can…on the road that takes us past the cemetery where our baby boy is buried. And even though this place holds memories of more raw moments of agony and suffering than many people will face in a lifetime…we are leaving anyways.
Because if we can’t have them…I honestly don’t need to live by their graves. I could live by their graves, it’s not that I have to get away. It’s just not a reason to stay. Graves are for the living. Lest we forget. But I know I will never, ever forget my babies. I think about them every single day. I guess motherhood gives you a built-in inability to ever forget those most precious to you. It’s not a reason to stay, but it is certainly another reason to grieve. We are moving both literally and figuratively further away from the only place where our babies who are in heaven were a part of our daily story, and it makes my mama’s heart ache. We are leaving them. But we are leaving anyways.
I wanted them here with us, filling our house with joy and our day with crazy. And I don’t mind living by the things that remind me of our babies, even though all those things make me sad. I want to remember them. What has become infinitely more difficult…is living by all the things that remind me of when we were happy. And we were So. Very. Happy. Right up until January 27th, 2013. It has been incredibly difficult being reminded day after day…of our old life here during the time of happy. The time when this sleepy little town on the Central Coast was officially named, “The Happiest Town On Earth.” And when it actually felt that way. It hasn’t been our happiest place. The shocking speed at which we went from being in the very “best years of our life” to the absolute worst…has left us reeling in it’s wake. And even though our hearts are still somewhere on that journey of grief and no where near finished…we’re leaving anyways.
We are hoping that making new memories as a family in a place where we have no memories of being either devastatingly sad or deliriously happy…will be good for us in some ways. But even as I type that, I know that something else will be lost as we drive away next week. We can pack up our stuff…but the people we have to leave behind. And even though this is the place where we experienced some of the most hurtful and disappointing relationships of our lives…this is also the place where God met us the very most through the literal hands and hugs and hearts of the people who make up His body. This is the very place where God loved our family through encounters with thousands of friends and strangers all over the world. This is where God decimated our bank account through suffering…and where He filled our U-haul through His body. His kids literally packed our U-haul in this place. And more of His kids will very literally pack our U-haul next week. And we are leaving anyways.
We are leaving them all behind. Not just any people. The people who brought our family meals- our very mana on some days. The people who babysat our kids during the deepest days of grief. Who took the risk and said, “I know your children just buried their baby brother, but I will be a safe place for them to come and play and even grieve…I will not leave you alone in this day.” The people who drove hundreds of miles to be by our side as we buried our baby boy. These aren’t just friends. These are trench-friends. Battle friends. Heaven friends. Forever friends. And we are leaving anyways.
And while this isn’t the first place where Reid and I have encountered the love of God in human hearts…it is the first and only time our kids have seen that in their lives. Because it’s the only place they’ve ever lived. Almost all of the words ever written in the books of their lives…have been penned in this place. And we are leaving anyways.
The other day, Emma came up to me and said, “Mom, I’ve been working on the story of my life. I’ve been writing some things down. Can I read it to you?” I left it exactly as she wrote it, spelling problems and all.
“Are Story- And God’s Love for us. (and Animals!)
I was 6 on Valentines day and we found mold in are hous.
And mom got varee, 10,000,000 varee sick, and we moovt to Morro Bay.
And slept on air mattresses. Until we fownd beds.
And then we had the worst day ever. And we gave are things away.
And almost every day was Christmas! And God loved us by it.”
I’m still not sure what happened to the “God’s love for Animals” part…but as she read her life-story to me, I just wanted to weep. I don’t want this to be her story. I wanted this to be her happy place. A place where she welcomed baby Charlie into our home…not sat weeping by his grave. A place where she skipped off to school every day to learn great and mighty things…not where she lost even more by losing her school and all her friends- about six minutes into second grade. A place where she made “core memories” filled with sunshine and rainbows and unicorns and happy. Not the place where she also lived out the worst days of her life. I wanted this to be everything magical and holy and protected about childhood that every parent wants for their kids, and few kids really have…and we had the extreme of not having it. And I want to fix it even still. Fix it quick before we leave. And I can’t. And we’re leaving anyways.
What she will remember…is that life is incredibly hard. And people are incredibly broken. And that many of them- are so very kind. And the one’s who love Jesus…well, sometimes those ones see how much you are suffering and rise up and declare it’s Christmas…smack in the middle of February. And she will remember the God who made them that way. And that He is worth far more than this life filled with pain that He doesn’t always fix, and stories of suffering He even personally writes. She will remember. And she will take all of the mess and beauty of this place with her. And I have run out of time to try to fix the story He wrote that I don’t like. It is time to move on to a new chapter. Because like it or not, dreams fulfilled or not, unfinished prayers or not…we are leaving anyways.
I could go on forever. When you leave a place…you leave all the good. And all the bad. And none of the good. And none of the bad. You take it all with you. In different ways, to the next place. To a new chapter and new people. Loving people. Trench people. Battle people. Heaven people. I’m convinced they’re everywhere. Forever friends, who you will also someday have to look at and with fresh tears say, “This has been so…EVERYTHING. But, we are leaving anyways.” Because. That’s. Just. Life.
A few weeks ago, I ran into someone at Target that I didn’t really want to say goodbye to. She was across the parking lot and I just didn’t feel like making the effort of another goodbye. And I said to myself, “Oh well…we are leaving anyways.” And in that moment, I felt like God spoke to my heart. Through His still-quiet voice, which always seems to reach me at Target, far more than any other place…
“That…is how I want you to feel about this WHOLE Earth-place. Hold it loosely. Even the goodbyes. ESPECIALLY the goodbyes. Make it count. Make it good. Fight to know me. Fight to love others through Me. Fight to love Me through others. But in the end…you and everyone you know and love…are leaving anyways. This whole earth place is temporary. There is no such thing as a “Forever Home”…except the One that I am making. But you had better believe it’s in the making.”
Oh, dear people. You who have been the people who sat with us by Charlie’s grave. Who babysat our kids during the hardest days of our lives. Who helped us buy new and exotic things like socks, and backpacks, and books, and tupper-ware during the second hardest days of our lives. Friends, this world is all so very alarmingly and comfortingly temporary.
We, each and every one of us…are leaving anyways.
Let’s fight to make it count. In the midst of a world where we have been promised nothing but trouble. By the One who said, “In this world, you will have trouble.” And then added, “But take heart…I have overcome the world.”
It would be easy for me to dismiss those words, if they had been said by any one else. But they were said by HIM. A man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. Who has gone to prepare a Place for us in the only place where we will never again have to unpack our bags, and then sigh and say, “Well, let’s not get too comfortable kids…we’re leaving anyways.”
Finally, there will be no more moving. No more U-hauls. No more goodbyes. And no more bad tears. Only good ones. And then the words, “Get comfortable kids, we are staying for a very long always. Ten thousand years. And no less days.”