17 Years Ago I Said Good-Bye to My Son

On September 3, 17 years ago, I said good-bye to my son. He passed away in the wee hours of the morning on September 4. So I’m thinking of my baby boy today!

My husband and I were talking recently about how his death impacted us. It’s a very hard road back from something like that to trusting God again. As we were leaving our oldest daughter at her new university last weekend, we had to put her in God’s hands. And as my husband said, that’s really tough. If you lent some tool that you loved to a neighbour, and they returned it broken and scratched up, you wouldn’t be so ready to lend to that neighbour again. And when a baby dies, it’s easy to feel that way about God.

It is hard to trust again.

And yet Christopher is not broken and all scratched up. He is alive and he is thriving with God.

Christopher, I’m so glad you’re able to run and jump and laugh and do all the things you would have found challenging here on this earth.

And I’m glad that each day that I spend here is not one more day that I’m away from you; it’s one more day that I’m closer to being reunited with you. I’m still your Mommy.

On this day, to honour him, I thought I wouldn’t write a new post. I’d just link to other things that I’ve said about my precious boy.

Remembering…here’s my recollection of our last day together, and how God helped me to let go.

How Big Is Your UmbrellaHeaven is For Real…how a glimpse of heaven last year helped me to get through the anniversary of his death. We all need a little glimpse of heaven!

And for those of you who have also lost babies, here’s  A Prayer Through Tears, a column I wrote as a prayer for all of us walking through this.

I talk a lot about Christopher when I do women’s retreats, and about how having him helped me to be able to truly say that God is enough. And I learned how to trust God in new ways. I’ve written a book about it, How Big Is Your Umbrella–just a short book to help people walk through the things we often yell at God when life is tough, and the things that God whispers back. You can see it here.

Or, if you’re interested, here’s an audio download when I tell my story, but also weave in other illustrations of finally being able to fully trust God.

And now we’re going to have a family day where we celebrate those we have to hold here, and those we are waiting to hold in heaven.

Sometimes We All Need a Glimpse of Heaven

Note: I had my column up from this week on the site, but I didn’t want to leave it here because it’s really more political in nature. So if you’re wondering where it’s gone, it’s just that I want to keep this blog about marriage and family, not politics, even if sometimes I write about politics.

Instead, I thought I’d reprint this column from several years ago. We’ve had a lot of deaths in our small town lately, many young people before their time, and it made me think of this again.

GlimpseofHeaven
My mother always warned me that time goes faster as you age, but I never really believed her until this summer, when I started to notice how fast my own girls are growing up. Yet it is not only the younger generation that is growing older. Last week my husband’s oldest friend lost his mother, after a very long illness. Life suddenly seems rather short.

A few weeks ago my mother-in-law was listing various health complaints, when I commented, “growing old sure doesn’t sound that fun, but at least it’s better than the alternative.”

Heaven Is For RealMy dear mother-in-law then said something very wise. “But how do we know?” She asked. “I’m sure heaven is far better than what we have here.”

I believe it is, and yet often that belief doesn’t translate into my everyday life. Too often I live thinking only of the here and now. Yet if there is something beyond this life, shouldn’t we spend some time figuring out what that is?

Perhaps that is easier for children, who seem to have a better grasp on spiritual things. In just two short weeks I’ll remember the anniversary of my son’s death, fifteen years ago now. His memory is still so much a part of our family, and so my daughters have grown up without being shielded about death, as many children are. And yet it has not made them sad. I remember listening in on a conversation then 6-year-old Katie was having with a friend who was over to play. The friend had picked up a picture of my son and asked Katie about him. She replied, “That’s my big brother Christopher. I never got to meet him on earth, but when I get to heaven he’ll be my tour guide.” I’ve always liked that image.

It is in times of grief that these images are often sealed, either for good or for bad. We either reject the possibility of a deity and an afterlife, or we run desperately into God’s arms for comfort. I have chosen the latter, and I have found that even in tears, it brings peace.

It was that peace that radiated at the funeral last week, as my friend Bruce reflected on his mother’s Margaret’s life. The service was a beautiful testimony to her sense of humour and her faith. And Bruce ended with a story from December 23, 1986. He had called his mother to come and pick him up in Belleville, but she could not find the keys to the car. “Check your pockets,” she said. He did. And the keys rattled. She told him that perhaps it was time for him to learn a lesson and walk home.

With no other alternative, he started to trudge to his house northeast of the city. Over the years, Bruce admits, the story has become embellished. He admits now that he did not walk uphill the whole way. He was not barefoot. He did not have to climb over mountainous snow banks. And yet, on that day, he remembers his overwhelming thought was of his mother, safe and warm at home, while she left him to walk alone. And as he stood at his mother’s funeral, he had that same overwhelming feeling: she was safe and sound, at home, and he was left to walk alone.

When we lose someone we love, that overwhelming sense of loneliness is inevitable. I know those days will descend upon me again, whether it be soon or decades in the future. I hope, though, that those days come, I will be able to keep three images in mind: the God who welcomes me; Margaret, safe and happy at home; and my son, waiting to be my tour guide.

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How God Used Poison Ivy

I have a dear 16-year-old friend named Liam. My girls have grown up with him and his younger brother Paul; our two families camped together every summer and spent winters at a rustic cabin in the woods.

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This summer my mother led a missions trip to a Kenyan children’s home, a place which has rescued over 3000 children. Our family has been there three times; my mother six. But this year, for various reasons, we just couldn’t go. But Liam did.

The week before he left, he took a canoe trip with his family and got poison ivy on his eye. How horrible! And right before a trip to Kenya. Everyone was grumpy and rather perturbed at this intrusion and inconvenience.

'Poison ivy' photo (c) 2007, Erutuon - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

The doctor said, because it was eye, and because he wouldn’t be near great medical treatment, a cream likely wouldn’t be good enough. He needed steroids. And so Liam was put on Prednisone.

Fast forward to Kenya, and Liam starts to develop a rash on his legs. Nothing serious, and it’s not itchy, so my mother, the team leader, isn’t alarmed. My aunt, who is also on the team, and who happens to be a physician, is very worried indeed. Because it turns out that Malarone, the medication you take to ward off malaria, has a weird, rare side effect that can result in vasculitis (an inflammation of the veins) and eventually, well, death. And it turns out that this all starts with a rash.

The treatment? Prednisone.

My aunt almost didn’t go on the trip, and had she not been there, my mother would not have recognized that this was anything to be concerned about. Liam would have kept right on taking Malarone. And that would have led to–well, you get the picture.

And if he had not had the poison ivy, the reaction would have been worse, because the Prednisone was already calming it down.

I’ve thought about that incident lately in regard to prayer. My blogging friend Rachel has recently put out an ebook, The Sensational Scent of Prayer, looking at what prayer smells like–what is its purpose to God? What does God like to see?

I’ve found myself wondering lately, wouldn’t it have been easier, God, if you had simply prompted Liam’s parents to put him on a different anti-malarial drug in the first place? It’s wonderful that you arranged for my aunt to be on the trip, and for the poison ivy, but it would have been easier if you simply hadn’t have had them choose Malarone in the first place.

But God is not the God of the easy. God’s primary purpose is that we bring glory to Him. As Rachel says in her book, that is what prayer is about: learning to focus on God and praise God even in your circumstances. And what did this episode show Liam? It showed him that God was in control–in very weird ways. Sometimes, as Rachel says, God is in control of things we don’t like. Rachel follows the story of Hannah, Samuel’s mother from the Old Testament, who desperately wanted a child, but “The Lord had shut her womb.” How must it feel to know that God did this to you?


Rachel knows what she’s talking about. She has a special needs daughter, Taylor, with a debilitating illness called MPS, which brings a shorter lifespan, and a more difficult and painful one. I know what it is to have a child with a terminal illness. When I was pregnant with my second child, we were told that he had a terminal heart defect. He may live into his thirties, but he may also die very young.

The latter came to pass. Christopher only lived 29 days. And today would have been his sixteenth birthday, and so I write today in memory of him. I know what it is to pray desperately for God for a miracle, only to see nothing happen. The obvious thing that you wanted to happen, the thing that you felt would be best, didn’t come to pass.

I’m sure that Rachel has felt that, too, and yet she still has learned to turn to God in prayer. And while God has not answered any prayer for healing, God has answered other prayers in marvelous ways.

God is in control. That needs to be the starting point for prayer. And His plans are not always ours. We want the shortcuts, the obvious things. What He wants is a relationship; a deeper trust; a revelation.

Would we have had that if Liam hadn’t have gone on Malarone in the first place? Nope. But because of his reaction, we got to see how God can use something as awful as poison ivy. We saw how God put all the jigsaw pieces together because He cares about Liam. His parents saw that. My mother saw that. Even my aunt, who was nervous as she was treating Liam (rashes and reactions aren’t exactly her medical specialty as an anesthesiologist), saw God in control. And I got to think again that too often I expect God to do the logical, and forget that there are others factors at work.

Today my son would be 16. No, let me rephrase that. Today my son IS 16. He just isn’t sharing a birthday cake with me. And through these difficulties in our lives we either are drawn more towards prayer, or we give up on prayer, thinking, “it never works anyway!”. Yet perhaps the reason it doesn’t work is because we’re looking at it with our perspective, instead of God’s.

If you’re struggling with prayer, why not read The Sensational Scent of Prayer, and follow Hannah’s journey of prayer with Rachel. Maybe you just need to be reminded of who is in control, and that He really does love  you and wants to bless you–even if things aren’t working at as you think would be logical and obvious.

Today, I’m realizing that even though my prayers were not answered as I had wanted, I have been blessed indeed. And my son is safe. He is celebrating his birthday with my grandparents and my uncle, and with others who I’m sure adore him. And we remember him, and thank God for the difference he made in our lives. And that gratitude, even in grief, is the sensational scent of prayer.

The Root of Judgmentalism: It's Not Always What You Think

Photo by vauvau

One of the reasons I love being a columnist is that I love telling people what to do. That’s probably why I blog, too. My downfall is that at times others do not seem to recognize the brilliance of my insight, but I console myself in the fact that one day they might!

Hence, I know that one of the sins I struggle with is judgmentalism. Perhaps we all have it to a certain extent, but I have it in spades. I am constantly having to remind myself that I should not judge, for I too have faults. And I should not expect people who are not Christians to behave as if they were.

And this time of year is especially difficult for me, because of Father’s Day. We had a wonderful Sunday celebrating with my husband and my father-in-law, with lots of card games, laughter, and barbecues to go around.

Nevertheless, I know that many did not have such good days, because the dads in their lives walked out on them. They had affairs on their wives. They abandoned their kids. I struggle when I think of these men.

It reminds me of a wedding I was at when I had to leave early because I had such a visceral judgmental reaction. The wedding was for two people who were closer to my husband than they were to me. While they were smiling and walking down the aisle, all I could think about was the fact that a year and a half earlier the bride had aborted their baby because she was still in school, and they wanted to finish their degrees first.

As I was seething in the pews of that church, I was also pregnant with my son, whom we knew had a serious heart defect, and whom we knew would likely not live long when he was born. We had been pressured to abort, and yet did not, because we wanted to give our baby whatever life we could.

That made the stark choice of abortion all the more vivid to me. And as I was thinking these thoughts, there was this couple, grinning from ear to ear, enjoying the wedding they wanted now that they both had landed jobs after they had received their diplomas. They had lived together for years, had aborted their baby, and had done everything so that their lives could be as convenient as possible.

And what was worse, to me, was that she had not kept the abortion secret. She had told people proudly that she was exercising her right to choose, so that she would not be burdened with a baby when she was not ready.

That was about fifteen years ago; I have no idea what has happened to that couple, or if they have gone on to have other children. Yet I have always almost hated that woman. At the time I refused to stay for the dance, and demanded that my husband take me home, because the thought of her being so happy after she had sacrificed everything that was good and pure on the altar of convenience made me physically ill.

I am not proud of my reaction, and yet I am getting the same tight feeling in my stomach when I think of that moment. I am not sure what I expected; did I want to hear remorse from her in her wedding speech? Did I want her to look miserable? Obviously the emotion I was feeling was not due to her. I was projecting on to this woman for reasons of my own that I still have not entirely figured out.

Perhaps it was easier to project because I did not really know this woman on a personal basis, and everything I did know about her was in such contrast to my own values that it was hard to feel any sense of comaraderie. Yet often it is in our deepest areas of pain that we are the most judgmental. I am most judgmental about men who leave their families, and about women who abort, because these are the big hurts in my life: a father deserting me; a baby I so desperately wanted dying. When others throw away what we would have done anything to keep, it makes us angry not primarily because of the hurt that they caused, but because we take it personally.

As much as we may be right in our assessment, though, we must stop this urge to personalize such sins. That couple did nothing against me; they did everything against God and against their child. It was to God that they owed an apology, and not to me. Yet I was acting the part of God in that story, demanding a penance that was not really mine to receive.

I wonder how often this dynamic plays a part in our own families. I know that I am far more sensitive to when Keith does something that reminds me of a husband leaving, even if he has no intention of leaving. Early in our marriage, when we used to have fights, I told him in no uncertain terms that he was not allowed to leave the house to clear his head, even if it would help, because that would be hurtful to me. I would interpret it too much as what my father did–even though it was nothing close to it. Similarly, when I sense a rift developing between Rebecca, our 15-year-old, and Keith, I immediately lay all the blame at Keith’s feet and demand that he fix it, because I know what it is like to grow up a teen without a father. I am projecting onto Keith sins he has not committed, because they sit so close to the areas of my heart where the hurt is still a little raw.

Many people say judgmentalism is caused by pride; we think we are better than others. I think it is also caused by hurt. We are angry that things did not work out differently for ourselves, and when others seem to be replicating the problem, it is almost as if they are denying the hurt feelings that we ourselves have. The answer to judgmentalism, then, is not always to look at our own sin. I think sometimes it’s to look at our hurts. Take those hurts to God. Often we stop telling God what we’re really feeling because we’re afraid that if we start all this anger will come pouring out, and it won’t help anybody. We’ll never be able to stop. Yet we need to be honest with God. He knows what you’re feeling anyway, and He’s the only one who can wipe away the tears.

When we don’t go to God, we take it out on others. That pain is still there, and it is ugly and it is big and it won’t be silenced. If you won’t take it to God, it will emerge in obscure ways in anger; usually in the anger of judgmentalism. You will start projecting onto others because that way you have a seemingly safe method of exorcising some of the pain. But it doesn’t work, because it doesn’t really get to the root.

If you find yourself overreacting in certain areas of your marriage, or overreacting with your kids, ask yourself if they’re touching a scab, or maybe even an open wound on your heart. And then ask God if He will start to heal that wound. Don’t be afraid to touch it. Sometimes healing hurts initially. The alternative, though, is to live with the pain. And to me, that’s not much of an alternative at all.

If you want to read more about how I walked through healing after losing my son, check out my book, How Big Is Your Umbrella: Weathering the Storms of Life.

Pain is Not Un-Christian

C. S.Image via Wikipedia

One of my favourite authors is C.S. Lewis. I love his Narnia series, and I have read them out loud about five times now: once to my cousins when they were young; once as a camp counsellor; and three times to my children.

I also challenged myself a few summers ago to read through his non-fiction works, and I did. I loved Surprised by Joy (you can read my comments on it here), but I was really touched by A Grief Observed. As someone who has also gone through grief, I found it real, refreshing, and melancholy. And perhaps it was the melancholy that I liked. This wasn’t one of these “Just look to God and all will be joyful again!” type of books. This was one of those “sometimes life is just awful”. And isn’t that closer to the truth?

Today, for Good Friday, I thought it might be good to return to this question about how the dark moments fit into our lives as Christians. I think that it’s a misnomer that Christians are always supposed to be happy and nothing is supposed to get to us. God, after all, is a God who cries. Perhaps the times that we are closest to Him, Lewis once said, are not in times of ecstasy but instead in times of grief. That is when we touch God’s heart the most, and understand the tears that He shed.

I don’t think we should be ashamed of our tears, or think that it means we haven’t healed, haven’t surrendered, haven’t advanced. This world is fallen, and life is pain. God understands that. To be a Christian is not to feel no pain; it is to have God carry you when that pain comes.

I have written books about emotional healing, and I’m working on another right now. Again and again I hit a brick wall when I really dig deeply into the way the church often handles pain. We think that it is something that we need to get over, that the pain itself is somehow an aberration of life, a betrayal of faith, and something from which we must emerge.

I’m not so sure. I think joy and pain can coexist; and to think that pain must be banished is also, I believe, to banish love. Pain is simply what we feel when the object of love is taken from us. It is a loss. In that loss, we often feel God’s love much more acutely, and hence that is why pain and joy often are experienced together. But to say that a grieving parent must somehow get over their grief, or that a betrayed wife must heal from her loneliness, I find harsh. I don’t think God asks us to heal; I think God asks us to turn to Him in these times, and it is then that we are given strength, and mercy, and peace.

My mother does not pine over my father, who left her over 35 years ago. She has a full and rich life, though it did not turn out the way she would have hoped. But every year, at Christmas, when we sing a certain hymn at church, it all comes flooding back: the desperation she felt, realizing she would be a single mother at 29; the loneliness; the grief; the betrayal. Because she sang that song to me in the midst of her grief, it has the power to take her back, and she feels briefly sad again. It does not mean that God has not ministered to her; it is just a reminder that this life is hard, and that we do still bear the marks of a fallen world while we walk upon this world.

If you are bearing those marks more acutely today, I do understand. I have been betrayed by a father. I have lost a son. And I can tell you, too, that I also experience great joy. There were days, though, when I couldn’t feel God, and when it was all I could do to breathe.

I wrote a little book about it called How Big Is Your Umbrella: Weathering the Storms of Life. If you’re sick of Christian books that tell you that you should be happy, you’ll appreciate this. And if you have a friend walking through sorrow, and you don’t know what to say, it can help.

And today of all days, I hope that, if you are walking through sorrow, grief, or even just a funk, that you will still be able to turn to God, even in that pain. He is there, and often He feels closest when we feel the most vulnerable. May you feel God carry you.


Do You Ever Think About Heaven?

'Clouds' photo (c) 2007, Karin Dalziel - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Heaven is one of those things I always held in the back of my mind. It was real, in the way that Mercury or Venus is real, but it’s not like I’m going to see it any time soon, so what relevance does it have for me right now? It’s fun to think about, but no one can honestly say what it’s like.

Then I had a son who died, and heaven suddenly became real to me. Sometimes I’ll be walking through a normal day, thinking about nothing in particular, and a flash will hit me–a vision of him running in a field and laughing, or climbing a tree. He would have had difficulty running or climbing here with his heart problems, but I know that in heaven he’s happy, and healthy, and thriving. And one day I will arrive, and Christopher will greet me and show me around.

I’ve read novels lately, too, most particularly by Randy Alcorn, which feature heaven, and what a wonderful place it is. They’ve made me think about it in a different way.

I have to admit that as a teen and young adult I feared heaven. I thought it would be boring–standing around singing all the time. Not that I don’t like worship; I actually really do. And to finally be able to find the harmonies all the time–that would be bliss! But it’s not something I want to do for thousands and thousands of years. And then thousands after that. I want to knit. I want to talk. I want to explore.

And somehow those things never meshed with my view of heaven. I had too much of the popular culture image of haloes and white robes floating on clouds.

Recently my youngest daughter and I reread C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, the final book in the Narnia series, and reading his description of heaven made my heart beat a little faster, too. I love the imagery of “higher up and further in”, as the children experience heaven to be like earth, only magnified so much better. They can run and climb much more easily. They can see and hear so much more acutely. They can experience colour, and wind, and beauty as if the senses are more finely attuned.

Personally, I think God has saved most of His creative power for heaven. As Keith Green used to sing, “In six days He created everything, but He’s been working on heaven 2,000 years.”

We have nothing to fear, and everything to look forward to. Sure, I worry about what relationships will be like in heaven. No marriage? Does that mean that we aren’t close to our kids in the same way, too? But I think it’s just that everything is so magnified that these kinds of special relationships aren’t as key. Intimacy is felt with all, and though that seems like we are losing something special, in the end, we’ll gain.

Here’s a thought for you: the best friend you will likely ever have in your life you probably have not met yet. She may be some saint who died in 1247, but she was created especially for you. And one day you will meet her, and you will laugh together, and share so much. If you are lonely here, you will not be lonely forever.

As a speaker, I travel around and meet wonderful Christians for a night, or a weekend. I talk to many women who are so lovely, especially older women. And I long to sit at their feet and chat and share my heart, but there isn’t time. But one day there will be, and often while I’m saying good-bye, inside I’m making a mental note to look her up in the hereafter, because that will be one of the blessings of dying in this life: really knowing so many with whom we only scratched the surface on this earth.

A few years ago a dear man in our congregation passed away. He was a stalwart in our church; so humble, and through his humility he exercised perhaps the best servant leadership I have ever seen in a church. He died three weeks after being diagnosed wtih cancer. Yet I know that he is having such a wonderful time now, and I am looking forward to seeing him, too.

It is often the older people that I get these “longings for heaven” with. I don’t know if it’s because their time on earth is shorter, or because we don’t move in the same social circles, so it’s harder to get to know them well on this earth. But often I see these lovely older saints, and I think to myself, “there’s really no hurry. I will have an eternity with them”, and I smile to myself. At times it’s only a glimpse of someone, or the sound of their giggle, and I just know that here is a kindred spirit. But there’s really no way of growing that relationship here. So I just add them to my list of those I will have such fun with on the other side.

And then, of course, there’s Jesus. Can you imagine actually being able to talk to Him, and hug Him? Can you imagine being able to ask Him questions, to hear Him affirm you in words that reach your ears, and not only your heart. We were created just for that, and while that relationship begins here, it does not end. It will meet its fulfillment there.

I know life is often busy, and it has its frustrations and its disappointments. But I don’t believe that this is our REAL life. This is temporary; heaven is eternal. This will pass away; heaven will not. In effect, heaven is the real, not this. That does not mean earth doesn’t matter; what we do today has repercussions throughout eternity, and we were put here for a reason. But perhaps if we kept things in perspective, and realized that this is only for a time, there is so much more to come, we could endure our daily petty trials just a little bit better.

And in heaven, my dear readers, we’ll be able to meet face to face, too! So introduce yourself to me, come on over, and we’ll chat for a while, as we run higher up and further in. After all, we’ll have all the time in the world.

 

Remembering…

'Clouds' photo (c) 2007, Karin Dalziel - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I’m not having a good day.

My son died thirteen years ago today. It’s strange; sometimes the anniversaries bother me, and at other times I don’t think about it very much. But last night I had such dreams, and I find I can’t concentrate this morning.

I tweeted that, and @HisFireFly tweeted this back:

Maybe God desires your concentration to be on your memories, there is much to remember…

Perhaps she’s right. I’ve been having a running conversation with Christopher in my head all day, and so maybe I’ll just write it out. I keep trying to turn it off, but perhaps that’s not the right thing to do. Maybe I need to walk through this today. It’s been a long time since I’ve done so systematically. So here goes.

Hi Christopher,

I can’t stop my mind today from going back thirteen years ago. Imagine! You would have been a teenager now. But back then, on September 3, you were in the PICU, recovering from massive heart surgery four days ago. I was sitting with you when I noticed that your blood pressure was down to 54 over something very small. No one else caught it. The nurse was preoccupied with someone else, so I tracked down a doctor, who yelled at me for bypassing the chain of command. But when he came over he was quite alarmed and immediately gave you two units of fluid. And he had you re-intubated. That broke my heart, because we had been so excited when the tube had come out that morning and you were breathing on your own. It just seemed so barbaric to stick it back in.

I used to be able to remember your cry. I heard you cry for the last time right before they stuck that horrible tube back in, but I can’t remember now. That bothers me.

Daddy and I visited you together that night, which was unusual. Usually we came in alone since one of us had to be with your sister, but that night Nana had her and we both went in and sat with you. We left at 9:45, and on my way out of the ICU my last words to you were “Mommy loves you, sweetheart.”

At that point you were doing well. Your blood pressure had come back up and you seemed all right. I actually went to sleep peacefully.

The phone rang at 1:45 that morning. I knew something was wrong as soon as it rang, and I was right. I woke Daddy up, and called Judy who lived in an upstairs apartment to come and sit with Rebecca while we rushed down. We didn’t have a car, but it was a 15 minute walk. We made it there in 7 I’m sure.

When we got the hospital the doctors put us in a little waiting room, and came in to tell us that your heart had stopped and they were trying everything. I told them not to hurt you, and if it seemed like it wasn’t going to work to stop. Your little body had been so tortured already.

They brought your body out a half hour later. They had wrapped it in a blanket, and your little tongue was sticking partway out, the way it often did. Your blonde hair was wisping over your forehead.

But you weren’t there. It was the worst feeling of my life. I so wished I had never held your body like that, because it wasn’t you. I knew you were gone already, and the whole experience felt so empty. Daddy needed it, but I didn’t. I wish my last glimpse of you was when I said, “Mommy loves you, sweetheart.”

Instead I found myself saying, over and over again, “I’m so sorry.” I don’t even know what I was sorry for. I wasn’t sorry for you that you had died; I knew that you were with Jesus, and it was so hard to see you in pain with all those tubes and so blue, and I knew that now you would be able to run and play and do all the things little boys are supposed to do. But I was still sorry. Sorry that I couldn’t have been there to comfort you. Sorry that I couldn’t hold you after your surgery. Sorry that I couldn’t have spared you all of that. Sorry that you had to be so tortured. Sorry that I wouldn’t see you grow up.

They cut us off a lock of your hair, and gave us your handprints and footprints.

I didn’t feel like I had said good-bye then. I had said it earlier. The day before your surgery, when the doctor came in to talk to us, he said you only had a 25% chance of making it through the next day. We had thought it was closer to 60%, but you were so small, you see. You had lost so much weight since your birth and you were down to four pounds. Our friend Tommy came in to take photos, in case it was your last day. Here’s us together right after I heard the news:


That night I couldn’t sleep, and I walked to the hospital at 5:30 a.m. to sit with you for two hours before surgery. That was when I really said good-bye. I sang with you and prayed over you and held you in my arms, even with all the tubes. I told you that it was okay to go. I told you that Daddy and Rebecca and I would be okay, and if it was just too hard you could go to be with Jesus. I told you that I so wanted to watch you grow up, and to hold you and to love you and to be your Mommy, but I knew life was so hard for you, and you were having trouble breathing, and I told you that it was okay. I loved you, and I would always love you, and I would be with you again.

They let me walk with you down to the pre-op room, and I was the one who handed you over to the anesthetist as they took you in to surgery. Passing you over was the hardest thing I ever did in my life. I really didn’t think you’d come back to me. I felt like I was handing you over to your death. Daddy and I had prayed over you in that room, and Daddy gently lifted me up and helped me hand you to her. She was a nice woman. She wore a little surgical cap with teddy bears on it, just like Auntie Allee wears. She smiled and told us that they were going to do everything and that they would take care of you.

It was a gift when you made it through surgery, and then made it through that night. And the next night. And the next. I guess I thought we’d really have you now. I started letting myself dream about you growing up, and what Rebecca would be like playing with you, and how you would laugh.

But it was not to be.

I don’t know how to feel now. It’s been so long, and I share your story with others everytime I speak. I know you made such a profound change in my life, and in Daddy’s. Rebecca was at summer camp this year and she always spends a lot of time with the Down Syndrome kids. They love her. You would have, too, and one day you will have time to get to know her.

When Katie was born she looked so much like you (though she was twice your size!). She had the same wispy blonde hair, the same blue eyes. She gets sad that she never shared this earth with you the way Rebecca did, I heard her telling a friend a few years ago that when she gets to heaven you will be the first one to greet her, to show her around. You will have such fun with her.

I find it harder to remember you today. It’s just fading so fast. I keep replaying certain moments in my head. I remember when you got feisty when they came to do yet another blood test, and even though you weren’t feeling well you kicked that nurse hard for someone who was only 4 1/2 pounds! And I love the look on your face when they gave you that gross medicine. Auntie Allee caught it in a photo:


But lately I’ve been thinking less about those moments and so much more about heaven, and I know that when I get there I’ll get to know you so well. It’s not that I’m moving away from you, even after thirteen years. It’s more that I’m moving towards you, and I’m closer to seeing you again now than I was then.

I’m so blessed that I got to be your mommy. I did sing over you, and cuddle you, and pray over you, and kiss you. I wish I could have done more, but that time will come.

It’s just that sometimes I feel so sad, and today it seems worse than usual. I’m remembering that day. It’s 10 in the morning now. Back then I was making phone calls, trying to find a funeral home we could afford. We had already called Grandma and Grandpa early this morning and told them that we wanted to bury you in Belleville, and Grandpa was out already looking for a good place. He found a perfect one; the most peaceful cemetery just outside the town.

That doctor called around 10:30 to apologize for how he yelled at me the day before. I found out later that he had lectured his residents to not rely on nurses but to listen to parents’ concerns, since it was me who had caught your deterioration. He actually had a lot of grace to make that call. It must have been hard, and I respect him for it.

The minister was due at our apartment at 11 to talk about the funeral. Your sister was playing with her friend Alison, Judy’s daughter. They were three weeks apart. I don’t think Judy had had any sleep after we called her in the middle of the night, but she was there first thing in the morning to watch Rebecca. She found me recently on Facebook, and it was good to reconnect.

Oh, Christopher, I miss you. A few weeks after you died Auntie Allee had her pictures developed, and there was one that made me burst into tears. I was holding you, and your eyes were open (you were so rarely awake), and you were looking right at me. I am so blessed to still have that picture.

And I am blessed to be your mommy. I know that if you had lived you would have always had health problems, and been short of breath. Today I imagine you playing baseball, and running, and singing, and laughing. I know you are with Jesus, and He loves you so much. I will join you someday, too, and then we will finally be able to laugh together.

UPDATE: I put this video together as a prayer for those of us who have lost babies. I know how you feel.

Valuing the Least of These

Every Friday my syndicated column is printed in a number of newspapers. I couldn’t post on Friday since I was on an airplane flying to a marriage conference, so this one’s a little late! It’s based on a blog post from last week about Obama’s Special Olympics remark. Hope you like it!

I believe in free speech, so I don’t particularly like political correctness. I think people are far too scared to criticize some cultures because they may be labelled racist. But some cultures have bad elements, and if we ignore things like Islamic honor killings or Jamaican gang violence, we’re doing a disservice to everyone, especially to the most vulnerable within those cultures.

Political correctness veils truth. It makes people watch what they say, even if it is the truth, so they don’t offend. Truth takes a back seat to inoffensiveness.

Personally, I think truth should trump just about everything. But that doesn’t mean that I think offending people is fine. Saying racist things against natives just because they’re natives is wrong. Saying that parts of the native community have an issue with child abuse is legitimate, if done in the proper context. Do you see the difference?

By the way, my sub-culture has issues, too, primarily around greed, laziness, and lack of commitment to our families. We’ve all got problems.

Some are saying right now that Obama’s recent comment that he bowls as badly as the Special Olympics was stupid, but nothing to get upset about.
I don’t agree. What he was saying had nothing to do with truth, and everything to do with offense. To cause offense for no reason except to boost your own ego isn’t just stupid. It reflects a fundamental character flaw.

Maybe he was just making a joke and it fell flat. We all make stupid jokes sometimes. But I don’t think I’ve ever joked about the Special Olympics.

Especially not since 1996. That year I learned that the baby I was carrying had Down Syndrome. When we first found out, while I was still pregnant, it seemed like everyone was pressuring us to abort, especially the doctors. But we didn’t. It wasn’t that I was happy about the Down Syndrome. I was devastated. What if my son could never read? Would I have to care for him the rest of my life? Would he ever get married?

But after a few days of panic, we began to read more materials about Down’s. And I became excited. I was going to be the best mom he could have!

I only had that chance for a month on this side of heaven. Christopher died far too early. The rest of my relationship with him will have to wait until we’re reunited. But so many people plot against these little blessings. The doctors didn’t want him to be born. Many of my friends didn’t want him to be born. Keith’s colleagues didn’t want him to be born. And now Obama thinks he’s the subject of a joke.

What are we becoming when we start making jokes about the weakest in our society? We’re becoming cruel, heartless, and prideful. Did Obama intend to insult those with Down’s? Of course not. Did he intend to insult those with other disabilities who compete in the Special Olympics? No, I don’t think he did. But he made that comment anyway, without thinking. I would never do such a thing, anymore than I would make fun of Obama because he’s black. Such things don’t register with me, as I don’t think they do with the majority of good-hearted folk.

But we live in a culture which denigrates the disabled without even thinking about it. When we realize what we’ve done, of course we apologize, but the point is that we don’t realize it beforehand. If we truly valued the disabled, such slips wouldn’t happen. Perhaps I’m taking this too personally because I still miss my son, but that’s just the way I see it. Let’s start valuing people again for who they are, instead of using them as a springboard to make ourselves look better. Maybe then we’d have a society that truly does include everyone, whether they can bowl well or not.

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Thankful Thursday: The Purpose of Saying Thanks

The Purpose of Thankfulness

When my husband and I were in university my husband entered what was almost a depression. (I say almost because though most of his drives were gone–to sleep, to eat–he still had a sex drive! But that’s another story).

He was in medical school, which is a brutal place for him to be. He was told day in and day out how stupid he was, how there was no way everyone in the class would pass, how they should know all this stuff by now, etc. etc. He had to memorize minutiae after minutiae, and he’s more of an extroverted, hands-on kind of person.

It was killing him.

But it was only temporary. And he couldn’t see that. I could see that if he could just hang on for two more years, he’d be seeing actual patients and practising medicine, rather than just studying it. And that’s a whole different ballgame.

Nevertheless, he was feeling very sorry for himself. Now I admit I wasn’t the most sensitive sort. I get a little fed up when people mope. So I told him that everyday he had to think of five things to be thankful for, write them down, and pray over them. Even if they were little things, like seeing a sunrise, or having a child smile at him.

The 5 Things I’m Grateful For Challenge

So he did. And it honestly helped. And in the fifteen years since, whenever he has felt depression coming on he has done exactly the same thing. He made it a point to always come up with five NEW things, so it was like a challenge. And everyday he was scouring everything that happened to find his five. So he was on the lookout for things to be grateful for, rather than for things to be upset about.

Over the years I have had to resort to this, too, because I have entered my fair share of down times. When we were having difficulty in our marriage in the first few years I had to do that: everyday, list five things I’m grateful for. It helped me focus on what I loved about him, rather than on what was bugging me. And it really did give me a different attitude.

And when my son was sick, before he passed away, everyday I would write down five things that were great about that day. I knew that our days with him were numbered, and I didn’t want to forget anything. The night before his surgery, which only had a 25% chance of survival, I sat with him and made a whole list of the wonderful things about him I didn’t want to forget. Here are a couple of them:

1. How he just loved his soother!
2. How he had such spunk, kicking the nurses everytime they came to poke him. He was a fighter!
3. How his little tongue would push out the medicine because he didn’t like it, but he’d always calm down as soon as you held him.
4. How he sighed contentedly while I was holding him when he was feeding.
5. Singing to him while I was hugging him and he was sleeping.

And the list goes on to 99 things.

I remember crying while I was writing it, and I’m even tearing up now, because I do miss him. But it helped me to focus on the positive during a very difficult time.

That’s what thankfulness is for.

Thankfulness makes us search out positive things, rather than focusing on the negative.

Many of us have tendencies to dwell on all the injustices done to us, or all the things we have failed to do or accomplish. An attitude of thankfulness changes that.

I truly believe that if more people became thankful fewer would become depressed. So I practice thankfulness.

In Everything Give Thanks for this is the Will of God in Christ Jesus, Concerning You. 1 Thess. 5:18

It’s not Thanksgiving where I live. We had it last month. But to all my American friends, I wish you a wonderful day full of yummy turkey, peaceful relatives, and others who are more than willing to do the dishes!

And for all of us, wherever we may be, I wish that God may help us to focus on our blessings, so that the trials pale by comparison.

When Life Really Stinks, What Do You Yell at God?

'Very cool dark clouds' photo (c) 2007, Josh - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I don’t think it’s wrong to yell at God. After all, most of the Psalms are just David yelling at God. I think we read them wrong. We tend to read them in a pretty reading voice like this:

“O God, where are you? I am surrounded by enemies and pressed down, and I cry out to you.”

But I think David said it like this:

“O GOOOOOOOODDDDD!!!!! Where are YOU?!? !? I am SURROUNDED by ENEMIES here, God, and I’m pressed down!!!!!”

You know what I mean? And since God knows what we’re thinking anyway, we may as well be honest and yell it out.

There have been times in my life when I’ve yelled a lot at God. When my son was diagnosed with a terminal heart defect, I was devastated. I cried. And I yelled.

But one of the things that made me scared to yell too much was the idea that I might tick God off. And if there was any chance He was going to save Christopher, I had to be picture perfect and figure out what God was trying to teach me through this.

At some level, I thought that if I could just figure out what God was trying to say, then maybe the pain would go away. Maybe Christopher would get better. Maybe the grief would lessen.

What God showed me was that I was asking the wrong questions. I was making the whole thing about me, rather than about God. And I was misunderstanding the way that God works.

If you’re having trouble walking through suffering, or if you’ve ever cried out to God and tried to figure out how to appease Him, this might help. It’s an article I wrote about some of the things that I learned when I was walking through that really hard time. Is death a punishment? Is God really mad at me? If you’ve ever felt that, I hope that these words can help you see His love through whatever storm you’re going through.

Here’s a bit:

C.S. Lewis, after the death of his wife, remarked that grief felt a lot like fear. It was the same sickening pit in your stomach that precedes something truly awful. That’s what I felt, too. But what is it, exactly, that we’re afraid of? Facing the future alone? Forgetting? Or that this feeling will never end?

Perhaps it’s a combination of all of them. After Christopher’s death I was scared simultaneously of forgetting and of never being able to cope well again. During his illness and after his death I wailed many questions at God to try to make sense out of what was happening to me. In many ways, though, this quest was self-serving. I reasoned that if I could just find the reason for this storm, then it would stop. So I searched my repertoire of explanations for suffering in order to make sense of it. As I did so, these are the questions that vexed me.

You can read the rest here. It’s based on my book How Big Is Your Umbrella? Weathering the Storms of Life. I hope it helps you, too!