Tomorrow, February 24, 2021, will mark 10 years since our first baby was born and died. By the time we realized something was wrong with the pregnancy, I was already in labor but only about 20 weeks along. We had a few brief hours to prepare our hearts for the fact that our baby would not survive. Even if you had days, weeks, or months, nothing can truly prepare you for the loss of your child.
In the days that followed Caleb’s death, the question became what will I do with my grief? I had no choice in the life or death of my son. But I did have a choice with grief. Would I let it consume and overwhelm me, bringing me to a place of negativity, fear, and solitude? Or would I find a way to let grief motivate me to be more compassionate, to find the good despite the sadness, and to find joy in what I have been given?
Through God’s grace, I chose the latter. I’ve shared Caleb’s story countless times, writing about him here, talking about him at Bible studies, retreats, and fundraising dinners. I have sat with friends, or friends of friends, who have faced similar losses and we have grieved together. I found a ministry that I didn’t know existed or was needed until I was thrown into it. Just last week a friend texted, “Help! My friend just lost her baby. What do I do?” Although I hate that anyone has to go through the loss of a child, I am glad that I can help in some small way. For me, being able to help others is what continues to give Caleb’s short life meaning and purpose.
Now I have two boys, ages eight and five, who certainly keep me busy and entertained. I often post pictures of our adventures on social media. Sometimes people will comment that I’m a good mom. While I appreciate the compliment, I try to point out that I only post the good stuff 😉 But, if I’m being honest and a little less humble, I am a good mom. It isn’t so much about the fun vacations we take our kids on, or the gifts we buy them. I’m a good mom because I play with my children. I’m involved in their lives everyday. I have many friends who’s kids play mostly on their own, and that’s great! But for me, I know what it’s like to want to play with my son and not be able to. I know what its like when grief steals your dreams. That same grief motivates me to enjoy the life I have, the ability to play with my children, to make normal life feel like an adventure for them.
I have a few friends who have faced significant loss in their lives. The few I am thinking of each lost a sibling. Those friends are the ones that comment on Facebook, send cards of remembrance, and are the first to try to comfort others who are grieving. They know the pain of grief and it has motivated them to be compassionate to others.
Unfortunately, we will all face grief in our lifetimes in some manner. How will grief transform you? I definitely have moments and days (like today actually), where I just want to sleep and cry and not play with my children. But more often, I can choose to find joy despite the sadness, to share comfort with others who are grieving, and to enjoy the life God has given me.
“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:13-14
Nine years ago today, I laid in a hospital bed unprepared for the news I would hear. “You have to deliver the baby today but he won’t survive.” Incompatible with life. Just a couple more weeks in the womb and the story would be so different.
We held our baby Caleb, remarking on his long fingers and fingernails, and how he had his daddy’s nose. While our eyes filled with tears we knew he was home in heaven. In those moments I learned the depth of a mother’s love and the depth of a mother’s pain.
The days and weeks and months that followed brought grief, yet hope, sadness, yet trust in God, heartache, yet faith. I had family and friends who surrounded me in prayer, hope and support. It’s called a Turtle Formation.
In Bible times, when Roman soldiers were under attack they would come together with their shields – as big as doors – and huddle inside with the shields facing out. The formation looked like the shell of a turtle. Each shield was so big it would cover one soldier plus the gaps on the sides between soldiers. The enemy would hurl flaming arrows, but the shields would extinguish them.
Ephesians 6:16 tells us that God gives us armor. “Take up your shields of faith with which to extinguish the fiery darts of the enemy.”
On days like this I remember Caleb, nine years in heaven. I remember the sadness I felt. I remember leaning against the tree by his grave praying God would bring him back to life. I remember crying in the grocery store. I remember discovering that Kleenex shreds into pieces on my tear-stained cheeks. And I remember the faith-filled friends who stood by me.
Every comment on Facebook, every heart emoji, every text, every card, every phone call – they extinguish those fiery darts the enemy throws trying to make me question and doubt. Friends, your words have helped me stand firm taking up my shield of faith. I thank God for you!
Do you have friends like that? Do you have friends who hold up their shields of faith to protect you when you are hurting? When you face struggles and temptations, do you have friends to call? I hope you never need them. But I know that isn’t reality. We all need people to stand with us in faith when our faith is tested.
Be the friend who calls, who remembers, who cares. Take up your shield of faith and know that God is good, He is faithful, and you can trust Him.
At Christmas time we focus a lot on gifts. Making gift lists, buying gifts, wrapping gifts, receiving gifts. I wonder if you’ve ever had a time when you opened a gift you didn’t want. As you pull it out of the box you’re thinking, I don’t like this color or pattern. But the person who gave it to you is watching so you put on a fake smile and say “thank you so much …” Meanwhile you’re still looking for a gift receipt. At least you could exchange it…? But no. Your only option is to accept the gift.
Have you ever had to accept something in life you didn’t want? Illness, job loss, miscarriage, infertility, divorce, death of a loved one.
About 9 years ago my husband and I were expecting our first child. But halfway through the pregnancy something was wrong. I was rushed to the hospital where the doctors told me I had to deliver the baby that night, but that he wouldn’t survive. A range of emotions and thoughts filled our minds over the next few hours as we waited for labor to intensify. But our main focus was, we didn’t have a name for this baby. What do you name a baby who will go straight to heaven?
There was one Bible story that kept coming to mind. It’s the story of Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. They had miraculously left Egypt, survived the plagues that God sent to Pharaoh and the people, they crossed the Red Sea on dry ground as God parted the waters.. and now they’re in the desert. They were on their way to the Promised Land. It’s called “the Promised Land” because God promised to give this land to the Israelites. That simple.
Moses decides to send 12 men into the promised land to spy on it, to check it out and report back to the people what they find. These 12 men come back and say the land is amazing. It’s exactly how God promised – flowing with milk and honey, filled with the best fruits. BUT 10 men said there are giants living there. And we can’t beat them. The other 2 men said yes there are giants, but God is giving us this land. Let’s go! Those two men were Joshua and Caleb. Unfortunately the Israelites caved in to the fear that the 10 men had. They were afraid of the giants. They didn’t believe God’s promise. They doubted God. And so God said that those people would not see the promised land. The entire generation would die, except for Joshua and Caleb.
They roamed around the wilderness, the desert for 40 years, waiting for that generation of Israelites to die. Then Joshua and Caleb, now in their 80s would lead the people into the promised land.
What does this story have to do with a baby? I knew there were going to be “giants” in my future. There would be fears about having children, trying to get pregnant again, losing more children. I did not want to live in fear. So I said to my husband, how about we name the baby Joshua? He said there was a Josh in kindergarten who punched him in the nose. So how about Caleb?
Naming our baby Caleb was a reminder – is still a reminder – to me to not give in to fear and worry, but to stand firm in God’s promises. God didn’t promise me a baby. But there are 3 promises I want to share with you today that we can depend on 3 GIFTS God gives us.
First, God promises to be with us. Immanuel – God is with us. Hebrews 13:5 God says “Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.” When a friend betrays you, when those who are supposed to love us walk away, when the world leaves us lonely, God will NEVER leave us. When you are walking through sadness, grief, despair, God is with you. Matthew. 1:23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means God with us.”
Second, God promises to give us PEACE. We live in a world where anxiety is a common word, a common ailment. You can get a prescription to fix your anxiety. And certainly there are a lot of things we can be worried and anxious about, IF we didn’t have God to call out to. Philippians 4 tells us that PRAYER is the antidote to worry. Verses 6-8 says “Do not be ANXIOUS about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Can you even imagine your heart and mind being so guarded, so protected by peace in Christ, that no worries, no anxious thoughts can even get in?!
The peace from God doesn’t make sense. Not by any worldly standards. When Caleb died, I was grieving deeply. Yet I had peace. When I got pregnant again months later, I should’ve been afraid and worried. But I wasn’t. God had given me peace that is beyond our understanding. He wants us to live in that peace. When we bring our worries to Him and we pray, He will give us Peace.
The third gift God gives is the promise of JOY. True joy does not depend on circumstances but on the presence of the Lord with us. This joy is not a continuous smile but a satisfaction in what the Lord has done and in his presence with us. Jeremiah 31:13 God says “I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.” There are a lot of verses about God turning our sorrow into joy. Sorrow may last for a night, but joy comes with the morning. And I read all of them after Caleb died. But I didn’t understand it. How is God going to turn this despair into joy? There’s never going to be a time where I am happy that my baby died, but there is a joyful contentment that God is in control. I’m thankful for the two boys I have at home, but neither of them replaced Caleb. You can’t create joy. Getting married won’t bring you joy. Getting divorced won’t bring you joy either. Your kids getting to a certain age won’t bring joy. Your bank account getting to a certain number won’t bring joy. A job promotion, a retirement, a cure… it won’t bring joy. It might bring happiness, but that’s not permanent.
Joy isn’t based on our circumstances. In fact, joy is mixed in with the other gifts God gives us. Joy and Peace are BECAUSE we have Immanuel. Because God is WITH us we can have JOY in any circumstance. Because He is a God who is faithful, who is good, whose love for us is beyond compare. We can trust Him. Because He is a God who loves us so much that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ to die on the cross for our sins so that we who believe in Him can have eternal life.
Do you know Jesus as your Savior? Are you longing for the peace and joy that only He can give? Do you want God with you? Then you just have to tell Him. If you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead you will be saved (Romans 10:9). You will have Immanuel – God with you. You will have Peace that passes understanding. You will have Joy instead of sorrow.
These gifts from God are for you. You just need to accept them.
A few weeks ago I celebrated my 38th birthday. Just saying 38 sounds old. It doesn’t seem like too long ago that I was waking up late and rushing to catch the bus to high school. Or waking up late and rushing to class in college. Now I wake up late and rush to get my kids to school. I’m sensing a pattern. Seriously though, I’m in that stage where people just say “30s” or the 15th anniversary of their 21st birthday. Why do we hide our age? What are we so ashamed of?
Most of the time I don’t “feel” 38. I walk around thinking I’m 20-something until I actually see a 20-something and they look so childlike. I’m reminded of my age when I look closely in the mirror and see wrinkles on my face, or a few gray hairs on my head (I blame Parker for that… they started to appear when he was born). I’m reminded of my age when my friends and I play co-ed indoor soccer against the recently graduated college soccer stars. Or maybe they haven’t even graduated yet. While admiring their impressive skills and high energy, our taunts turn to “It’s past your bedtime!” Or “Don’t you have to get back to the dorm and study for finals.” Or “Your mom just called and you missed curfew!” We may not have won the game, but we did make them laugh.
I’ve always felt like the young one. Maybe because I have two older siblings and I was often too young to stay up and play with them at night. I have a fall birthday, which during school years always made me one of the youngest in my class. My husband is the same age as me (he’s a few months older!). Most of my friends are within a couple years of me, give or take. So I’m not ashamed of my age. Or at least, I’m going to try never to hide my age.
Every day is a gift. We are reminded of this when we hear of someone who died young, or when we have a friend battling cancer while she parents her young children. Each day is a gift. Each day of my 38 years has been a gift. I haven’t always felt like that at the time. Certainly not every day has felt good. But every day is filled with the hope of blessings more amazing that I could imagine.
The next time your age comes up, I hope you will proudly declare the truth, gratefully acknowledging the blessing of each day.
“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24
Today my childhood home got destroyed. I say “childhood” but I spent many adult years there as well. My parents lived in this house for 43 years. When they sold the house six months ago, we knew today would come. My mom, one of my sisters and I stood there watching a front loader tear down our house room by room, and we cried. “It’s only a house,” we kept saying. But it was filled with so many memories.
When I was born, my parents added the entire second floor. I’m not sure what they were thinking doing such a huge construction project with a 10 year old, 5 year old, and newborn! I suppose because of me they needed more space. I slept through the construction. I napped right through the hammering and sawing and construction process. Which of course, has made me such a great sleeper. I can sleep through anything now – including my children calling out during the night, so my husband is probably less thankful about that!
My Dad helped with much of the construction, preparing drywall, building closets. Dad had a workshop in the basement and the garage. He fixed anything that was broken. He built a playhouse for me in the backyard that was still standing after 31 years. He also built the famous “Bope Wall of Fame” a giant bulletin board in the kitchen where Mom would put pictures. My friends always cheered when they made it onto the wall.
Friends and family were always welcome at our house. Mom frequently hosted holiday family parties. I remember my great uncle playing the piano, Nana and Granddad singing, Nintendo marathons with cousins. When family visited from out of town, they always stayed with us. We’d sneak into each other’s rooms at night to chat until Mom would come in with her trusty flashlight and threaten to separate us. For many years we had a party on Christmas Eve after church. One year my brother-in-law proposed to my sister in the family room. Of course my cousin Erik and I were young so we were spying on them until my dad told us to leave them alone.
Many boyfriends were interrogated in that living room. Some by my dad, but he had loosened up a bit by the time I started dating, which my sisters thought was very unfair. So they made sure to be at the house when I had a date. They can be pretty intimidating when they aren’t making each other laugh hysterically.
I lived in every bedroom, except the master. When a sibling would go to college, we all rotated rooms. In high school I painted my room an off-white color which I remember was made by Ralph Lauren, which seemed very fitting considering I wore a lot of polos in high school. When my brother took that room, he painted it poop brown (insert eye roll). After college, I lived in Wisconsin for three years and then moved back home while I was dating Jeff before we got married. I don’t even remember asking if I could move back home. My parents never cared about being empty nesters. They loved being surrounded by family and willingly opened their home. In fact they even agreed to let my best friend live with us senior year of high school while her family moved to California, but her parents didn’t go for it.
So many Christmas memories… our tree falling on my sister (she was ok) and henceforth had to be tied to the stair railing; sitting on the stairs with my sister on Christmas Eve spying on my parents as they put together a pool table for us; being brave with my cousin as we investigated the old closets in the basement and discovered my mom’s hiding spot for Christmas gifts! Waiting upstairs on Christmas morning until Dad has the giant video camera set up to record; sledding down the neighbor’s hill next to our house; building a ramp off the deck stairs to sled in the backyard.
There were basketball games on the driveway, soccer and badminton in the backyard. My brother and I were both brought home from the hospital to that house. All the grandchildren loved to play there, many had special sleepover trips to Grammy & Granddad’s. It was the hangout house for my friends, often because we had the best snacks. Parties on the deck which may have included a strobe light and boom box. Capture the flag games in the dark, wearing camouflage (as teenagers). Even as adults with our own houses, somehow we’d still find ourselves at the Bope house.
Our beloved house was torn down in less than an hour. It was a pile of wood and bricks and walls trampled under the tracks of a bulldozer. But nothing can tear down the love. The only special thing about that house was the Love that filled it.
My parents moved six months ago and their new house feels like home. Even though I haven’t lived there, I still feel at home. What makes it special: Love. Mom and Dad love people well. They share God’s love and they share what He has given them. A house is just a set of walls and rooms. But a home is Love.
The New Testament was originally written in Greek, so oftentimes looking up the Greek word provides helpful insight in understanding verses in the Bible. John 1:1 says “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Word in Greek is Logos. The Greeks used logos as an impersonal reason of the universe, a sense of purpose, holding everything together. John goes on to explain that Jesus is the Word, or the Logos. Jesus is the personal, reason of the universe.
The whole first chapter of John is an introduction to the identity of Jesus Christ. John tells us that Jesus is God (v1), the Maker (v2), the true Light (v9), the Son of God (v14), God the One and only (v18), Lamb of God (v29), Chosen One (v34), Rabbi (v38), Messiah (v41), the One Moses wrote about (v45), the King of Israel (v49), and the Son of Man (v51).
How can Jesus be all these things? Because He is God. God became a man, so we can have a relationship with God.
In this first chapter of John, we see the beginning of Jesus’ disciples. Andrew had been following John the Baptist until he saw Jesus and declared “look the Lamb of God.” Andrew left John the Baptist and started following Jesus. The first thing he did was go and tell his brother Simon Peter about Jesus and bring his brother to meet Jesus. That’s exactly our mission too – tell others about Jesus, starting with your family. Simon comes to Jesus and Jesus changes his name to Peter, telling him that He has greater things planned for him.
Then Philip finds Jesus and follows him. Jesus calls Philip to discipleship: a surrendering of himself to follow Jesus. Philip tells his friend Nathanael, who is not so quick to believe. But Jesus knows Nathanael before He meets him. Hearing what Jesus already knows about Nathanael, he chooses to believe, declaring “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
Before He meets them, Jesus knows the disciples’ past and He knows their future. The same with us – He knows your past – the good and the bad. And He is calling you to a greater future. Don’t let your past hold you back from living the life Jesus has for you.
I’m hosting a summer Bible study for women and children, complete with a babysitter to do games, crafts and Bible stories with the kids while the moms chat and study the Bible. But this first week I did the kids’ lesson. I thought you’d enjoy it too or want to share with your kids.
“The Word was in the beginning. The Word was with God. The Word was God.” (New Living Translation)
What does this even mean? Who is this about? It’s actually about Jesus! In fact this is an introduction. When you meet someone you might say, hi my name is Debbie. But what if they want to know more? What else would you say? You could add how old you are, where you are from, maybe your parents’ names.
That’s exactly what John is saying. He is introducing us to Jesus. If we replace “Word” with the name Jesus, it makes a little more sense to us: Jesus was in the beginning. Jesus was with God. Jesus was God.
Now we have a little science experiment. We’ll take this empty plastic bottle and fill it 1/3 full of hot water. Then I’ll take this ice cube and put it over the top opening of the bottle. Do you know what ice is made of? Water! We have water in the bottle, frozen water (ice) at the top, and in the middle what is forming? Fog – that’s another type of water. All three things are water, yet they are all different. That is exactly like God! God is one God but in three forms: the Father, the Holy Spirit, and the Son Jesus Christ.
Let’s read a few more verses: “He was with God in the beginning. He made all things. Nothing was made without Him making it. Life began by Him. His Life was the Light for men. The Light shines in the darkness. The darkness has never been able to put out the Light.” (John 1:2-5)
Now I have some glow stick bracelets for you. When you wear these, you can remember that Jesus is the light. When you feel “darkness” – like sad or scared or lonely – you can talk to Jesus and remember that He makes the darkness go away. Jesus is the Light!
*If you live in the area, send me a message and come to the next Summer Study (Tuesday mornings). Stay tuned: I’ll be posting some of the adult lessons too!
For 8 years, a piece of my heart has been missing. When my first son Caleb was born, 8 years ago today, he went straight to heaven. We held his tiny body. 10 fingers, 10 toes. Daddy’s nose. Eye lashes, finger nails. (Lord may I humbly suggest you work on the vital organs and lungs before nails and eyelashes.) Caleb was born prematurely and wouldn’t live on this earth.
The joy of being a new mom immediately replaced with the sorrow of losing a child. He never called me Mommy or told me he loved me. But the day he was born my heart grew so much. I loved Caleb more than I ever knew I could love anyone! Saying goodbye at his grave I buried a piece of my heart. A big piece.
In the years that followed, Jeff and I had two more sons Jack (6) and Parker (3). Some people say things like “sorry for Caleb’s loss BUT at least you have Jack and Parker.” I understand what they mean and their good intentions. But there is no BUT. I have sorrow and grief about Caleb’s death and no other child can replace him or fix the grief. At first I thought it would.
When Jack was born, I thought now I have my boy. But it was different. There should have been two boys. Then we had Parker and I had my two boys. But there should be three. Sometimes I’ll buy matching clothes for Jack and Parker and have this longing to buy a third set. There should be three.
Chasing Jack and Parker around certainly fills my time and brings me joy. But my heart will always be split. My heart and ability to love has grown exponentially with each child, more than I ever thought possible. But a piece of my heart will always be in heaven with Caleb until one day we are reunited.
Until then I rest in the knowledge that God is good, faithful, and trustworthy. He is near to the broken-hearted. He sees every tear I cry. He gives me peace that passes all understanding. Thank You Lord.
Read part 1 about Discovering your child’s love language and Part 2 about Discipline with love languages. Also check out the book The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell.
Ultimately our example is Jesus. The Bible says “the Lord disciplines those He loves.” So how did Jesus discipline? Two stories stood out to me.
Jesus and the Woman at the Well (found in John 4:1-26, 39-42)
Jesus is passing through Samaria and stops at a well in the middle of the day. A woman happens to be getting water at the same time and Jesus starts a conversation with her. First, we should notice some things: women usually got water in the morning to avoid the heat of midday, so this woman probably wanted to avoid the townspeople. She is surprised Jesus is talking to her because not only did men and women not talk to each other much, but Jews and Samaritans didn’t talk to each other.
Jesus asks for water, she’s surprised He’s talking to her and He says you should ask me for living water. So she does. Jesus says go call your husband. I don’t have one, she says. Jesus says that’s true you’ve had 5 plus the man you live with now is not your husband. Probably feeling convicted or guilty, she tries to change the focus of the conversation by acknowledging Jesus must be a prophet, and asking him a controversial question about where people should worship. Jesus says a time is coming when the place you worship doesn’t matter, because we will worship in spirit and in truth. Finally she asks about the Messiah and Jesus says I am He.
The woman leaves her bucket and immediately runs into the town to tell the people about Jesus. Many of them become believers. They hear Jesus teach and they tell the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
What Love Language did Jesus use? Quality Time. He spent time with this woman – probably something she was craving. We know she had been bouncing from relationship to relationship with six men. She avoided the townspeople because they probably gossiped about her. Jesus spent time with her and the result was that she believed, she told the town, and many others believed in Jesus.
Jesus and the Woman Caught in Adultery (found in John 8:1-11)
Jesus is teaching in the temple court and a crowd of people are gathered around Him. The religious leaders & Pharisees interrupt and bring in a woman caught in the act of adultery and ask Jesus “In the law, Moses says to stone such women. What do you say?” They were trying to trick Jesus so they could accuse him.
Jesus seemingly ignores them, bends down and starts writing in the dirt with his finger. These men keep badgering him “what do we do? She was caught in the act!” Finally, Jesus stands up and says “whoever has not sinned can cast the first stone.”
We don’t know what Jesus was writing. We can pretty much assume if this woman was “caught in the act” then she’s not wearing much clothing if any. So when Jesus bends down to write in the sand, where does everyone look? Do they look at the woman? No they’re looking at what Jesus is writing. They want to know what his answer is.
Was Jesus making a list of sins in the dirt? This woman did something wrong, but so did the men who caught her. Probably so did the town. Maybe Jesus is writing “Gossip. Lust. Jealousy. Anger. Malice. Hate.” Slowly one by one the crowd walks away.
Jesus asks the woman, “has no one condemned you?” No. “Then neither do I. Go and leave your life of sin.”
Jesus showed some love languages here: Acts of Service by protecting the woman from this angry crowd, Gifts of mercy and grace, Words of Affirmation. He showed her she wasn’t alone in sinning.
Then Jesus gives her a command. He doesn’t make a request, Would you please leave your sinful life? No, He makes a command and tells her “Go and leave your life of sin.” But because He has shown such love to her, she is more likely to listen, isn’t she?
Jesus was perfect and lived a sinless life. He could have condemned that woman. But He chose to give her grace. We are not perfect. I hate to break it to you friends, but you are not perfect. We are all sinners in need of a Savior. And our children are sinners in need of a Savior. God has entrusted dither to us so we can discipline them – train them in the way they should go. May we demand less perfection and show more grace.