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.
Yesterday we went to the memorial service for my neighbor, Kathleen. She was a kind, cheerful woman, always smiling. We would chat over the fence about gardens and landscaping. She would hire Jack to pull weeds because he was trying to earn money for something, but then of course, she had to sit with him and teach him which things were weeds. Kathleen was a loving person, thinking of others even when she was facing trials of her own.
My neighbor is actually Renee, Kathleen’s mom. A few years ago Kathleen moved in with her mom in case the 80-something year old ever needed help or someone to care for her. But Renee had raised a dozen children, mostly on her own, so she rarely needs help from others. Kathleen was the oldest of the family. I asked her how she was doing living with her mom. She said “It’s wonderful! I’ve been waiting my whole life for one-on-one time with mom!” She always had a way of looking on the positive side of things.
But instead of daughter taking care of mom, it turned out that Kathleen got cancer and her mom was taking care of her. She battled for several months before being diagnosed as terminal. Still she remained joyful.
Psalm 139 says “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. … For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (verses 7-16).
When things don’t go as we planned, we can take comfort from these verses. We can trust that first, God is faithful. He will never leave us. Even when we try to get away from Him, He is still there to hold us and guide us. Second, the Lord loves us. He created us. He wants to be with us. The Psalm goes on to say that His thoughts about us are precious. God LOVES us! Third, we can trust that God is good. We may not understand His plans, we may doubt there are plans at all. But His word says He planned all of our days before we were even born (Psalm 139:16). No one dies “too soon.” Surely they die sooner than we wanted. But God had all of these days planned. There’s nothing we could have done to lengthen their life.
When you find things not going as you expected – when not if, because I’m pretty sure a time will come – I hope you cling to these same truths. God is faithful. God loves you. God is good. May you find peace in knowing your Creator is with you. And like Kathleen, may you find joy no matter the circumstances.
Last weekend we had plans to go to Lake Geneva for a race Jeff was running (as I wrote about yesterday). We were going to leave at noon on Friday and spend the afternoon introducing Jack to the swimming pool. However, no one seems to have created an app to sync my iPhone calendar with our home paper calendar, and thus we had a conflict.
My sister-in-law had given me tickets at Christmas to a concert Friday night. So Jeff and I decided we would go to the concert, come home, wake Jack up, and drive up to Lake Geneva late Friday night. We assumed Jack would just go back to sleep in the car. Instead, Jeff slept in the car and Jack talked to me while I drove.
It ended up working out though because the wake for my friend Heidi who died earlier in the week was Friday afternoon. Jeff had an appointment to get his car worked on, so I took Jack and met my mom and sister at the funeral home. We knew there would be quite a crowd so we got there almost when it began.
I’ve never seen anything quite like it… hundreds of people waiting in a line that weaved through the large funeral home, looking at pictures of Heidi with her family and friends as some of her favorite Fernando Ortega songs played. The vast crowd was surely a testimony to her life: friendly, caring, compassionate, joyful.
If it was any other concert, I would have skipped it. But it was Chris Tomlin. I have all of his albums and have never seen him in concert. He’s one of the best contemporary Christian song writers and worship leaders. So I rushed home after the wake and Jeff and I rushed to make it to the concert on time.
Going from a wake to a concert isn’t what I would have planned. But this wasn’t just a concert, it was truly focused on Jesus, worshipping him with thousands of people around. As the first song played, I knew I was right where I was supposed to be. Kari Jobe singing We Are – “Make the most of the time we have left, We are the light of the world… We gotta let the light shine”
“Sometimes the greatest gift we can receive isn’t just healing, but the power to endure.”
I just heard this on the radio as they talk with Craig DeMartino, a rock climber who fell 100 feet and is miraculously alive (Check out his book to read more of his story).
There’s been a lot of heartache lately both locally and in national news. A man who took his own life leaving a wife and son, the sudden passing of our friend Heidi, Rick Warren’s son who committed suicide, and now the horror in Boston.
Survivors wondering why they’re alive
Amidst it all people wonder Where is God? And all of a sudden, trying to answer this question, I feel totally incapable. Here’s what God says:
The Lord is near to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18
The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Deuteronomy 31:8
All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before even one of them came to be. Psalm 139:16 (Read what I wrote about God’s timing in our lives)
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. Romans 8:35,37
I was working on my Bible study homework and the card from Heidi’s funeral service was next to me. I read the poem on the card again and immediately started to think of words for a new song. I felt like God gave me the words and music for this song to remember Heidi, to picture her passing from earth to heaven and the joy she experiences there. It makes me long for heaven even more.
I wanted to share it with you so here’s a rough video of me singing and playing. The lyrics are below. I hope it’s a blessing to you.
Well Done – For HeidiWalsh
Standing on the beaches as the ship sails in the sea
Waving goodbye as long as she waves back at me
As she fades into the distance my heart is sad for me
Goodbye, my friend, goodbye
Across the sea stands another shore waiting to welcome her
She waves goodbye to me and turns to look forward
The One standing on the shoreline has His arms spread open wide
“Welcome home, My friend, welcome home!”
“Well done good and faithful servant! Well done good and faithful friend! You’ve been My hands and feet to a lost world You have shined so bright for Me”
All the faces look familiar, they’re all instantly known
And the One who she has followed now welcomes her home
She sings “Holy Holy, I knew You were the One!
You have been my joy. You’ve been everything to me”
I’ve been singing this song since yesterday morning at Bible study. It was chosen before we knew about Heidi’s death but it fit the day so perfectly. Matt Redman wrote 10,000 Reasons as the chorus says Bless the Lord o my soul, worship His holy name, Sing like never before, o my soul, worship His holy name.
Why is it called 10,000 Reasons… because no matter the pain, the sickness, the heartache, the trials and challenges in our lives, still there are 10,000 reasons to bless the Lord and worship His holy name.
You can sing along by watching the video. I hope its not just words and music for you, but that your heart sings in worship to the Lord.
Heidi and I at Bible study last year – my first week back after being on bed rest for 4 months!
My husband has heard my quiet sniffles and seen the redness of my eyes enough to know when I’m crying. At times in my life it seems obvious why I’m crying, like in the days and weeks after we lost our first baby. Yet still Jeff would first say “Why are you crying?” Most of my responses would have sounded like a sarcastic comment like “Why do you think I’m crying! Duh!” But I was too busy crying.
Its a question Jesus asks also. But what I find more interesting is when Jesus cried. “Jesus wept” John 11:35 – the shortest verse in the Bible. Jesus cries because His friend Lazarus has died, except that Jesus has planned to raise him from the dead. So why would He cry?
I think Jesus cries to show us He understands our sadness and our sorrow. He has experienced it. Even though He knows better things are ahead, He enters into the grief of the moment with Mary and Martha, Lazarus’s sisters, and weeps with them.
“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief… Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” Isaiah 53:3-4
Many of you who have read my blog lately are grieving our friend Heidi. We are sad for us – that we will miss her joy, wisdom, and friendship. We are sad for her husband and children – that they will grow up without her by their side. But we are not sad for Heidi – because she is where she always wanted to be: in heaven with her Savior.
The One who bore her griefs and sorrows and sins on the cross, the One who died and rose again, the One who conquered sin and death once and for all, the Lord Jesus Christ has called Heidi home to Him. While Jesus rejoices with Heidi in heaven, in His omniscience, He is also here with us. Bearing our griefs and sorrows, yet reminding us there are better days ahead.