A special Due Date

23 years ago today was my due date. I was heavily pregnant with our first child, and I was gigantic, having gained 55lbs., thanks to believing in the old “You’re eating for two” pregnancy line. I was convinced we were having a girl and didn’t want to peek via ultrasound. Hearing, “It’s a ______” was my sole motivation for getting through labor.

But things in life seldom go according to our plan.

Our precious baby was born almost a week overdue. After 23 hours of labor which ended in a C-section, I heard the words, “It’s a boy!” My disbelief turned to joy as soon as they put him next to my cheek, all 8lbs., 7oz. of our new son. Our boy name, Matthew, means “Gift of God,” and we knew it without a doubt. Several days later, we took our baby home and marveled over the fact that the hospital staff let us leave with him! We knew nothing about being parents and were slightly terrified by the thought of taking care of the tightly swaddled little bundle that lie in front of us.

As new parents, we thought we’d never lose our patience with this child we loved so dearly. We naively believed that if we did everything right, then everything would be perfect. But as every first-time parent soon learns, there is no such thing as a perfect parent. Yet the overwhelming love for this boy, our Mateo, our little peanut, carried us forward in hope.

Before we knew it, our boy was soon learning to read and how to ride a two-wheeled bike. In a blink, it seemed, chapter books were replaced by textbooks and a driving manual. We continued to plan with our son, and dreams of college loomed on the horizon. In 2011, we celebrated his 16th birthday with joy, love, and laughter. Our plan was to see him graduate high school, go to college, get a girlfriend, get married, and have children of his own. (In that order, possibly!)

But, as I said, things in life seldom go according to our plan.

There is our plan, and then there is God’s plan. And so, today I am mindful of this, my due date and a special impending birth day. On May 2nd, on what would have been Matt’s 23rd birthday, we will remember our boy with love. We will grieve with hope and smile with thankfulness for not 23 years, but 16. We will be joyful with those we love and cherish the time we were given with our son. I will remember the joy he brought, from the first feather-like movement felt in my womb to the amazing young man he was becoming at age 16. Matt was, and is, truly a “Gift of God.”







Resurrection Sunday and failures

Call me crazy, but I keep thinking about Easter Sunday. Easter is over, obviously, but I keep going back to the passage of Scripture in Matthew 26: 31-35. Peter passionately proclaims that he will never disown Jesus, even if he has to die with him. (“And all the other disciples said the same.”) Yet, before the end of the chapter, we find that Peter’s vehement denial disintegrates like ashes in the wind. Peter’s failure is recorded forever within the pages of scripture. And we read that he “…went outside and wept bitterly.” (vs.75)

I’m drawn to this passage for several reasons. For so long I’ve only ever seen Peter’s failure. Somehow in the numerous times I’ve read these verses, I’ve always missed the fact that “all the other disciples said the same.” Too often, I’ve zeroed in on Peter’s failure and missed the application to my own life. Too often, I’m focused on someone else’s failure instead of my own. Too often I’ve professed, “I would never do that,” while judging others who have.

What these verses also show me is how Peter felt. He wept bitterly over his failure. How often have we, too, wept over our failures? How often has my own behavior disappointed Jesus? What did Peter learn from his failure? What can I learn from mine? I believe these verses show us exactly what we need to know when we’ve failed. First, like Peter, we need to acknowledge our failure. We need to allow godly sorrow to overtake us. We need to experience true repentance. Second, we must remember that our failure is not final. Our failure is not a surprise to God. He is El Roi, the God who sees. Our failure is nothing new to him. Before Peter denied Christ, Jesus spoke these words in Matthew 16: 18 “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” Christ has a plan for your life, and your failure can not wreck God’s plan. All is not lost.

So many things in these verses astound me in the death and resurrection of Jesus. His overwhelming, abundant grace pours out over the pages of scripture. I see it especially in Mark 16:7 “But go, tell His disciples and Peter…” Peter, the one who failed. Peter, whose failure wasn’t just his own dark secret to keep, but known by the God of the universe, seen by Jesus. Indeed, predicted by Jesus. Peter failed, but Jesus favored. “But go, tell His disciples and Peter…”

What did Peter do with his failure? Give up? Quit? Condemn himself? Stop following God? No. When Peter heard the news of Jesus’ resurrection, Luke 24:12 says, “But Peter got up and ran to the tomb…” He had failed massively, and he knew Jesus knew it. Yet when the women told the disciples the news that Jesus had risen, Peter chose to believe the unbelievable. For some of the disciples “…these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them.”But Peter got up and ran to the tomb;…” He chose to run to Jesus despite having failed him. He ran toward the One who can resurrect. He chose to believe. He chose the identity, not of failure, but of firm rock.

Oh, friend. What if we did the same as Peter? What if we took our failures and ran to Jesus? What if we hurried to Him, believing His word about us? We are loved, even in our failures. We are forgiven, despite our failings. We are not forsaken. Christ is able. Jesus offers restoration and redemption. Peter didn’t let his failure define his life. Don’t let yours. Peter got up. Get up, my friend. Jesus is alive!



The truth about bereaved parents

We bereaved parents are a curious, complicated, broken lot. I remember the early days of grief and how inconsolable I was. No matter what anyone said, it didn’t seem to help, at least not immediately. I recall how I abhorred being asked, “How are you?” It seemed the most insensible question. I would silently respond in my head with, “How do you think I am after losing my child?!?” I simply couldn’t fathom why someone would ask, “How are you?” after Matt died. Yet, irrational as it was, I was also offended if someone didn’t ask! I wondered how on earth they could ignore the elephant in the room? To not ask how I was was, for me, to negate my loss. Honestly, it was a no-win situation. Unfortunately, those on the outside were the proverbial “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

I recall those who had to deal with me in the early days of child loss and feel so sorry for them. Some of them got the brunt of my anger, cast out like lightning bolts upon their unsuspecting persons. Ouch. Since there is no rhyme or reason to when those “grief attacks” would ambush, one never knew when it was safe to approach. Store clerks became the innocent victims upon which I would strike grief missiles should they ask, “How’s your day?” My day? My son died, I would reply. The shock in their eyes was akin to the phrase, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” How was I? I was horrible. And I was horrible in how I treated others.

“Grief does not change you, Hazel.

It reveals you.”

― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

Little did I know much of this was shock, and all of it was “normal.” Yes, normal. The swing of emotions, the terrifying ride on the roller coaster of sorrow where the lows are so very low, and the twists and turns are so sharp they jerk your head around. You honestly don’t know if you’re coming or going, and you’re pretty sure you’re going crazy. Your memory is shot, and all you want to do is escape. The nightmare you’re living, however, isn’t even a nightmare. It’s real. This is your life now. Life without your child. Whew. Is it any wonder, really, that dealing with the bereaved is only for the brave?

For bereaved parents, life after loss is like trying to find your way out of a maze with no sight. We are blind with no guide, no map to this foreign country called Child Loss. For those who deal with us, it is treacherous navigation through fields of land mines. I stand in awe, and thankfulness, of those who stuck by us, who continue to support us even now, almost seven years later. It is cruel work, but so necessary for healing.

Simple things, like remembering Matt’s love of the Pack (Go Green Bay!) and wearing a jersey on his birthday (May 2) or drinking a Mocha Frappe from McDonald’s, brings great comfort to us as bereaved parents. The things one may deem as seemingly small are, in fact, HUGE to a child loss parent. Our greatest fear after child loss is that our child will be forgotten. The mention of our child’s name is a megaphone of love to us, a great balm to our always grieving heart.

The truth is, bereaved parents are not the parent they were before their child died. Those who can accept them in their broken state are treasured, indeed. If you’re wondering how to help a bereaved parent, then remember these things: Talk about their child; ask them what their child was like, what their favorite thing was about their son or daughter. Don’t expect to fix them. There is no fixing. Child loss is like having your house burn to the ground. There is nothing left but the foundation. Stand by them and help them rebuild from the ground up. Don’t expect their life to return to normal in a matter of months or even after a year. Rebuilding will, in all reality, take years. (Note the plural!) There is no returning to “normal” for a bereaved parent. There is only a “new” normal, and a new normal takes time to define.

Finally, recognize that grief is individual. It is as individual as fingerprints. And because it is individual, don’t expect that the way you would deal with it is the way someone else will deal with it. Bereaved parents don’t need judgement. They need support. Truthfully, they don’t need you to understand. They need you to validate their decisions, to support them no matter how you would do it. They’ve lost a child, a part of themselves. They don’t need your words or for you to have the right thing to say. They need actions that speak louder than words, actions that scream, “I love you!” above the grief.

It’s not easy dealing with bereaved parents, I know. The next time you’re tempted to tell a bereaved parent how brave they are, however, stop. Instead, be brave yourself and step beside them, dare to walk an ugly, slogging mile with them. Pray for them. Send them a note. Preface “How are you?” with “I already know the answer, but how can I help today?” Offer practical help and mean it. Weep with them. Laugh with them. Mark their child’s birthday and death date on your calendar and then, a month before those dates, shove the elephant out of the room by saying, “I’m thinking of you as the date approaches.”

Bravery comes in all shapes and sizes. It shows up in the faithfulness of friends and family who defy sorrow’s call, who understand that grief cannot be eradicated, but only carried in community. Brave are the ones who forgive, love, and hope in us curious, complicated, broken lot of bereaved parents.