It breaks my heart that we will never get to teach Isaiah these things and so much more. Yet in the short time I carried my sweet baby in my womb and the 2 precious hours I held him in my arms, he taught me more than I have learned in my 27 years.
+Isaiah taught me that my heart can love at levels I never imagined. I had always heard that having a baby changes you forever - that the love you have for your child is unlike anything else. Its true. When I held my beautiful son, I fell madly in love with him. To see the sweet face of the baby I had spent the last 7 months getting to know was so amazing. I saw the tiny feet that had been kicking me like a soccer player. I saw his little lips. Is that really where those tiny hiccups had been coming from all this time? I saw all the hopes and dreams I had for his little life, but most of all I saw a beautifully crafted child of God. At that moment, my heart expanded in ways I never knew possible.
+Isaiah taught me to love my friends and family with reckless abandon. This is something we longed to teach Isaiah, but I realize we never fully understood this ourselves. It is so easy to become so wrapped up in the busyness of life that we often neglected friendships, but in the wake of losing my son, I realized that I desperately needed this community in my life. And they were there! To quote my favorite book at the moment, Laying my Isaac Down, again, "It was the worst of times, but it was the best of times. I was hurting badly, but I was loved deeply." I want to learn to slow down enough to invest in my friends and family so I can love them with this deep love. I want to learn to celebrate with those that are celebrating, and mourn with those that are mourning but most of all I just want to LOVE.
+Isaiah taught me to slow down, get rid of the distractions, and enjoy life. By nature, I am a busy body. I have always been the Martha in the Martha and Mary story. I run around trying to take care of everything, make everything "perfect," and keep everyone happy. I do all this with the TV on too because I just can't stand quiet. That was until Isaiah turned my world upside down. I quickly learned that the things I thought were important were not so important. I also learned that I did not need noise and distraction to fill my life. I have learned to slow down and actually live in the moment. Is amazing when you turn off the TV and cease from doing chores for a bit how much more time you have to enjoy with your husband and invest in your friends. Because lets face it, having a perfectly clean house does not really matter, people do!
+Isaiah taught me to look for and enjoy the small blessings in life. Losing Isaiah literally left me in the pit of despair. It felt like the world just stopped and all hope left me. But in the still moments of the pit I began to notice things that I never took the time to notice before. A beautiful sky, the sweet melodies on the church bells, the soothing sound of a friend's voice, the peaceful blanket of freshly fallen snow, the warmth of the sunshine on my face, etc... These things add so much beauty to life.
+Isaiah taught me perspective. I am a perfectionist. I used to freak out if my clothes weren't folded correctly or if Matt didn't put his shoes away in the closet. I used to make a big deal out of tiny problems. Getting a parking ticket could bring me to tears. In light of the unbearable loss of my son, these worries and annoyance just seem insignificant. I am sure in, time I will find myself wanting to drift back into this mindset, but I am going to pray against this. There is something so freeing about letting go of your old stupid worries. I think this can only help to build my marriage and foster my friendships.
+Most of all Isaiah taught me to lean fully on God. I have been a Christian for a long time. I thought I knew what it meant to lean on God whether in the bountiful fields of blessing or the barren deserts of pain, but I don't think I ever really depended on Him. I mean the kind of depending where you know that without God, you have nothing. The kind of leaning on God where you just can't get close enough - you just long to curl up in His lap and have Him hold you. I am clinging so tightly to the truth of God, His hope, His promises, His unfailing love because that's all I have. And you know what, when you depend on God like that He doesn't let you down. I won't lie and say I am able to be happy and have total faith all the time right now. There are still times where I am so mad at him, so hurt that he could let this happen that I just scream at him, yet its in these moments, where he will reveal a scripture passage that is just right for what I need or he will bring a friend into that moment via a call, text message, visit or whatever to say just what I need to be encouraged. GOD IS GOOD - ALL THE TIME, yes even in those barren deserts of pain.
Matt and I keep thinking of the lessons we have learned out of this. Last Sunday, our pastor Josh, mentioned that God can use His people, yes even in conflicts or hard times to refine our character. Well, Isaiah, you have been used mightily to refine our character and we are so thankful for that. Its just one more reason that we think fondly of you and the Savior you keep pointing us to! We love you so much!
I am learning to take these moments of deepest anguish and give them to God. I used to try to "pretty-up" my prayers, but I know God knows the deepest part of my broken soul. He knows the depth of my pain and the unending, unanswerable questions that plague me, so there is no use building a pleasing facade to hide the ruins that lay behind.
I love a prayer that I read by Carol Kent in her book, When I Lay My Issac Down. She too was learning to take her deep-seeded anguish and turn it over to God. Her honesty in the midst of her pain is such an encouragement to me.
"Lord where would I go if I turned away from You? If I didn't have You, I would have nothing. I have nowhere to turn, so while I'm pounding Your chest with my hurt, pain and anger, please know that I am still facing You, still leaning into the warmth of Your embrace, not sure I can trust You, but knowing You are all I have. If I left you, I would be completely aimless and lost. So while I feel devastated by what You have allowed to happen, I still cannot resist pressing into the comfort of Your strong arms. I am angry that I am not resisting You more, because I know You could have stopped this thing from happening - but I have nowhere else to go."
So while I often feel that I am drowning in the deep, dark cavern of grief, I love knowing that God will meet me in this place. He knows the mess of the pit, yet I don't need to clean myself up for Him. I just need to lift my eyes and turn my battered soul towards Him and His grace, love and comfort and He will help lift me out.
I lift my eyes up to the hills -
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the maker of heaven and earth.
+My doctor, who had been with me for years, walked me through the miscarriage in 2008, journeyed with me through the joys of this pregnancy and had made me feel as cared for and loved as much as any doctor ever had, moved to St. Louis at the end of December. I was so sad that she had left, but she happened to be back filling in for a colleague on the day we found out that Isaiah no longer had a heartbeat. She was there to help lessen the blow on that fateful day and she was on call at the hospital so she was able to deliver my sweet baby and she was there in the days afterward. Though she was not able to "fix" anything, she was there to walk me through my scariest days and I could not have asked for a better doctor.
+The ray of sunshine that shone through the window as Isaiah quietly entered the world - It was such a grey day - but at that moment its as if God reached out from heaven into our hospital room to touch our broken and weary spirits and so tangibly say, "I am with you."
+The sky on the day of the memorial service - Chicago can be so gloomy in the winter yet on that day the sky was beautiful - bright blue and full of the poofy, summery clouds that Matt and I love so much.+The chimes on the church next to our house were playing "It Is Well" as we left the house for the memorial service.
+The beautiful blanket of snow that fell on the day of the burial - Matt and I felt like we were wrapped in the most beautiful blanket of snow. It made the day so quiet and peaceful - just what we needed and wanted.
+The tax refund that came just in time - I had done our taxes unusually early this year. Our refund was direct deposited into our bank account the Friday after the memorial. When we did the math and added up the costs of the funeral home, cemetery, printing of the programs for the memorial and other miscellaneous expenses that came in resulting from this tragic day - we realized that our tax refund was $30 more than exactly what we needed.
+The friends, family, work colleagues, and church family that have and continue to surround us - Everyone has been such a blessing as we have gone through this. God has so powerfully used all of the people in our lives to literally carry us through this as we have learned this is just too big for us to walk through on our own. We have received so much love, support and encouragement in the form of visits, texts, emails, phone calls, cards, flowers, unexpected gifts, meals cooked and so much more.
I am sure I could go on and on as our God has been so faithful and present in the midst of our pain.
The dunes were really beautiful. We drove into the park and discovered that we were the only ones there. The large lakeside parking lot was overrun by sand blown up by blasts of winter wind and swirled with the freshly fallen snow. Matt parked the car on the only piece of clear asphalt that he could find and we set out toward the lake. As we stumbled through piles of snow and dirt, we realized how rebellious the rolls of sand were. I kept saying how the scene captured our feelings: desolate, reckless and out-of-control...yet totally sublime and soothingly quiet. Even the lake was silent. On that side of the lake, the ice stretches a good mile out and it totally stills everything. No waves. Just blue meeting blue.
Standing before Isaiah's shoe-box sized casket last Tuesday, shivering
and christened with snow, Lauren and I prayed to GOD. We ended our
prayer reading from Isaiah 25. As the workers interred Isaiah's body,
we left Rosehill Cemetery and drove along the North Shore gaping at the
snow swirling around our car.
When we arrived home that night, I thumbed through my bible and noticed
a crinkly rigidity on pages 1208 and 1209. Those pages had been
moistened with snow and tears while reading the FATHER's words at
Isaiah's grave (Isaiah 25). The pock-marked pages remind me of this
cheesy, faux "Declaration of Independence" souvenir my grandpa lovingly
bought me while on a trip to DC. I remember being 10 and thinking it
was mysterious and old, like a treasure map.
The water damage to my bible is permanent and beautiful. It's as if the
LORD breathed powerfully upon those pages and reminded me that HE will
"remove our disgrace" and "swallow up death forever"
Those pages are now mysterious and old and a treasure far greater than
Below are pictures of pages 1208 and 1209. It's really cool how it
affected those 2 pages alone. The rest of Isaiah is smooth as silk.
At 6am on Tuesday morning we flipped on the television and watched as the morning news personalities waxed on about the prediction of a large, bucktoothed squirrel named Puxatoney Phil. I remember telling Lauren how stupid I thought this holiday was. While waiting in the ultrasound room before our regularly scheduled 32 week appointment I remember continuing my rant on the ugly squirrel. As the ultrasound tech glided her instrument across my brides beautiful stomach I was thinking about how silly newscasters are and there obsession with a groundhog.
Then my world collapsed. The tech ran out of the room saying that she would be back in two seconds and we stared at each other in terror. We both knew this feeling. Last year we had a miscarriage in the first trimester. But this was the third trimester. Our son was almost 5-1/2 pounds and judging by the shape of Lauren’s midsection, he must have been tall enough to go on the amusement park rides at 6 flags.
Through throbbing ears and melting eyes I watched as our doctor explained that our son no longer had a heartbeat. We screamed uncontrollably. We just felt our son kicking yesterday! When the doctor left it was time to lay into God. We yelled at him like animals. If the God of the universe had stepped into that ultrasound room at 676 North St. Clair Street in human form, I would have punched him. We were so angry and hurt and empty and alone.
We were taken across the street to Prentice-Northwestern Memorial. An amazing female nurse (I can’t for the life of me remember her name) led us to a birthing suite on the eighth floor. The room was bigger than our entire condo and it was lined with warm, wood floors and illuminated by soft recessed cans. In the corner of the room stood a small bed and warming light meant to comfort a newborn baby’s chill. God, how could you be so cruel?!
Moments after telling family and friends, people started responding in such gracious acts of love. Lauren’s closest friend at Deloitte, Kristen, grabbed Lauren’s belongings and raced to the hospital. Rob Toal, a pastor here at Missio Dei, a neighbor and friend, wept with us in the birthing suite. Our bible study family at Joe and Tanja’s home sat with us through the night talking and crying. My mom and dad jumped in the car and drove east, turning interstate 94 into a 400 mile-long autobahn. Simultaneously, Lauren’s mom was pulling the Indie 500 on Interstate 57 as she headed north from Tennessee. Though I didn’t know it then, the LORD was rallying his people around us, literally forming a huddle around us to block the cold darkness beyond the pack.
I didn’t sleep Tuesday night. I laid on what looked like a bench on a CTA bus and stared at the passing clouds as they rolled off Lake Michigan and then were pushed back again by the western wind. I had never seen this phenomenon or maybe I’ve never been so still to notice. I could see a piece of the John Hancock tower as it soared as a piece of muscular energy. But, mostly I could only see WaterTower Place. It’s really an ugly building.
That night our doctor broke Lauren’s water and began inducing labor. Our fears intensified as the reality of delivering our deceased son drew. God how much worse could this get? Not only does our son die, but now we must give birth to his breathless body?
Another pastor of this church, Josh Taylor, arrived Wednesday morning. My mom and dad and Lauren’s mom was there as we sat around Lauren’s bed wondering what lay ahead. I asked for prayer and we mentally laid ourselves on the floor before the Throne of God. Josh’s words rang in my ears as I suddenly had images of the LORD weeping with us. He was again bearing the weight of the shame-ridden cross trudging to the hill of Golgotha. This time, the cross also bore the added weight of our loss. The more I screamed at HIM in my head, the more he told me, “Matt, my son, give me all your pain. Let me take it. Let me be the one to bear it. I am the only one who can carry this massive weight.”
After our time of prayer, our family and josh left the room as our doctor entered. I was typing an email to Lauren’s friend Kristen, when I looked up to see our doctor moving quickly. She told me that Lauren was already in labor and that she could see Isaiah’s head. The room suddenly began to spin.
Across the river, Lauren’s friends gathered for their regularly scheduled prayer group. They gathered at 11:30am to lift Lauren, myself, and Isaiah in prayer. While the words rolled from their lips our son was born.
Where the first screams of a newborn should have been, there was only warmth. I could sense this sudden warmth on my back as the briefest ray of sun shone through the perforated sun shade of the delivery suite. You probably think I am making this up, to give this story a nice “touched by heaven” glow. But I’m not. If you know Chicago in the winter, you know how relentlessly gloomy our days are. And yet there it was. The sun faded and I looked at Isaiah David, born at 11:39am, 5 pounds 6 ounces and rocking-out at 19-1/2 inches.
All my anger toward God melted away. How could I be angry when I looked upon the features of this beautifully intricate, delicately crafted child? He was so masterfully and wonderfully designed by the greatest architect in the universe.
We cradled Isaiah for two hours, passing him back and forth, tracing our fingers over his folds., remembering with our hands his mortal body. While his soul rejoiced in the glories of heaven, we were left with an echo of our son. As we looked upon all of this beautiful emptiness, I began to feel so homesick. I feel homesick because a piece of my small family is in our true home, the great fields of heaven.
As we left the birthing suite and left our quiet Isaiah under the warming lamps that would never warm him, I thought of that awful Bill Murrey movie, Ground Hogs Day, and desperately wished for a do-over. Can I just wake up again… and maybe today… that buck-toothed squirrel would not see his shadow. If he didn’t see his shadow we wouldn’t have to endure this desperate and vast winter ---
We returned home Thursday afternoon. Lauren and I walked into Isaiah’s nursery. I had painted the east wall a deep cerulean blue. The cerulean color reminded me of the waters of Lake Michigan, only 5 blocks east. Isaiah and I were going to build glorious sand castles to the sound of waves and seagulls. We would have built beautiful castles but they wouldn’t have been castellated or medieval. No, they would have been modern and sophisticated. They would have captured light and space and been poetic to look at. I would have built my castles a good yard from the water’s edge so as to protect them from erosion. But, Isaiah, being so much more daring than I, would have built his dangerously close to the water’s edge. He would have been so brave and bold.
On this beautiful cerulean wall, I had stenciled 6 foot high dandelions that gently bend in the breeze. Next to these dandelions I had planned to stencil a passage from Psalm 8, words from God that my wife and I had stumbled across many months ago. Two weeks ago, I had even taken a photo of the room and superimposed the text on the wall to get the right proportion and typography. The photomontage that I made two weeks ago was on the screen before this service began. I think it’s time to read that passage again.
I need to read it because the Jesus I knew before this mess is still the Jesus I know today.
I need to read it because I was so excited to share my faith with Isaiah.
I was going to teach him to walk boldly with the Lord.
I was going to teach him to be an honest and just and loving man of GOD.
I was going to teach him to pursue others with a relentless and selfless love.
They would have thought him different.
They would have wondered why.
And they would have learned that Jesus was in his heart.
O LORD our LORD,
How majestic is YOUR name in all the earth.
YOU have set YOUR glory above the heavens
From the lips of infants and children
YOU have ordained praise
When I consider YOUR heavens
The work of YOUR fingers
The moon and the stars
Which YOU have set in place
What is man that YOU are mindful of him?
The son of man that YOU care for him?
YOU made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
And crowned him with glory and honor.
YOU made him ruler over the works of your hands;
YOU put everything under his feet:
All flocks and herds,
And the beasts of the field,
The birds of the air
And the fish of the sea,
O LORD, our LORD,
How majestic is YOUR name in all the earth.