CHAPTER 5 (Ben’s words in BOLD.)
One week after burying our son, we were scheduled to move into the house we had closed on right before he died. Once again, God’s timing proved perfect. By God’s grace we were able to move out of the bedroom that held so much pain and the difficult memories and into a brand new home. A fresh start. A place void of all family memories. A blank canvas.
Even though we were in the midst of a move, we felt utterly cared for by the body of Christ. Ben’s company was amazing and supportive in every way. For the entire first month not a day went by that we didn’t receive some measure of grace. It came in various forms such as food, cards, promises of prayer, text messages, emails, phone calls, visits, financial gifts, presents for our kids, restaurant gift cards and help with our move. We had a couple very dear families agree to help us on moving day and feed and care for us and my sister generously stayed to help us get settled. Even the family who we bought the house from blessed us with a spotless home and a meal in the freezer. God insured that we never felt alone.
Shortly after we moved, in April of 2012, a couple of dear friends offered to send Ben and me to a marriage conference. God bless them, they were concerned for our marriage as we navigated the rough waters of grief. They gave us several options of nearby upcoming conferences and we chose one called A Weekend to Remember. We didn’t know what to expect or anything about the speakers, but were thankful for a weekend away together to focus on our marriage. As only God could arrange, the speakers, a husband and wife team from Florida, shared their testimony. They spoke of God’s goodness when their 7½-month-old son drowned, when she briefly stepped away from the tub she was bathing him and his older sister in. We thought we were there for our marriage, and that certainly was a huge part of it, but God’s providence is so much bigger and more amazing then we can ever hope for. As that couple shared their story and showed a picture of their family now, 30+ years, 12 children and a strong, godly marriage later, we were filled with hope. Tears streamed down our faces in indescribable relief, joy, shared sorrow and pain. We were able to speak to the couple in private and a whole team of people prayed over us. She gave us a few books and bought us Starbucks. She spoke life into me and warned me about the guilt I was carrying. She told me it was an accident. She said, “Let’s just say it was your fault. God forgives you. You have to forgive yourself. You can’t carry this burden.” She cried with me and encouraged me. She told us that we couldn’t let this stop us from growing our family, if that was what God had for us. She was the epitome of me surviving this. She was the person I had been searching for. A person who could understand what I was going through. She was my gift from God. We left that weekend with renewed unity in our marriage and hope for the future.
Grief is a funny thing and it rears its ugly head when you least expect it. For some, it’s anniversaries or birthdays that trigger. For me, the biggest trigger was that first Mother’s Day. On the eve of that Sunday, I laid awake in bed, mourning the loss of the sweet baby who never had a chance to call me mommy. I sobbed, real, gut wrenching tears. I struggled with the idea of my family celebrating me in a way I didn’t deserve. I felt inadequate as a mother and undeserving as a wife. The pain was raw. My sweet family blessed me that Mother’s Day with breakfast in bed, tissue paper flowers and homemade cards. We spent a quiet day at a favorite park enjoying God’s beautiful creation. They blessed me that day and provided a salve for my wounded heart. God was giving me comfort through the love of my family.
Ben and I were learning to embrace the days and enjoy every moment as though it was our last. We were feeling convicted that we were trying to control our lives in the area of child bearing. We were learning a very clear lesson that God’s plans aren’t always our plans and that we needed to relinquish whatever control we thought we had. We were afraid of growing our family but we were feeling like we needed to put it in God’s hands and not allow fear to govern our decisions. We didn’t want to deny ourselves of any blessing God may have in store. With a huge amount of faith, we put our family in God’s hands, allowing him to work as he saw fit. With mixed emotions and tenacious trust, we found out we were pregnant again mid-July 2012, just two days after celebrating our son’s fourth birthday and what would have been Andrew’s first birthday. Again, as only God could do, He gave us two sons born on the same day. He knew that day would be hard for us, and gave us a reason to still celebrate. He thinks of everything!
As we settled into our new home and our newly established family values, it was clear we needed to find a church home. Praise God, there were several great options! We visited several churches but Ben’s aunt kept inviting us to visit her church. There was one problem. Her church was HUGE. We didn’t believe in big churches. We thought big churches were just showy and superficial. We didn’t think it would be possible to meet people and form the relationships we most desperately needed. However, because we love her, we agreed to visit from time to time and it didn’t take long for us to fall in love with the teaching, the worship and the atmosphere. The stereotypes we were placing on big churches was unfounded and proved wrong. We decided to become regular attendees and visited a Sunday School class in the fall of 2012. It was a class of couples who were married and parents of children around our own children’s ages. I immediately felt a stab of pain as the class went around the room introducing themselves. Each couple was to say their names and how many children they had. With reservation, I introduced us and said, “We have three children at home and one on the way.” I hadn’t figured out how to navigate that question. How many children did we have? We had five and one on the way but I couldn’t say that without explaining our whole life story. However, I did want to share our story and tell people about Andrew and explain our heartache. On the other hand, that isn’t always appropriate so I was still trying to figure it all out. I was bursting with sorrow but couldn’t let it out. However, it wasn’t long before we couldn’t bear to hold it in any longer. Through tears, we opened our aching hearts up to those precious people and shared of our loss and our uncertainties with our current pregnancy. Those people, basically strangers, got up out of their seats, surrounded us, put their hands on us, shed tears for us and offered up prayers on our behalf. The love of the body of Christ is such a beautiful thing to be a part of! To God be the glory! We continued to dive into involvement at church through volunteering and joining a community group. God used that church, and the precious people there, to raise us out of the depths and into life.
In March of 2013, on the weekend before the anniversary of losing Andrew, our church was hosting a women’s conference called Imagine Me Set Free. I attended that conference alone, looking forward to quiet time with the Lord and full focus on healing and preparing to face March 4th. The Lord met me there and, at the foot of the cross, I was able to relinquish the guilt I was carrying. John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” I yearned for that abundant life, a life not governed by guilt and shame. I renounced Satan and the lies he was telling me, and claimed God’s gift of abundant life through Jesus. I was set free!
We joyfully welcomed Lillyanna Faith into our family on March 22nd, 2013. She was named “Faith” after my own middle name and because it was with great faith that she was conceived and brought into this world. She is God’s grace in one little face. The joy and healing that Lillyanna brought is indescribable. God knows exactly what we need and when we need it.
The birth of daughter Lillyanna Faith was just another time of God showing us His grace. Lilly doesn’t fill the gap of our loss, but she is treasured as a true gift from God.
He is our great comforter and provider and it is good to rest in his plan. It brings great comfort to know that whatever comes our way, God’s hand is mighty and capable. To know his presence in the valley of the shadow of death is a true gift and there is nothing that compares to experiencing that love.
In April of 2014, Stephanie and I traveled with our oldest son to Haiti to spend a week at a crèche to care for babies, do some construction work and encourage the missionaries serving there. During this week, God opened our eyes to the huge need for adoptive families for the millions of orphans around the world. Again, we felt fear and doubt about this journey God would have us on but again, we put our trust in him and we’re walking the road of adoption, currently waiting for a referral. We have no idea how God will work out all the details and provide the money needed but we’ve found comfort in trusting God and are thankful to see him working out the details.
As this story proves, God is in the business of taking care of details. Each encounter, each perfectly timed event, each element of our story was miraculously orchestrated by God. We want to remember these small details as we continue to trust Him to work out every facet of our future.
Over the last 3 years, I have realized my huge need for God and I thank him for the grace he has shown me throughout my life. By his grace I have been drug and alcohol free for 13 years. He has led me to join Bible studies, Sunday school classes and a small group, just to name a few. He has placed a desire in my heart to raise my children to be godly children. He has also placed very godly people in my life to keep me accountable and to teach me how to love God more and more. My love for God has grown by leaps and bounds since losing Andrew and I seek him every day through prayer and time in his word. I’m so thankful for a church that teaches me and encourages me in my walk with the Lord.
By his amazing grace, God has redeemed and rescued our family. He has graciously given us hope and healing. He continues to walk with us and provide peace and comfort. We are now unified in our goal to serve God and love others. As a family, we appreciate our role in the church and in the body of Christ. The road has been hard and the pain has been real but He makes beauty from ashes and it is a blessing to have a front row seat. We know the risk of following God, but, by his grace, we will finish the journey well. We can’t wait to see how the rest of His story unfolds. What a privilege to serve a God who loves us so deeply.