Have you ever been to a funeral for a child? I have. They are just tragic. There is an air of heartbreak filling the silence where words fail each person in the room. I have been to more funerals for children than the average person, being that I work closely with hospitalized kids, and sometimes those kids die. I've also been to my own baby's funeral, watched my husband carry her little casket to her grave, sat in that funeral chapel where the smell of lilies and the sound of choking sobs filled the air, things I can still feel when I close my eyes and think about it.
When my grandparents died, only a few months apart, at very old ages after very fulfilling and beautiful lives, we held funeral services for them so that their loved ones could come and remember, say goodbye, and fondly talk together about the many memories they all had. I remember that, of course, people cried. But they did so almost with a smile on their lips. One that said, "What a beautiful day, that they are together now with their Savior, in Heaven, perfect in body and no longer in pain!" And it was! My grandparents had lived long, happy lives and touched thousands of people through their years of ministry and even just the humble and godly way they lived and loved. They were amazing people, and we miss them, but their loss was...well it was our loss only. Not theirs.
I remember the very first funeral I ever went to that was for someone younger than 90 years old. It was for a friend in my youth group who had been killed in a sand dune accident at only 17. I was the same age and had been to a couple of funerals for elderly relatives, so I remember thinking I pretty much knew what to expect.
I. Was. Wrong.
I remember it as being one of the saddest, most horrible services I have ever been to, and I have been to plenty since that day. I think it was probably the shock of how tragic it was that has stuck with me all these years. The memory of seeing his young, smiling face in a large portrait next to his casket and realizing he would never get older than that picture. It was seeing his mother absolutely sobbing and wondering how she would ever get up in the morning after something like this. It was his best friend's incredibly bitter speech where anger over losing his friend so young oozed from his very pores. It was awful.
Why? Why is the death of an elderly person so very different from the death of a young one? Why do we tear up and question the Lord at the very mention of a friend's friend's friend losing a baby to SIDS but only nod sympathetically and say, "Oh, well, they're in a better place now" when we hear of our best friend's grandparent passing away at the age of 87?
I know that a big part of the reason is thinking of the parents. Thinking of how much pain they must be in, what a gaping hole they now have in their lives. If we have children of our own, we can't help but think of how we would feel if one of them was snatched up, and the thought alone makes us literally try to shake the very possibility from our minds.
But I think there's more to it than just the empathy we feel for the parents of that child who has died. We think it is not only our loss, it is the child's. I think there is something about losing a child before they had a chance to live a long, full life that makes us question the Lord and ask Him, "Why?" It makes us think to ourselves, "What a shame. What a great loss. So many possibilities, a lifetime of purpose...wasted."
Purpose. "The reason for which something exists or is done, made, or used." (Thank you dictionary.com.)
We all have purpose. I believe God creates each one of us with a specific purpose or purposes in mind, from the moment we are teeny weeny tadpoles swimming around in our moms. God does not create human beings willy nilly like a child creating people out of playdough, only to smash them up and start over five minutes later. Right?
But, if that's true, why would He ever choose to take the life of a baby, a child, a teenager? What was His purpose for them if He only gave them months, or even days on this earth? What possible purpose could that life have had? The very thought of losing Jake or Eisley before they can become teenagers, drive a car, get married, have babies...the thought that I might be forced to go on without them in my life...oh. The pain of that simple thought is enough to stop my heart.
Lily lived, if you want to take a liberal stance on this and count from her creation, a grand total of 136 days. If you want to look at it another way, you could say she lived a total of 0, but being as I am her mother and got to watch her grow and kick and wiggle inside me for those five short months, I am going to go with 136. I have often struggled with questioning God about what possible purpose He had for my baby if He only let her live for 136 days? What could He possibly have accomplished? Why create her at all? Why force me to bond with and love a baby that I would never be allowed to hold alive? Why would He go to the trouble of creating her at all if He wasn't even going to let her live a single moment outside the womb? What purpose could Lily possibly have had? Whatever it was, it doesn't seem like it could be fulfilled in only 136 days.
I came across this webcast by Nancy Guthrie called "Pain that Can't be Prayed Away" (You can listen to it by clicking here). I forget how I came to listen to it, but wow, it is really good. She talks about the devastating diagnosis doctors gave her daughter, Hope, at birth, and how she and her husband spent six short months with her that impacted their lives forever (If you don't know Nancy's story, she later had a son with the same diagnosis, who also lived six short months. Her testimony is powerful). There is a lot of good stuff in there, so I urge you to listen to it if you have the time, but there was one particular point that stuck out to me that I wanted to share with you here.
Nancy talks about how she would sometimes simply cry out to God over the unfairness of it all. They were desperately trying to make the most of each day with Hope, but she was broken-hearted over the fact that her daughter had been given only six short months to live, and as that day drew closer, I'm sure she wondered what purpose God had in it all. How is six months enough? Why go through this at all if that's all we get? She talks about how a friend said something to her that made her see things in an entirely new light. She said,
"God will completely accomplish the purpose He had for her life in the number of days that He gave to her."
Are you telling me, that God knew when He created my Lily that she would only live for 19 weeks, and He created her anyway? What about my other losses? Ones I knew about for mere days, did He create them knowing their lives would be as short as a breathe? What about sweet Ember? Did He create her purposely without a brain, knowing we would be chosen to adopt her, devastated at the news of her diagnosis, and forced to give her up?
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.
So the question is...how many days does God need to fulfill a purpose in Him through the life of a person? In our eyes, especially the eyes of a mother, a lifetime. People need an entire lifetime, like my grandparents had, to complete God's purpose in their lives. To allow God to work through them and their struggles and their story and their relationships, He needs a lifetime!!! But the truth is, God does not need an entire lifetime of days. He creates certain people with certain purpose, and for some of them, His purpose can only be fulfilled if they live a short time, if their death is sudden, if their loss is felt deeply, if they are taken before we truly knew them at all.
I do not think this means that He completed His entire purpose with Lily in the 19 weeks and 3 days that she existed in this world and then her purpose in life was over. I am confident that those 19 weeks and 3 days was exactly the amount of time He planned for her, and the exact amount of time He needed her to live so that He may complete the work He intended to be done...in my life, in Josh's, in our family's, in our friends, in complete strangers that were touched by her story. Not 19 weeks and 2 days, not 19 weeks and 4 days, but exactly 19 weeks and 3 days.
Another thing I heard during this sermon that, to be honest, shook me to my very core when thinking about this current pregnancy, this little one I am at this moment feeling kick and wiggle inside me, was a prayer Nancy said she prayed during the short life of her baby girl.
"Lord, whatever number of days are right for her, let them be enough for me."
Ugh. Oh how I can relate to that. To the feeling that I know in my soul that God does not make mistakes, that nothing happens without His permission, that He knows the number of days He will give to each of my children before He even creates them, yet I struggle so much with being okay with that number if it is far less than what I would choose.
In my mother's heart, of course the "right" number of days I think is enough for this baby are years upon years of days. So many days that this child's life will continue on long after I am gone. But in my faith...in my faith, I have to trust that the Lord knows better than I do. That He may see fit to number this child's days with far less than we humans deem acceptable. Who of us would number any child's days at only 136? That's how many days Lily had here. Certainly it was far too few. Certainly God could not accomplish His work and His purpose in only 136 days. Yet...I believe He did. As horrible as it felt, as absolutely cheated as I sometimes still feel, that as a mother I deserved a lifetime of days with her, and 136 was nowhere near enough for me to hold her inside me. And what about the number of days I got to watch her grow and breathe and smile and cry? Because she had 0 days if you look at it like that. But. I know, in my heart of hearts, that it was enough. God had a specific purpose for her creation, for her short time here, for the way she was taken back to Him, and He is still working to accomplish that purpose, in ways I may never know, and in ways I am granted small glimpses of now and then.
God chose me, someone who likes to share her lessons and experiences, who many times writes out her heart, who valued my daughter's life even though it only existed inside of me for 136 days, who was not afraid to hold her and take pictures of her and even less afraid to share them with the world, He chose me to be Lily's mother. Why? I think there was a reason for it, and it wasn't to punish me, and it wasn't because I am particularly strong, and it certainly wasn't random, but it was because being Lily's mother for 136 days was part of my purpose, in the number of days the Lord has given to me.
Knowing that, knowing that my days are also numbered, I have to ask myself if I am yielding to Him, if I am allowing Him to accomplish His purpose through me in the short time I have here. If Lily can have such an impact on so many in only 136 days, when she did not take a single breath on this earth, what can God accomplish through me? Through those of us who have years upon years of days? A lot. How many of us squander the purpose God intended, the years that could have been spent doing something for Him? Is it possible that sometimes, God can do more with the short life of a sick child than the long life of a healthy adult? I have seen it. I have seen how some of my own loved ones have wasted years upon years of their lives in bitterness and regret, doing absolutely nothing of value on the eternal spectrum, and then I have seen small children who impact thousands in their short lives, doing more for the Lord than many people with years of life behind them.
No one is more aware of how many weeks and days this baby inside of me has been alive. I count them and cherish them in a way I never did when I was pregnant with my twins. I took so much for granted then. It was a given that if God gave me those two babies, he would surely give me a lifetime of days with them. I know now that isn't necessarily true. I know now that God is merely lending me these children, and it is up to Him for how long He will do so.
It is a tragedy when a child dies. In the world's eyes, it is a pointless and cruel reality, a shame, a waste of a life that will never be. But we must stop looking at these things through the world's eyes, and start looking at them through God's. He does not make mistakes. He is capable of creating immense purpose through even the shortest of lives, through even the most tragic of deaths. This does not mean these losses will not continue to break our hearts, bring us to our knees in agony, and make us question God's reasoning behind it all. It simply means we can trust that God did not mess up, He did not turn His back, He did not miscalculate. He has a purpose, He created each person for a purpose. There is a reason He has given a certain number of days to you, a certain number to me, and 136 to Lily Grace.
I do not yet know how many days are written in His book for this little one inside me, but when I am gripped with fears that that number is far less than what I would hope for, that maybe today is the last day, or tomorrow, or next month, all I can do is cry out to Him and say,
"Let that be enough, Lord. Let that be enough for me."