Fourteen years ago, on a sunny August morning, I awoke to a vague feeling of nausea.  Disappointed that it had reared its ugly head again after a two month hiatus, I gingerly sank into our stiff leather  couch beside my son.  Turning on some cartoons, I hoped to keep him occupied while I choked down a few dry, tasteless crackers.  I don’t remember what we watched, but we snuggled together and took in the show.

Examining my sizable bump, my husband remarked, tongue in cheek, that I was absolutely prohibited from giving birth within the next few weeks.  We were living in England and he was working on a PhD in theology from Oxford University.  He had a big deadline coming up and needed to focus on getting some writing done.  With a smirk, I patted my belly and told the baby that she needed to obey her daddy.  Smiling, he turned and gathered up a recently laundered comforter to be dried on the line in our minuscule backyard.

With my due date nearly four weeks away, I was confident there would be no sign of baby anytime soon.  Micaiah was not born early.  However, I was growing impatient to meet this sweet little girl.  After two devastating pregnancy losses and a transatlantic move, I was worried that we might never have another child.  Yet, on Christmas morning of 2003, we were both elated and terrified to discover that the hope we had tucked away in our hearts was growing in the silent darkness of my womb.

The discovery that I was carrying a baby girl was another gift that I did not expect.  I pictured  sweet dresses and hair bows, manicures and mother/daughter dates.  I was so close to my own mom and couldn’t imagine not having a daughter of my own.  It all felt like a dream…to good to be true.  Naturally, after two losses, I worried.  Would my baby girl be healthy?  Would the delivery go well?  I did everything within my power to ensure her health and safety but fear continued to grip me.

But as the pregnancy progressed I relaxed and allowed myself to embrace the thought that I would hold this baby girl in my arms.

As I sat on the couch that sunny morning, the queasiness increased by the minute and I decided that I might need to get up and get some fresh air.  Rising, I felt something unexpectedly “pop” inside of me and became immediately aware of the sensation of water gushing down my legs.  In a sea of questionable and confusing labor signs, this was the holy grail of certainty that a baby would be on the way imminently.

Carefully waddling out to the backyard, I attempted not to slip in the steady stream of water collecting at my feet.  Turning the corner, I told the man, who only moments earlier had insisted that the baby stay put, that he was about to be the father of a little girl.

After relaying the news, a look of confused panic crossed his face.  He accused me of joking around.  But one glance at my soaked pajama bottoms were confirmation that I meant business.  He sprang into dutiful action, questioning what we should do next.  I explained that we needed to call the midwife and the friends who had agreed to keep Micaiah for us, and pack our bags.  

The midwife instructed us to head to the hospital to have my status checked.  We were ushered into a small triage room only to discover what we already knew; my water had indeed broken and we would be greeting the newest member of our family very shortly.

Unfortunately, my body hadn’t quite gotten the message yet that the baby’s cozy water bath had sprung a leak.  I was sent to a room on the first floor of the hospital maternity ward to receive antibiotics as a preventative measure against infection and wait for contractions to begin. 

If you’ve ever been victim to the British health care system, you know that when you are told to “wait” to be seen or helped, you might as well be a fly on the wall.  As an American, I hadn’t quite come to this realization.  I lingered for nearly seven hours until I finally had a contraction.  Another hour passed and I began timing the contractions.  They seemed to be coming steadily at 5 minutes apart.  It appeared that I was indeed in labor.  After badgering the nursing staff,  I was finally sent to a proper labor and delivery room on the second floor, where the midwife on call was appalled to learn that after spending the entire day waiting in a hospital room downstairs, I still had not received antibiotics. 

Settled in my new room with the necessary medication dripping into my veins, the contractions intensified.  It was well after midnight…2:30 am to be exact.  I felt the urge to push and asked the midwife to check my cervix.  She confirmed that the baby was crowning and ready to be delivered.  The lights were dimmed and after just two pushes, Evelyn entered our world.  We waited, as all parents do, with bated breath in that second before she uttered her first cry.  And then we heard that glorious sound as the air filled her lungs and a slippery, squirmy bundle was placed on my chest.  It goes without saying that we were in love with her instantly.  She wrapped her tiny hand around our fingers as we kissed the top of her head and stroked her newborn cheeks, tears of joy trickling down both of ours.  I had dreamt of this moment for so long.  In the wee hours of August 7, 2004, as I held my beautiful, healthy baby girl in my arms, It seemed that life couldn’t be more perfect.

Just over eleven years later, I would look back at this moment and realize more than ever just how perfect life was.  In a twist of fate, I would find myself explaining to her daddy that she was leaving us as unexpectedly as she came.  I would wait in a hospital, not for signs of labor, but for signs of life.  And this time, when the air did not fill her lungs, I would wrap my hand around those once tiny fingers and kiss her forehead as tears streamed down my cheeks.  Instead of hello, I would say goodbye for the rest of my earthly life.

Today she would be fourteen.  Today, on her birthday, my arms are empty.  They ache to hold her again, to tell her how much I love her and how proud I am of who she has become.

The anticipation of this day begins well before it arrives and I often find myself on edge and extremely emotional.  I feel angry that everyone in the world seems to be celebrating their living child’s birthday and posting pictures on social media while I am trying to formulate a plan that will both honor my deceased child’s life and respect the different ways that each of my family members grieve.  I wonder why she can’t be here.  Why was her life cut short?  As a parent, you expect that there will be a lifetime of birthdays to celebrate.

But we aren’t promised a lifetime of birthdays.  We aren’t promised tomorrow.  Sin brought death into this world and until Jesus comes again to redeem it, our physical bodies will fail us.  Evelyn was an unexpected gift to me.  While she lived on this earth, I did my best to nurture her, to love her, and to prepare her for her eternal home.  She resides there now, with the angels and saints.  God has completed the work in her and my job as her mother is finished.  And even though the pain of being physically separated from her is indescribable,  our love for one another can never be untethered because it comes from the Eternal One who is Love Incarnate.  We love because He first loved us.

Happy Birthday my darling little girl.  You brought me so much joy in this life.  You radiated God’s love and goodness.  Your life was an offering to Him.   I will never stop loving you or celebrating the day that you were born into this world.  May you find rest in your Savior whom you loved so deeply.  And may God sustain those of us who miss you with an inexplicable longing until we hold you in our arms again.



Suffering with the Saints

On this very day, two years ago, she played her final song.

How can it be? How can it be that two years have gone by without her beaming smile, the sound of her feet skipping down the hall, stacks of unfinished drawings left haphazardly on the table and giggles echoing from the room where she shared late night secrets with her sister? How can it be that long since I have hugged her thin shoulders, braided her wild locks, or held her hand in mine?

So much has changed in the course of two years.

In February, we received the news that our new home, All Saints Farm, was finished and we began the process of moving. I did my best to sift, sort, and pack up our things in the midst of homeschooling, chasing a very active toddler, and carrying another little one inside of me. Every nook and cranny to be packed up became a final opportunity to unearth a precious relic of her life. An undiscovered piece of art, her name written on a slip of paper buried at the bottom of a bin of toys, a handwritten note declaring her love for us, and a blonde curl that a kind nurse urged me to cut and keep on the day she died all represented the fullness of Evie’s life. As we opened the door to our new home on the Feast of Saint Joseph it felt as if we were closing the final door on so many memories of our precious daughter and crossing the threshold of a new life.

In June, we welcomed little Miriam Hope to our family. We were blessed with another little girl and God answered our prayers for a full-term delivery and healthy baby. Her arrival brought both joy and sorrow as we offered up our gratitude for this precious gift, yet mourned the fact that our two youngest children will never meet their big sister.


August brought another round of birthdays for the girls. Evie would have been thirteen. Again, we ate cake without her and sent balloons soaring into the sky. Her sisters are another year older. Cecilia, tall for her age, wears the clothes that Evie wore shortly before she died. By the end of this day Eden, now eleven, will have outlived her big sister. She uses many of the same school books that Evie was using before her death and plays the same songs on the piano.

September ushered in a new school year for us all. Our oldest son Micaiah headed to high school and the girls began their fifth and first grade years at home. As the month faded away along with the lazy days of summer, I told myself the anniversary of Evie’s death was not going to bother me as much this year. After all, I miss her every day. Rarely a moment goes by that I am not thinking of her. What difference does one particular day make?

But then the calendar flipped to October. The leaves began their metamorphosis and the temperature dropped. Carved pumpkins and Mums lined front porches. My Facebook feed began to trickle with pictures of children dressed in costume. I couldn’t even enter a store without bumping into plastic spiders and creepy skeletons. Despite my attempts to shut my eyes and ears to the scene around me, my body remembers the trauma of that day and I feel the heavy cloak of sadness envelop me. My kids feel it too. They cry more than usual and refuse to go places and do things that bring back those painful memories.

In the wee hours of the night, when all is dark and still, I relive her death and the truth of it still shocks me and takes my breath away. She is dead. My daughter is dead. How am I still alive? Each day, for the past two years I have wondered how I will carry on without her. How can I survive the unthinkable?

Yet, I wake, pull the covers off, and put two feet on the floor. I change diapers, fold laundry and clean toilets. I gather eggs, wipe counters, and cook meals. I make mistakes and ask for forgiveness. I laugh at my toddler’s silly antics and kiss my baby’s soft cheeks. I teach my children about Jesus, math, and history. I embrace my husband and relish time spent in conversation. I’ve made room for joy and sorrow in the spaces of my soul.

I’ve learned to live again because He lives. This life, with all of its pain and suffering is my path to holiness and heaven is my final destination.

Today, while the secular world is celebrating costumes, candy, and plastic skeletons the Church begins to celebrate the great feast of All Saints. We remember the many holy men, women, and children who lived heroic lives of virtue even amidst horrific suffering. They have reached the beatific vision and are happy to pray for us when we call upon their names.

October 31 is not about death, but life. Each morning when I rise I see this beautiful image, created for our family by an iconographer and dear friend and I am reminded that because He lives my daughter also lives.



She intercedes on our behalf and waits for us to join her one day along with all of the saints that she knew and loved during her brief earthly life.

Today we will honor that life. We will cry and remember. We’ll plant bulbs at her grave and grieve together as a family. We will come to the altar for the great feast of All Saints and join our daughter at the place where Heaven meets Earth.  Before we retire for the night as we join in family prayer before the crucifix we will sing a litany to the saints and our beloved Evelyn, as we do each evening, asking for their intercession.

And we will continue to live, just as the saints, in eager expectation for the day when our life’s work is complete and we can join our daughter and all of our heavenly friends in the New Jerusalem.











All Hallows Eve

IMG_4488.jpgAll Saints Farm…One Year Ago

I had plans.

I had plans to convey here the thoughts and emotions swirling around in my head this past month…to somehow articulate the deep agony of flipping the calendar to October.  I mulled over how to put words to a sadness so profound that it saturates my mind and body.  How does one express a supernatural ache for eternity?

In all honesty, this past month, I have been plagued with the horrors of October 31, 2015.  I have felt helpless.  More than usual, the moment of her collapse replays in my head like a movie that I can’t turn off.  I have felt myself being nearly suffocated by a thick, heavy blanket of death and despair.

On this day, last year, I knelt on the floor of a piano studio beside the lifeless body of my daughter and begged her to breathe.  I pleaded with her and with God.  But as the paramedics worked on her and I began to pray the Rosary, I knew in my heart of hearts that she would not return to me.  Even as I prayed for her heart to beat again, I committed her to the loving care of our Blessed Mother.

God did not choose to answer my prayer that day in the way that I saw fit.  These were not my plans.  My perfect family does not include a dead child.

Here we are, one year later.  I still haven’t wrapped my mind around this new reality.  I’m still fighting against it.  I’m wrestling and hurting and longing.  And this October, I nearly lost sight of the small flicker of light in the darkness.

But yesterday, I was reminded again that Jesus meets us in the storm…that Love lives and beauty, pain, and hope can coexist.

As the rain poured down, Evie’s friends and family poured into the barn at All Saints Farm to pray together in the Mass, celebrate her life, and plant daffodil bulbs in her honor.  It was an amazing testimony to the power of love and prayer.  It lifted me out of the mire and reminded me that Heaven is nearer than we can imagine.  I felt Evie’s presence so keenly as my heart was filled with hope once again.

memorial-massPlanting Daffodil Bulbs by the Pond


And I was reminded that Evie’s death is not all about horror and pain but rather a beginning of eternal life.  For one day, I was able to stop thinking about death and remember her beautiful life…a life lived for Jesus with a heart prepared for life beyond the grave.

Yesterday, by the grace of God, I was able to share the following thoughts with those in attendance:

It seems impossible to me that it has been one year since our beautiful Evie flew to Jesus.  I feel like I have lived a lifetime without her already and yet it seems she was just here yesterday.  So much has happened in the course of a year and we have grown accustomed to life in her absence.  That is not to say that we accept this new life yet or that we are not grieving deeply.  I’m sure some day the pain will dull and be woven into the fabric of our lives, but we will never stop grieving her loss or missing her until we see her again.

There is much to miss about this extraordinary little girl and I wanted to take the time here to share a few of them.

As a mother, I miss the every day things.  I miss buying huge cartons of Goldfish crackers at the grocery store.  Evie lived on them.  She was a picky eater and her diet seemed to consist of mostly carbohydrates.  I miss helping her put on her swim cap at swim practice.  I miss seeing her sitting at the kitchen table, drawing or reading intently.  I miss hearing the constant sound of the piano being played or her guitar being strummed.  I miss watching her do cartwheels, swimming, and climbing trees.  I miss the sound of her giggles as she played dolls with her sisters.  I miss her creativity in inventing new games and activities.   I miss the way she eagerly answered all of the questions during our morning group time.   I miss the Evie and Eden duo…the way they balanced one another out and seemed to always know what the other was about to do or say.  I even miss the messes she made all over the house and the math meltdowns because they meant that she was very much alive and with us.

I miss her physical presence…the way her skinny body felt when I hugged her goodnight.  I miss curling her hair.  I miss the way she seemed to float down the hallway instead of walk.  I miss the way she would rub my back during Mass.   I miss the way she would look up at me with her head tilted seemingly seeking my approval.  I miss her beautiful slightly crooked smile.

The things I miss the most are the things that made Evie exceptional.  If you knew Evie as a toddler, you knew that she was a handful.  At one point, I actually wondered if she had a conscience!  She would be so embarrassed to hear me say that right now, but what made her so extraordinary is this very thing.  You see, Evie wasn’t always a virtuous child.  But as the years progressed, she grew in virtue.  She had a deep and abiding faith in Jesus and an intense desire to please him.  As you likely know, she had a devotion to St. Therese.  I bought every book I could find about her written for children and Evie gobbled them up.  I’m convinced that St. Therese and her “Little Way” was the inspiration for Evie’s development into a loving, tender-hearted, sacrificial young lady.   

Evie was always the first to jump up and help when a need arose.  She was known to do other people’s chores around the house and often anticipated a need without being asked.  She was a mother to Cecilia and a mentor to Eden.  She always made everyone feel like her best friend.  She hated to see people excluded from the group and always worked hard to include anyone feeling left out.  She was tender-hearted towards those who were different, lonely, in need of a friend, or hurting.  She was always writing little notes of encouragement and love.  We found one of these notes in the bottom of a Kleenex box after she died.  It said, “Dear Mom and Dad, I love you so so so much.  Thank you for everything you do for me.”   She made sacrifices.  She let other people choose the game, the color, or what have you and would often take whatever was left with a happy heart and without complaint.  She was amazing with little children and loved babies.  Every day she would tell me how excited she was to meet her baby brother.  When we told her I was expecting she commented that she had been praying for me to have a baby.  Evie was committed to prayer and cultivated her own spiritual life in a way that is surprising for a girl her age.   She would get quite upset if you failed to bless her before bed.  She grew irritated with me on one occasion when I allowed her to sleep instead of waking her up at 5 am to take her to adoration with me.  She had a deep love for Jesus in the Eucharist.  In her prayer book, she commented that First Communion was the best day of her life.

It’s impossible not to miss this girl who brought such light to everyone around her.  We love her beyond words and are so proud of who she became.  It’s excruciating to think about how many more years we might have to live without her.

Yet, we know that she is in the arms of her Heavenly Father and our Blessed Mother.  She is holding the babies that we never got to meet.  She is helping many who call on her intercession on Earth.  Her wish was to go to heaven just in time for All Saints Day and God gave her the desire of her heart.

But it’s much too soon for our liking.  So God is asking us to trust in His perfect plan, to walk in faith, and to have hope that we will see her again.

Come Lord Jesus.






Fortune Cookie Faith

“Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”

Hebrews 11:1

I want to begin this post by sharing an e-mail correspondence written by my husband within days of Evie’s death.  His words were published in the Canton Repository and although I could just link to the article I feel it necessary to repost them here because you really need to read it through to fully understand the impact of what I am about to set forth:

“On Tuesday morning, it had been three days since Evelyn died. I was worn down and beginning to lose the hope and the comfort that had sustained us immediately after her death. Around 5 a.m., I lit a candle, knelt before the cross that sits atop our family prayer table and began to express to the Lord (and to Evie) that I felt completely empty and abandoned – that all of this was completely meaningless.

For some time I knelt there attempting to capture in words the profound darkness that I felt inside. I then began to plead over and over with God to renew my faith, to help me to abandon myself to him and to constantly seek him even when I feel like nothing makes sense. I kept saying ‘please do something, please do something.’ In front of me, lying flat on the prayer table was Evelyn’s First Communion banner – a shield shaped piece of felt with fabric flowers sewn onto it in the shape of a cross by Evie herself.

Because I had laid my head upon the table weeping, I was able to see inside the upper portion of the banner where a dowel rod had been inserted so that the banner could be hung from the wall or a pew. Immediately after finishing my plea that God would ‘do something’ to keep me from losing faith, I noticed that a very tiny piece of paper had been shoved into the fabric sleeve alongside the dowel rod. I pulled it out. It was two fortune cookie ‘sayings’ rolled up together. I knew that these must have been put there by Evie because she habitually kept anything that had any significance to her (we called her ‘Stash-n-Dash’ since she never stopped moving and preserved every memory somehow/somewhere).

I unraveled the two quotes. The first one said, “The greatest ownership is the embracement of emptiness.” These words knocked the wind out of me. I already felt completely empty and alone. Now I felt as though I was being taunted, like there really was no hope and I just needed to admit it. Crying hysterically at this point – the lowest point of my life now that I think about it – I unraveled the second paper. The saying on it was, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.”

I immediately recognized these words as God’s own words to us in Hebrews 11:1 and, in that moment, heard them as a very clear exhortation to believe even when I cannot see a thing, to hope even when I feel nothing but hopelessness. In that moment God answered my prayer. He ‘did something’ just as I had asked. In his mysterious providence, he had arranged for those two particular quotes to be placed in those particular cookies, and then for Evie to ‘stash’ them in that precise part of that particular banner (and for that banner to be taken off the wall and placed precisely where it was shortly before I knelt there) so that I would read those quotes at that exact moment.

I’m not one to interpret the divinely intended meaning in every event – not even close. As a historical theologian, I tend to see meaning over vast swaths of time. But in that very moment, I clearly heard the voice of God speaking to me, saying exactly what I needed to hear, through crumpled up fortune cookie papers that should never have been found. And in those papers, I also heard the whisper of my precious little girl, imploring me to trust and obey – the simple lesson we had taught her every day of her short time in this world.”

My last post, if you recall, was about Evie’s birthday.  As I relayed, I had been dreading that day for the past nine months.

Shortly before her birthday I discovered that the mass at St. Mary’s (our parish) would be offered for Evie on that day.  This year, her birthday was on a Sunday.

Typically, I read the Sunday Mass readings in advance but for some reason,  I did not read the passages for August 7th.  In case you are not familiar with how the readings at Mass work, they are not chosen by the priest of the parish or the deacon or any other member.  They are universal.  Everyone on earth will hear the same Bible passages at any Mass they attend anywhere.  The readings rotate on a three year cycle so as to expose parishioners to all of the Scriptures over time.

As I sat in Mass on Evie’s birthday, crying and begging God to feel close to her and to feel her with me, the lector walked to the front of the sanctuary and began to read.

The passage was Hebrews 11

I was floored.  It couldn’t possibly be a coincidence that this chapter from Hebrews would show up on a tiny strip of paper wadded up inside Evie’s First Communion banner AND read on Evie’s birthday.

Not to mention the fact that as the passage progresses, it proceeds to illustrate the faith demonstrated by the likes of Noah, Abraham, Moses, King David and all the Old Testament saints who make up a portion of the “great cloud of witnesses.”

The girls and I had spent last September and October studying the Old Testament together before Evie died and learning about the great faith of these very men.  Evie loved celebrating the saints.  She expressed her wish to enter heaven around All Saints Day.  The name of our farm reflects that desire.

God works in mysterious ways.

Since then, I’ve been pondering the meaning of this.  What is the Holy Spirit trying to convey to us through our little girl and this immeasurable suffering?

The message comes back full circle to the words penned by my husband after finding those  fortune cookie papers.

Trust and Obey.

We seem to live in an evidence-based culture these days.  We want answers and we want them fast.  We want proof for everything.  We only believe and take in what we can see right in front of us.  God is for the superstitious, unintelligent, archaeic, less-evolved among us.

So we build our towers…higher than God.  We presume to know everything.  We’ve got it all under control.  We don’t need Him.

Until we do.

Until questions arise to which there are no answers.

Until something life-changing occurs and we realize that we are incapable of controlling anything.  Then we realize that trying to hold life with a clenched fist is like trying to hold water in your hand.

It’s an illusion.

Faith is stepping outside of our control, our preconceived notions, and our pride and opening ourselves up to a realm of existence far beyond our limited experience.

Men like Noah, Abraham, and Moses demonstrated extraordinary faith beyond anything we encounter on a daily basis.  They were willing to sacrifice their livelihoods, their reputations, and their families to answer God’s call.  Even more profound is the fact that these men never saw the fruits of their faith in their own lifetimes.

Yet they trusted in God and obeyed.

Can you imagine God asking you to build a gigantic boat filled with animals?  Or being willing to walk your only son up a mountain to slay him?  Or approaching a powerful king and letting him know that you’re about to evacuate half of his kingdom?

These men represent the “cloud of witnesses” spoken of later in Hebrews.  We are literally surrounded by extraordinary saints…men and women who answered God’s call to do radical things.  Think of women like Blessed Mother Theresa, who left her religious order to answer God’s call to minister to the poor and destitute living in the slums of India.  She remained faithful to this calling even through years of spiritual darkness.  St. Monica relentlessly pursued and prayed for her wayward son Augustine for more than 17 years and he eventually became a saint.  St. Louis Martin trusted God through the death of four children and his beloved wife from breast cancer and lovingly submitted when God called all five of his daughters to cloistered religious life.

These ordinary people were able to live extraordinary lives because they had faith.  Not the kind of faith that says, “Yeah, I believe in God and I go to church.”

They had the kind of faith that makes the world stop and take notice.  They didn’t exactly blend in with the crowd.  Their faith actually became “evidence” for the existence of God because nobody would live like that or do those things unless God were working through them.

In my grief, my faith ebbs and flows.  There are times when I feel close to God and hear Him speaking to my heart.  Other times, all I can see is my daughter buried in the earth and  broken hearts that cannot be fixed in this lifetime.   The mess in front of me looms large and the impossibility of what I am trying to accomplish weighs me down like a leaden vest.  Like the Israelites, I question what God is doing and trudge along wearing foggy lenses… only seeing my own misery and not the Promised Land that God has in store for me.  Sometimes I can’t imagine that Heaven could be any more glorious than the life I lived before October 31, 2015.

It’s easy to get caught up in the here and now when life is hard.  When life is good, we get comfortable and think this world has it all.

But there is so much more than this world.  There is a whole realm of which we are not even aware.  There are angels and saints.  There is a resurrected man with scars on His hands and our names written on His heart.  There is a God who is weaving the fabric of our lives into a beautiful tapestry even when we can only see the tattered threads.

Do we live like this is is true?  Are we “running the race to win the prize?”  Do our daily lives, our decisions, our relationships reflect our ultimate goal…heaven?  Or are we blending in with everyone around us, forgetting that Jesus calls us to live radically different lives…to stand out as “salt” and “light” to an unbelieving world?

We don’t need to look inside a Chinese cookie to know our fortune.  We need only crack open the Scriptures to see that  God’s promises are clear and true.  He’s preparing a place for us…if only we will trust and obey.



Celebrating A Beautiful Life


A child’s birthday is about relishing in the gift of  their life on Earth…an opportunity to lavish them with affection and declare our sentiments.  Unlike other holidays, it’s a day solely devoted to one particular child marked with traditions, ceremony and celebration.  We marvel at how quickly the years have passed and reflect on who they have become.

In celebrating, we also ring in another year of life.  We look forward to all of the milestones that await and imagine who our child will be in five, ten, or even twenty years.  Will she go to college, marry, and have children?   Will there be a house full of cousins and grandchildren some day?  Or will she feel called to religious life?

But when your child’s life on earth ends abruptly, birthdays take on a whole different meaning.  Instead of something you enjoy planning and celebrating, your child’s birthday becomes something you survive and a painful reminder that there will be no more birthdays.

Evie would have been 12 tomorrow (August 7th).  Now, in the pictures, she is forever eleven.

This year, there will be no more breakfast with Daddy and dancing to their favorite song.  No more birthday hugs.  We can’t ask her how she wants to celebrate or watch her open up her gifts.

I have been dreading Evie’s birthday since the day she died.  I never imagined that last year at this time we would be celebrating her last birthday on earth.  I’ve kept the above picture on my phone as a way of preparing myself for the inevitable.  My thoughts have been consumed with how we will celebrate her life differently this year and I’ve shed countless tears.  In talking with other bereaved parents and reading about how they celebrate the birthdays of their deceased children, I’ve come across varied responses.  Some have parties to honor their child or visit the cemetery and have a special meal.  Others prefer to lock themselves in their room.  I desperately want to do something to honor her beautiful life but I know that no matter what, it’s going to be painful.

In our case, August presents an even greater challenge because it is a month of celebrations.  Eden’s birthday is the 9th and the girls always celebrated together.  Cecilia’s birthday is also in August as well as my brother who passed away.  That’s not to mention other family birthdays that occur this month in addition to our anniversary of becoming Catholic and Eden’s baptism day.

A big part of me wants to crawl in a hole and come out in September.

Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays…they will never be the same without her.  Celebrations that I used to look forward to have become a source of dread.  When you lose a child, the year feels like a relentless cycle of holidays, parties and events.  I find myself looking forward to a month with nothing on the calendar.  I guess I’m not in a very celebratory mood these days.

But I still live on earth and I’m still a mother.  My kids aren’t going to let me skip all of these special days and escape to a deserted island no matter how badly I might want to.

That does not mean, however, that I need to win an award for the most amazing birthday party or cake.   I’m not required to put on a happy face and pretend like I am not hurting inside.   A birthday doesn’t necessitate that I post pictures on Facebook of all of us having a good time amidst piles of presents, guests, and sugary treats in an attempt to veil the sorrow of missing a huge part of my existence.  It seems that sometimes we get so caught up in the celebration that we forget the reason behind the ritual.

Evie absolutely adored family traditions and she loved to celebrate…but not in a way typical of some children.  She enjoyed marking the days, but her way of doing so was quite simple…a few hand-picked flowers in a Mason jar, a homemade card with words of love, a hug.  Although she had many friends she never wanted to be the center of attention.  She was quite happy to have everyone at the party bring a donation to charity rather than a gift.  Her favorite celebrations were those that revolved around the liturgical year and the saints.   Usually, when asked what gift she would like for her birthday or Christmas, her list was pretty simple and/or generally related to her faith.  Her most recent gift request, before she died, was her very own tea set to use for hosting saint feast day parties.  Just this past October, before she passed away, she held a tea party for St. Thérèse complete with roses and store-bought chocolate eclairs.  Before that, she asked for a guitar so that she could learn praise and worship songs.  She was getting quite good at playing those.

So this year, I’m taking a cue from her.  I’m going to simplify the celebrations and focus on  drawing my family closer to the great heavenly feast that awaits those who love Jesus.  Because instead of fretting over party-themed foods, gifts, and decorations, the reason for the rituals  should compel me to look deeply into the eyes of my children on their birthday and tell them how much they mean to me, how much Jesus loves them, and what a gift He gave me when they entered my world.  Special days beckon me to stand at the foot of the cross and embrace my faith in a God who heals our brokenness and holds our future in His hands.  I can thank God for the gifts He has given us on Earth  while also allowing my pain and heartache to be evident.

Because you can hold pain and hope at the same time.  Jesus did just that when he wept over the death of His friend Lazarus even as he walked toward his tomb to raise him to new life.

On Evie’s birthday this year, we will attend mass together as a family where Heaven and Earth collide in a feast of love.  We will eat Poppyseed Chicken Casserole and Dairy Queen Ice Cream Cake (her favorites).  We will share memories with her closest friends.  But most importantly, we will tell her what a beautiful, loving, compassionate, kind, thoughtful, and simply extraordinary daughter she was and how very proud we are of who she became in eleven short years.  And although we cannot see Evie’s beautiful, slightly crooked smile when we declare these things, we know that she hears us.

Although her absence from our lives is beyond painful, I wouldn’t take back a second of our time with her.  I thank God for every moment I was privileged to have as her earthly mother as I  entrust her now to her Heavenly Mother.   And I will continue to mother her by loving Jesus and others until the day of our heavenly reunion in a place where every day is a tearless celebration of Life.




The Great Paradox

Three weeks after Evie went to Heaven our son Gabriel was born under very harrowing circumstances at 32 weeks gestation.  What began for me as a kidney stone turned into double pneumonia, low blood platelets, an emergency c- section under general anesthesia, followed two days later by  surgery to have a temporary kidney stent placed and the stone removed.  Gabriel spent three weeks in the NICU but thanks be to God he came home healthy and thriving.

Since then, threads of joy and sorrow are woven together into the fabric of my days.

Gabriel is so much like Evie in appearance and personality.  When I look into his beautiful blue eyes I am transported back to those sweet little moments of Evie’s baby days.  His bright smile and infectious laughs bring much joy to our family, but with each one a sword pierces my heart again because I miss so deeply the one who is not here on earth with us.  I wonder how she would have interacted with him.  I think about what her face would look like as she watched him smile and giggle at her.

                                                Evie and Gabriel at six months

There are so many other moments like that in my days.  It fills my heart to see Eden and Cecilia get along and play together but it breaks my heart that Evie isn’t here to play too.  When I go to the construction site of our new home and see the bedroom that was designed for three girls it brings me to tears knowing that there will be many happy memories made but they will not include her.  Simple things that should be fun like helping Eden pick out new clothes or taking her to the craft store can trigger the torrent of tears because I see all of the things that I am not purchasing for Evie anymore.  When Cecilia utters something  hilarious or adorable I feel the tightness in my chest as I imagine how Evie would have laughed at her and appreciated her cuteness.  I cried when Cecilia lost her first tooth because Evie was not there to experience the moment and be proud of her little sis.  Swimming at the pool, family vacations, milestones…  I can’t even begin to imagine how many more moments of joy mingled with sorrow I’ll experience in this lifetime.  This feels like the tip of the iceberg.

Yet, this is the paradox of the world we live in…a world permeated with pleasure and pain. Where joy and sorrow are partners in a cosmic dance.

So what’s a girl to do with all this pain and sorrow mixed up together?  How does one bear it?

The world seems to be saying, “keep busy, seek pleasure, and do whatever makes you happy” even at the cost of hurting myself and others.  Society wants to turn away from what is painful or inconvenient.  Aversion to failure and suffering abounds.

But what if something catastrophic occurs in our lives?  We lose our jobs, our homes, our marriages?  What if the most horrendous thing happens and our child dies?  Is it possible to run away from such incredible sorrow and live the “good life”?

Frankly, no.

Because perfect joy is not wrapped up in our circumstances.  It  is not manifest in distraction or pleasure.  It’s not even a feeling.

“True happiness is not found in riches or well-being, in human fame or power, or in any human achievement-however beneficial it may be-such as science, technology and art, or indeed in any creature, but in God alone, the source of every good and of all love.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church 1723

The great paradox is that the Source of all joy entered into our suffering and through suffering brought joy to the world.

Pain and suffering are not always the enemy.  In fact, they can be quite the opposite.  Jesus, through His cross, paved the way to show us that we can lean into our own suffering and even embrace it as a means to unite us more closely to Himself.  In suffering we become more detached from the world and more sensible to our calling and purpose in life.

Saints and Christian martyrs have been privilege to this great mystery for ages.  They welcomed pain when it beckoned and even hoped for it as a means to bring them to greater joy.

Consider this poem from St. Thérèse:

“My joy I find in pain and loss,                                                                                                             I love the thorns that guard the rose,                                                                                                    With joy I kiss each heavy cross,                                                                                                                And smile with every tear that flows.                                                                                                      …

‘Tis all for Thee, dear Jesus mine,                                                                                                       Yea, suffering is my gladsome choice;                                                                                               My joy on earth-my bliss divine-                                                                                                             Ah, ’tis to make Thy Heart rejoice!

Since love’s divine, celestial breath                                                                                                   Is all I need my heart to bless,                                                                                                                      What matters life, what matters death?                                                                                                 Love my peace, my happiness!”

I don’t mean to say, however, that suffering well is an easy task.  It takes an extraordinary amount of perseverance.  Surely Jesus wasn’t having a good time when he was beaten half to death and forced to carry a large wooden cross up a steep rocky hill.  In fact, in the Garden of Gethsemane his prayer to the Father was “If it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)  The suffering is very real and difficult.

Just as Jesus fell to the ground on His way to Calvary.  We too will fall.  Many times.  But we do not suffer alone.  Jesus is always walking beside us.   When our strength is gone He carries us.  And just as Simon helped Jesus carry His cross we too can help one another make the difficult journey.

If I really love Jesus more than anything else I can accept my crosses knowing that no matter what happens in this life, my joy can never run dry because its source is an eternal spring of living water.

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:38-39

A Beautiful Life

Three Girls at Eden First Communion

On October 31, 2015 (the Eve of All Saints) our lives were changed forever.

I took our three little girls to a piano recital and only brought two home.  Our oldest daughter Evelyn played her piano piece perfectly, bowed to the audience, and collapsed in front of her two little sisters and everyone else in the piano studio.  I was nearly 7 months pregnant with our youngest son at the time.

Despite heroic efforts on the part of parents in attendance, paramedics, and the emergency room staff, Evie could not be saved.  She likely had an undetected cardiac condition still to be determined.

We lost so much beauty in our family when we lost Evie.  Here is an excerpt from the obituary that my husband wrote:

Evelyn was born in Oxford, England to Chad and Jennifer and was home educated along with her siblings.  Evelyn took delight in reading, drawing, sewing, swimming, practicing piano and guitar, playing dolls with her sisters, exploring nature, and simply being with her friends and family. She was eagerly anticipating the arrival of a baby brother – due to be born later this year – and the opportunity to care for him as a ‘little mommy’. She spoke often about her desire to be a mother and an art teacher when she grew up.

Always smiling, Evelyn was a little girl with enormous joy in her heart and an insatiable sense of wonder and awe for God and the world. She sincerely loved others and was known by all for her eagerness to help, to share, and to bring peace wherever she saw pain or conflict. Evelyn was also known for her abiding sense of contentment: She was satisfied with what she had, asked for very little, and freely gave much away.

The source of Evelyn’s serenity was her intense love for Jesus Christ. She believed that in him she already had everything. Evelyn was an example of prayerfulness, often finding private places to recite the Rosary or forming prayer groups with her friends. She also enjoyed singing hymns with her family, especially those she had memorized in her schooling, and she had a deep affection for the unique presence of Christ in Communion. Many times Evelyn expressed her longing to one day see him face to face and to be counted among the Saints in glory. She found particular inspiration to love and follow Jesus from the very short but extraordinary life of Saint Therese of Liseaux.

There is just no way to comprehend the void that she has left in our family.

The loss was shocking, unexplainable, incomprehensible.  She left behind a nine year-old sister who was her best friend and another little sister who saw her as a second mommy.  She never got to meet a little brother for which she had spent much time praying and her big brother was crushed and angered by the unfairness of it all.

She left behind a dad who took immense pride in his girls.  A dad who read them fairy tales in front of the fire, took them backpacking, had snuggle fests, fed their souls, and danced with her on her birthday.

I was left without my biggest helper–the girl who wanted to do everything and of whom I was incredibly proud.  She was a girl after my own heart and even looked so much like me. We were having such a good school year together spending every morning in prayer, hymns, and studying the Scriptures.

We were in the process of building a mini-farm.  A peaceful place to be together as a family and share our blessings and gifts with others as well.  She was so excited about it.

Everything seemed to be falling into place for us.  It was a beautiful life.

Those early days of loss were excruciating.  Painful beyond words.  Raw.  We were surrounded by so many who loved us and loved her.  Stories emerged of the impact she had on so many.  Doves were seen at her funeral procession, which seemed to stretch on for a mile.  Little fortune cookie papers were stuffed into her First Communion banner with messages that my husband needed to hear at the very moment they were discovered.  As we began to collect her things, we were amazed at what we found.  Little love notes, a journal she began writing to her unborn baby brother, insights into her spirituality.  She had a depth of love for Jesus far beyond her years.

The life that we knew came to an abrupt halt the day Evie died and we were propelled into a reality so painful that it threatened to swallow us whole.  

But it hasn’t swallowed us.  We are still living, breathing, functioning.  We are making it through our days.  Is it still painful?  Yes, incredibly.  Do we still have moments when our longing for her is so great that it takes our breath away?  Absolutely.  Many.  But we also have moments of peace, consolation, and even hope for the future.  And how can that be?

Because death is not the end of the story.  Jesus is the resurrection and the life and He makes all things new.

This blog is an outlet for me to share the insights that the Holy Spirit gives me along this heart-wrenching journey.  My prayer is that it can also be a source of comfort and strength for others–whether you are walking this path yourself or trying to support someone else.

The climb to Calvary eventually leads  to the empty tomb, where every tear is wiped away. Someday we will hold her again and our hope will be fulfilled.  Thank you for joining me on the journey.