Over Thanksgiving weekend, I began to think about my son. Not Carter with his technical know-hows, not Caleb with his contagious smile, and not Christian with his intense desire to become Captain America. No, my other son Kai. He would be 5 months old now. June 20, 2014 is the day he was born. It is also the day he died. The doctors don’t know why he died. We don’t either. On that morning we went to the doctor for the routine 39 week check-up. Matthea and I were laughing and filled with anticipation as we waited for the mid-wife to come into the exam room. This day would be like no other day in our lives. Our laughter quickly turned to horror. Before we could comprehend what was happening we were ushered into the ultrasound room. The mid-wife applied the gel on Matthea’s belly and we saw Kai on the screen. There was no sound of a beating heart. No movement in his chest. Nothing. No more laughter. No more anticipation. Just horror. By the next afternoon Matthea and I were walking in to the funeral home to make arrangements for Kai’s cremation and memorial service. Going to a funeral home is always unexpected. As a pastor, I have been to the funeral home too many times to count. Never was it so difficult to walk through those doors. Even now I can still smell the furniture in the funeral director’s office.
That was 5 months ago. I can remember vivid details as if it just happened. I so desperately want to forget all of it…but also I so desperately want to remember every single part of it. I haven’t written much about it Kai in these 5 months. Matthea has written several powerful posts that you can read here. It even took me a few weeks to speak the words, “my child died.” If you have ever said those words you know the pain they bring. In fact, the words don’t do it justice. In the English language, we have a word for someone whose spouse dies (widow or widower), and someone whose parents die (orphan). There is no word for someone who buries their child. It isn’t supposed to happen. Of course what bad things are “supposed” to happen?
The bad things do happen. The hard things happen in life. If anyone told you that becoming a follower of Jesus would mean that no bad things happen…well, they lied to you. Life happens. Life has the good and the bad. The ups and the downs. Being a follower of Jesus means that you have a relationship with the author and creator of life. He doesn’t spare us the hurts and the sorrows that everyone experiences. We wish He would. Sometimes. The reality is that we can really learn and really grow in the hard times. Somehow through our pain we can see Him in new ways. We see His love in new ways. We see other people in new ways.
The key to growing in our pain is simply to embrace it. In the American church culture we are almost taught to pretend the pain isn’t there. We are taught to put on a mask. Someone asks “how are you?” and we are supposed to say “I’m good. How are you?” I have been part of churches with good mask-wearing people. Mask-wearers face many dangers. Mask-wearing is a 2-edged sword. On one side, we don’t embrace our own struggles. We don’t acknowledge the reality of our situation. On the other side we feel isolated. When everyone is wearing masks we think we are the only one with struggles. I have seen this played out too many times in the people’s lives. Take off your mask. Be honest. Embrace your reality. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be shocked when someone removes their mask. In fact, unmasking is contagious!
I thank God for bringing people into my life who allow me to take off my masks. To be open and honest. I thank God for my wife. As we journey together we grow together and heal together. I thank God for my church family. Are we perfect? No (this is because our church is made up of imperfect people). Our church family is journeying together through life. I thank God for people in our church who are not afraid to remove their masks and share their pain. As we do that together, we heal together and we see Jesus at the center of our healing. When a group of people walk together through healing, we can all lean on each other. It is a beautiful thing. God created us to be in relationship with Jesus and in relationship with one another.
The picture below shows what was hung outside our hospital room in the labor and delivery unit on June 20th. You see, in the labor and delivery unit, there is excitement and anticipation. Each person coming into the room, whether nurse, or staff, or housekeeping, is happy for you. They are excited too. Every once in a while there is a family in the labor room who has no excitement. There is no anticipation. There is no laughter. There are only tears. The staff hang these on the door so that all who enter know what’s behind the door. I wish we could make these for people to wear as necklaces. We all have days we need to let others know what is happening behind the door of our heart. You can take off your mask. It is safe.