Six years ago on Saturday morning, March 29, I awoke to my absolute worst nightmare. Puzzled as to why my baby hadn’t awakened to nurse yet, I went to get him up, finding him unresponsive in his crib. Billy had died of SIDS, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Our hearts, lives, and dreams were completely shattered. The moments, hours, days, and months that followed were the darkest and most painful I’ve ever experienced.
I had no idea that within my deepest suffering, I would discover some of God’s most beautiful truths and promises. I never fathomed the depth of love I could feel at the same time that my heart had been inflicted with its deepest pain. I had no clue that in just over the next few years, God would use our son’s life- and death- to bring healing in our own hearts and marriage, and to reach hundreds of other hurting families, bringing healing and hope to them.
I could share so much as I reflect on the pain, the healing, the questioning and doubting God, the faithfulness of God, the power of blame and guilt, and God’s miraculous work of redeeming our losses. But what weighs most heavily on my heart and mind on this sixth anniversary of my son’s passing is something I read a few days before Billy died.
I had recently started reading Stormie O’Martian’s book The Power of a Praying Parent. We had Avery, who had just turned 2, and Billy who was nearing 5 months. I don’t even know the words to describe my delight in being a mommy. It was my greatest dream come true! (besides finding the love of my life, my husband!) I was so excited to raise our children to know and love the Lord, and O’Martian’s book helped me discipline myself to pray regularly for them.
A few days before Billy died, I was reading the chapter entitled, “Releasing My Child Into God’s Hands.” Of course I read the title in a figurative sense. I even remember discussing it with God something like this as I read the chapter--
“God, I love my children SO much! I love watching them grow, and I cannot wait for the days, months, and years and years and years we have ahead with them! Sure- I know you want us to ‘give them back to you,’ but I mean, really- you wouldn’t give us these most precious of gifts - and then take them away from us?! I can’t imagine. Anyway, I love them more than I can even put into words. This motherhood thing is greater than I could have even imagined it! And I’ve dreamed of being a mommy for a long time! Gosh, God- everything just seems perfect- so, sure- of course I “give” Avery and Billy over to you....”
Little did I know that I would begin my test of really “giving my children to the Lord” just a few days later. I look back now and replay the events of that horrifying Saturday morning. I can still clearly see Bill gently yet desperately placing Billy in the hands of the fireman, begging him to save Billy’s life. That vivid image forever imprinted in my mind is, I believe, like us handing our children, in faith, over to God. We tell him we trust him- “but you’d better save his life, God.”
But God didn’t save Billy. Well, not in the way I would have had it happen. But he never took his hand off my son. I couldn’t understand it then, but I realize it now. God did save Billy. About 2000 years ago, he laid down his very own life so that my son, when he took his last breath on earth on March 29, 2008, would take his very next breath in the presence of his living, loving, eternal King, in a place where only everlasting peace and joy prevail! And a promise accompanies that ultimate sacrifice- that I get to see Billy again one day- forever. Those revelations bring incredible comfort and hope, allowing me to confidently and fully entrust my child to God.
In the same chapter that O’Martian discusses releasing our children into God’s hands, she references Isaiah 55:12- “For you shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing before you.” She then writes, “(God) gave me the knowledge and assurance that after the initial pain of releasing our children there comes joy and peace, both for them and us. Because we know that no matter what stage of life our children are in, when we release them to God they are in good hands. We know that they will go forth in peace and joy and God will make a way for them. He will do the same for us, too." (The Power of a Praying Parent, p.34)
That really impacted me today as I reread this chapter. It is true that when I finally “released” Billy FULLY to God, which was several months after his death, joy and peace began to fill my heart once again. In fact, a fuller joy and peace than I’d ever felt before. And again, I realized, too, that while we were here weeping over Billy's lifeless body, he had "(gone) forth in peace and joy” into the presence of his loving, protecting Savior, where there is no weeping, no pain, and no sorrow.
Even the part of the verse referring to the mountains and hills breaking forth in song is significant to our family. After Billy died, we left the mountains- the place where we wholeheartedly enjoyed raising our family- to move back near family. Bill said the mountains were “forever tainted” for him, and that he’d never return. But two years later, as part of God’s miraculous redemption and healing, we moved our growing family back to Colorado. And one of our very favorite activities is camping in our beautiful, majestic mountains.
There is still an emptiness and pain in my heart that will not fully heal until I reach heaven myself one day. But much of my broken heart has been pieced back together so gently and purposefully by my God who has become so much more real and precious to me through my suffering. Even as I sit here typing this blog, I hear one of my sons (God blessed us with 2 more sons after Billy) singing himself to sleep. A stark contrast to my weeping myself to sleep six years ago this very night.
I go out with joy, I am led with peace, and the mountains and hills around me most certainly sing the glory of a good, good, God. A God worth entrusting all my children to, completely.