Sara writes a lot more on our blog here about grief than I do. A lot of that has to do with how we are hard wired so differently. I usually have a more difficult time sharing the more personal aspects of life unless there’s a solid biblical lesson or exhortation I can pull out of it. Like most men, I don’t typically wear my emotions very close to the surface, though Sara often reminds me how much of it is actually written on my face like it’s God’s billboard. A lot of times, I can’t really even describe what I’m feeling in the moment and it may take some time before I can adequately put it into coherent thoughts.Keep reading
In my last post, I pointed out from John 16:33 how we, as Christians, will inevitably experience trials and tragedies in life. It is simply one of those unfortunate truths brought about by a sin-cursed world and fallen humanity. We will find ourselves in various valleys throughout life. Some of them will be a shallow dip between mountain tops while others will be a deep and arduous descent that will test our faith in the worst ways. My main point last time was that how we live and prepare on the mountain tops will determine how well we are able to navigate through those valleys. This time, I want to give you three spiritual preparations that will help you prepare now, before you come to your next valley. If you are in a valley now, these things will be a great help to you in your climb out.
The first, and most important spiritual preparation you need to make is to take care of your eternity. Do you know for sure that you will join Jesus in heaven when you die? Chances are good that if you’re reading my blog, it is likely you either have that matter settled or have been presented with this truth before. However, if you have found your way here because you are struggling with deep grief and/or the loss of a child, let me pause for a moment and tell you something.
Jesus tells us in John 10:10 that He came to give us life, and an abundant one at that. The first step toward that is to recognize our need for God. You see, we are all sinners (Rom 3:10-23) and because of that sin, we are separated from God and are destined to spend eternity in Hell to pay for that sin (Rom 6:23; John 3:18-20; Rev 20:11-15). The bad news is that there is nothing we can do to fix our situation (Eph 2:8-9). The good news is that God loved us so much that He paid for our sin Himself (John 3:16) and all we need to do is acknowledge our situation and accept His gracious payment by calling on Him for forgiveness and salvation (Rom 10:13). If you want to get this settled and aren’t sure what to do next, please send me a message. I desperately want to hear from you and help you.
Now, why did I stop to make sure that matter was settled? I mean you didn’t come here for a sermon and altar call right? Well I’m glad you asked. Without Christ, your valley will be deeper, darker, and more desperate. If you lean only on people, they will disappoint you. If you lean only on yourself, you will find the support is rickety. You may eventually find a way to live with your pain and be less sad or depressed, but apart from God, you will find no true and lasting healing. Understanding eternity and God’s desire to spend it with you is the only thing that can truly transcend your pain. Whether you can overcome grief in the next year or you have to live with it until you draw your last breath, your pain is ultimately temporary if you have Christ (Isa 25:8; Rev 7:17, 21:4).
The second spiritual preparation you need to make is to prioritize the things of God. If you want to be able to lean on God in your valley, you have to be close to Him first. We often have this tendency to neglect spiritual disciplines such as prayer and Bible reading when times are good and forget that we’re supposed to be walking with God. Then we wonder with amazement why God seems so far away in the hard times. It’s not that He has abandoned us. It’s because we have wandered off the path He is leading us down and ultimately away from Him. If you want the comfort and healing of God in the valley, you need to stay close to Him on the mountain top. When times are good, it’s important to develop and cement your prayer, reading, and church attendance habits. It’s important to establish and cultivate those relationships with other Christians that will be a great source of help and comfort in your times of need. It’s important to get involved in a ministry or two of your church. All of these things are ways you can draw close to God, and you can rest assured that He will draw close to you at the same time (Jas 4:8)
The third spiritual preparation you need to make is so simple that it’s often neglected as a silly exercise. You need to count your blessings. Some of the best medicine for both prevention and treatment of a sad soul is the realization of how blessed we truly are. If you are reading this post, it is likely that you have a computer (or smartphone) and an internet connection which means you have (or have been provided) expendable income and the spare time and freedom to do so. That in itself makes you more fortunate than a vast number of people in this world. As Americans, we generally have our real needs met (food and shelter) and are concerned more with how much excess we have. God has promised that if we put Him and His business first, He will provide for our needs (Matt 6:33). Everything beyond that is truly a gracious blessing. Whether you list them out on paper (which I highly recommend on occasion) or simply enumerate them in your head, counting your blessings will show you just how bright and vivid your life really is with Christ and make the dreary portrait we paint in the midst of our grief seem a little less real.
I’m not promising that these three spiritual preparations will insulate you from all pain and grief or that they will immediately wipe away all sorrows. What I will promise is that if you employ them in your life consistently regardless of whether you are on a mountain top or in a valley, those tops will be a higher, those valleys won’t be as low, and wherever you are, life will be infinitely richer.
I thought I would explain the story behind our blog name for my first post. “Broods” and “Bible” are pretty easy to figure out to mean family and faith, but the butterflies portion likely isn’t so cut and dry unless you have stood where we do and think along those same lines. First, a little back story to it…..
Last summer I read an article on Facebook about a momma that was advocating for hospitals in the UK to place a purple butterfly sticker on bassinets of babies that were part of a multiple pregnancy in which one or more babies were lost. The butterfly sticker was to alert other parents as well as hospital staff members to a very sensitive matter: the immense grief of losing one (or more) infant while still caring for a living baby as well. I remember we had just found out about our identical twin boys, Luke and Asher, shortly before I read this article and it hit me how terribly sad this situation was, however, the momma written about in the article lost one of her sweet girls to anecephaly, which we knew already our babies did not have. In fact, our little guys were perfectly healthy, so aside from being incredibly heartbroken for this momma and daddy, it wasn’t personal to me because we were already passed that initial “safe zone” and had reached the second trimester with two healthy babies. You see, early loss was a loss that I connected with already and knew could happen to me because it had happened to me; but late loss was a different story. And even more that just a late loss; loss of ONE baby was an entirely different story as well. Again, even though I was carrying twins already, I just kind of assumed that either both babies would make it or both wouldn’t except for the situations like this momma’s where one had an abnormality that was always fatal.
Fast forward to September 27, 2016, I was having contractions. Although they were completely painless for me, I knew they were also very regular and having had two very fast deliveries, I knew I needed to get into the doctor to be seen right away. I had gone in the day before due to a couple of issues, but was eventually sent home as the contractions I was having weren’t doing anything and the other issues weren’t immediately dangerous or needing to be addressed. I honestly thought that I would be sent home this day as well. However, I got settled in and the doctor on call came by and discovered I was dilated to a 5, which meant our babies were on their way that day for certain. I was only 30 weeks and 6 days pregnant, so we knew that meant a long NICU stay for both boys. What we didn’t expect was that only one of our sweet boys would make it out of the operating room alive. All of the issues we’d been having as well as the events of that day are for another post, but suddenly that story I’d read about several months before had become our reality. Having our survivor, Asher, in a big unit full of other LIVING twins was so difficult. Seeing only his name on his bassinet was really hard for me because spread all throughout the NICU were bassinets with “twin A” or “twin B” on them. We should have had two bassinets with babies in them. Instead, we only had one. We are so thankful for that one, but having Asher here didn’t and won’t take away the pain of losing Luke. I longed for Asher’s bassinet to say “twin B” in addition to his name plaque. Or even for a purple butterfly sticker….
So because of this article we’d read previously, the butterfly kind of became our symbol for Luke. I originally chose the butterfly because of the article, but since then it has become so much more for me. I love seeing butterflies out in the world, whether real or otherwise, but we definitely in no way think that Luke has taken the form of a butterfly and come to say hello or even that he has sent them as signs to us. However, I do know that God knows that we have chosen the butterfly as his symbol and believe that He will randomly put them in our lives as a reminder of His love for us and for Luke. When I see a butterfly, I feel God’s love for me despite my pain. I know that He grieves with me for my sweet baby, but I also know that Luke is in heaven; happy and whole with Him. I miss my baby every single day, but it’s truly a help to me knowing these things, so I love seeing butterflies when I’m out and about.
I also like the butterfly as Luke’s symbol not only because of the connection with twin loss, but because I feel like I am very much like the butterfly. Butterflies start out as caterpillars and must go through the process of metamorphosis to change into the beautiful creatures they are. In my opinion, caterpillars aren’t the most majestic or graceful creatures to begin with, but God created them to change who they are through a process that isn’t terribly appealing and probably even a bit painful. I mean, who wants to stop eating, wrap themselves in a casing and hang out (without eating) for weeks, months, or even years while their bodies undergo rapid and massive changes?! Losing Luke has been a continuing point for my transformation from a self-centered, selfish, high-strung momma, wife, friend, and human being into something hopefully much more beautiful than I ever would have become otherwise. It has been a very painful experience to go through this rapid growth and change; but in the end, a caterpillar’s purpose isn’t able to be fulfilled without being transformed into a beautiful butterfly.
(double ribbon for Twinless twin awareness was created by a sweet momma on a Parents of Twinless Twins support group page and is free to use for this cause)