This week twelve years ago, we should have been welcoming our firstborn child, but she wasn’t here. I’ve written about the day we found out about Hannah’s death in this post. This week, in honour of the daughter we haven’t met (yet), I’m sharing a poem I wrote shortly afterwards to process my thoughts about God and the death of a child.
These days, the world is literally at our fingertips, connected like never before. We can get instant updates on just about everything – live sports scores from New Zealand, political manoeuvring in Washington or Brussels, and what our holiday-making friends are eating or drinking – right now.
There’s a gateway to all this excitement sitting in my pocket, and it’s vibrating…
Ten years ago today, I got on an airplane in Washington DC with my pregnant wife and one year old son, and we all left the only country we’d ever lived in. The airport was busy with people heading the other direction: it was Barack Obama’s Inauguration Day, 2009. A couple of meals and movies later, we landed in Ireland. We were met at the airport by coworkers, and on the way home we stopped at Pizza Hut. During the meal, my wife noticed that we had left the diaper bag in the trunk. No problem, our coworker was happy to get the nappy bag out of the boot. We looked at each other and knew: it might be Pizza Hut, but it was definitely not America!
There was a time last year when my lungs started going on strike. Every breath became a rattling effort, and time only seemed to make it worse. So, like any sane person who can’t breath, I went to the doctor. She told me I had pneumonia, but was quick to add that she was very accepting of my unique breathing style and would support me in my new lifestyle. Then she sent me home.
When you have three children under ten, there’s no point taking a vote on where to go out to eat. You’ll be outnumbered, and there’s only one option in this area that offers the triple crown of childhood meals: nuggets, toy, and balloon – it’s going to be McDonald’s. This was our reality at the beginning of 2016, so after an event in the city one weekend, we made tracks for the Golden Arches. I don’t remember the toy that day (most of those things are forgotten by everyone a few nanoseconds after we get home, only to be rediscovered later inside the couch or under a seat in the car), but I’ll never forget Rebekah’s balloon. She picked it out before the meal, carefully selecting the pink one for herself, distinct from the blue and green of her brothers. She ate next to it happily, and played with her toy. Then we got up to leave, walked out the door, and when she spotted the sky, her eyes lit up. She held her balloon as high as she could and stood up on her toes… but something was wrong. A cloud of disappointment moved over her sunny smile:
“I thought it would make me go up”
A new year is upon us, and along with it the usual deluge of gym membership deals, diet programs, and wellness resolutions. Of course, many of these good intentions won’t last to the end of January, but that’s beside the point. The question is: how did we get to the place where most of us genuinely need a yearly re-focus on our own fitness? In the long history of the world, this is an anomaly. If we worked all day labouring in fields or factories, we wouldn’t need extra fitness goals. If we didn’t have a cozy car to ferry us around, we’d get more steps on the pedometer. If we did all the dishes and laundry by hand, chopped our own wood for heat, and got up early to milk the cows, we’d probably never think of making a special trip to the gym. Sure, we wouldn’t have time for it anyway!
I do realise that Good Friday is actually a separate holiday from Christmas. But I also realise that if it hadn’t been for Good Friday, we’d have no reason to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Christmas is about how the same God we all tried to push away came down and invaded our world anyway, come to rescue us from the broken reality we created, come to give us life at the cost of his own. Even at Christmas, the shadow of the cross hangs over the manger, and the glory of Easter resurrection is just around the bend! So this Christmas, I submit to you that a poem about Good Friday is not out of season: