My wife and I have never met our first child. We lost the baby during the pregnancy, in the early stages before we even knew for sure if it was a girl. But we both knew she was a girl. We named her Hannah Grace, and yesterday would have been her 16th birthday. Years ago I wrote about Hannah for an Irish magazine called 4you. I posted that article on the blog in 2018, and I’m reposting it today in honour of the daughter we look forward to meeting for the first time in Heaven.
It’s taking too long. That’s how I know my world is crumbling. The midwife can’t find what she’s looking for. She keeps trying, but every new effort is the ringing of steeple bells tolling a funeral. Not a formal, prepared, eulogised, dressed-in-black funeral. No, this is an impromptu affair, with no time to think, and no black shoes to look at as I stare at the floor. But I can’t just stare at the floor, people are talking to me. I have to concentrate to keep looking at them. I have to focus. It’s not their fault. They’re trying to help. I need to be polite and listen. What about my wife? She must be feeling the same as me. No, she must be feeling worse. After all, Hannah is still inside her. Hannah who we weren’t even sure was a girl (but we knew). Hannah who was a world of new life and dreams. Hannah who we have the little dress waiting for at home in a room right across the hall so we can hear her if she cries…
Growing up in Alabama, I loved snacking on sunflower seeds. I would crack the shells open and pull out a tiny little bit of deliciousness from each one. It’s hard to stop, once you start on them—especially if they’re salted. It’s also hard to imagine how those tiny tasty little seeds could ever become the massive plants that grow higher than my head and make flowers bigger than my face. When you think of it it’s kind of shocking, isn’t it?
Imagine showing someone who had never seen a sunflower that tiny seed in its tiny shell and trying to describe to them what would happen if they planted it in the ground. Imagine being the person that had never seen a sunflower, and trying to get your head around the idea that the little grey nothing in your hand could transform so completely into something so impressive and colourful. If all you knew was the seed, how could you ever guess the flower?
I hope you had a good celebration this Easter. There really is nothing better in the world to celebrate—the resurrection of Jesus changes everything. Here’s a short poem I wrote as I thought about what Easter means for my future:
Halloween is a dark holiday, but I don’t find it very scary. Costumes and plastic skeletons don’t intimidate me. It’s all pretend, and for most people, the main point is sugar. I find the news headlines in my Twitter feed a lot more terrifying. Some of the themes are the same—darkness, death, and evil running free. I guess the decorative ghosts and tombstones and skeletons do contain an element of realism: there is real darkness in this world, and real death. At our point in history, there’s no question that the real skeletons on this planet outnumber the living humans by a long shot. That’s a sobering thought. And there are plenty of other fears for those of us who aren’t skeletons yet—from disease and disaster to dystopian decisions and disturbing trends and growing disorder and disunity, you don’t have to look far to get a fright these days.
In Luke 21, Jesus warned his disciples about difficult days that were coming. He said, “People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world.” Does that sound familiar? But he tells his disciples: “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Cities have long lives. Many of the buildings stand basically unchanged as multiple generations of humans pass through their doors. The streets bear the traffic of life down the same old paths, through days and nights and decades, like ever-flowing rivers. It all looks the same, feels the same, year after year. Even the construction is familiar, the same cranes popping up in different places, the same traffic cones and men at work signs slowing down different roads in turn. Yes, some things do change, but the newness wears off quickly as the changes blend into the familiarity around them.
I was in the passenger seat, and my friend was behind the wheel. At least, I wanted him to be my friend, if I could manage it. He was new on my dorm at university, and I was keen to be on good terms if at all possible. The trip was long enough for good conversations, but they weren’t happening the way I expected. My best questions were being answered with a few short words, and my most interesting conversational topics were slipping away like so many wet bars of soap. The trip had hardly begun and I was already struggling for something to say. Silence grew in the space between words. Suddenly, an inspiration: I saw a funeral home.
Christianity is full of surprising reversals. Just think of Good Friday, where the King of Heaven abolishes the power of death—by dying in our place! He said, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.” And that’s exactly what he did—first the dying, then the bearing much fruit. Now, he calls us to follow him in the same way: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” As we approach Easter, I’ve been thinking a lot about this–what does it look like for me, right now? How is my own life reshaped and redirected by these reversals? These are the things I was thinking of when I wrote this poem:
I’ve always loved poetry as a medium, always felt that somehow the structure and rhythm of it helps me feel the impact of the meaning of the words more deeply. Maybe that’s why there is so much poetry in the Bible. This year I’ve enjoyed trying out the added layer of doing poetry as spoken word. It’s obviously homemade, but here’s my attempt at capturing a few thoughts about legacy:
One of my favourite places near our house is a little graveyard up the hill behind our village. Yes, I know how odd that sounds. I don’t even have relatives there; I know nothing about the people buried in that small patch of ground except what is written on their monuments and of course that they used to live where I live and breathe the same air and somebody cared enough about them to put up a stone in their honour.
This is the most unusual Easter weekend any of us have ever seen, and hopefully ever will. The sun is blazing where I live, but we can’t go out and we can’t even have church services to mark the most important day in the Christian calendar. This Easter Sunday will be different, to say the least. But I can’t stop thinking about Easter Saturday.
It’s the day we normally set aside for egg hunts and preparation for Sunday’s celebrations. It’s the day that even the gospels skim over, the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The day between death and resurrection. The day when Jesus’ disciples were heartbroken and hopeless, even though they were only one day away from seeing the greatest victory the world has ever known.