The Good News

The Good News

An old pastor friend of ours used to start almost every conversation by asking the same question. “Hey, have you heard the good news?”

When I first started visiting with him, the question caught me off guard a couple of times. He was generally a very upbeat guy, so I was, of course, curious to hear what he was up to and what the good news would be that time.

I soon discovered the answer was always the same.

At first, I thought his conversation opener was cute, and something I’d expect any preacher to open dialogue with. Eventually, though, I found myself answering begrudgingly, “Yes, I know…”, then I’d finish his answer for him.

I had things to talk about, problems to pray over – I needed to get to the point. I didn’t have time to rehash the same good news every time we spoke.

Except that attitude was a window into my immature, selfish self. The good news that was the same every time he asked the question, has never been topped. Never been beaten. Never been outdone by any other good news. The same good news he wanted to make sure I – and everyone – knew all those years ago, is the same good news I find myself intentionally remembering each and every day now.

Have you heard the good news?

Today is Easter – a holiday I didn’t grow up celebrating as anything religious, even though I would have been considered an inherently religious person even as a child. We tended to separate the celebration from the circumstance, and it wasn’t until I was an adult I understood the history and correlation. It turns out rabbits, eggs, and marshmallows had nothing to do with Easter in the early days. Who knew?

Matthew 28: After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.

So, have you heard the good news?

The tomb is empty!

He has risen, just as he said!

Why does it matter? Why is it news at all, let alone good news?

The whole new testament can answer that. From my own personal experience, though, the answer is simple: without His resurrection, I have no hope.

No hope of an eternal future. No hope of salvation. No hope of being redeemed. Forgiven. Cleansed. No hope of ever seeing Harlynn again. No hope. Period.

Have you heard the good news? The tomb is empty!

And there is hope.

Whatever your Easter has in store for you, whatever season you’re in right now, He is hope. He is good news. He is all the answers, all the solutions, all the help you’ll need. He is risen.

He died a gruesome death, killed in anger for having done no wrong. And though He longed for there to be some other way, He willingly sacrificed himself for my sake. For your sake. For all our sakes. He healed the sick, the disabled, and performed miracle after miracle, but he proved His love by following through to his brutal finish.

Then, just as He said, He rose. He conquered. He overcame death.

And there is hope.

And every day, I intentionally remember He died so that I might live. He rose again so that we all could know and believe He is who He says He is. Easter is a chance for us to call attention to His resurrection to those who may not otherwise know of Him. Just as importantly, however, it’s a chance for us to reflect and remember what He did out of love for us, and give us insight into all we can do out of love for others.

So friend, have you heard the good news?

When God Speaks: Olive’s Story

It’s the most vile of circumstances, to bury your baby. Yet there are so many parents who walk that road. So many.

Since losing Harlynn, I’ve met and befriended several fellow bereaved parents. There’s a solidarity among bereaved parents. An unspoken bond that separates us from the rest of the world, and joins us together in a new one.

Nate and Lindsay are two of our dearest friends. We wouldn’t have crossed paths were it not for our similar situations. We both lost our daughters.

At Lindsay’s 20 week ultrasound, it was discovered their baby girl, Dayton Elizabeth, was “incompatible with life”. Dayton had Limb Body Wall Complex (LBWC). After Dayton’s diagnosis, Lindsay and I began communicating. November 14, 2013, she was born, living only briefly before passing to heaven. It wasn’t until Dayton’s funeral Lindsay and I met in person.

Since then, their family has become an invaluable part of ours. Their son, Noah, is a few months younger than Little Miss. Their difference in age is no obstacle in their friendship, however. Those two are ridiculously excited to spend time with one another, and it’s adorable and precious watching them play. They both have a younger sister in heaven. And now, they both have a younger sibling who’s here – healthy and alive. They, too, have an unspeakable bond.

Olive

Baby Olive is Noah’s little sister who was born just this February. When I got the message baby Olive had been named, I was just drifting off to snooze. I wasn’t sure how I felt about the name Olive, but I wasn’t going to spend time figuring it out, because I was tired and wanted to fall asleep. I wasn’t supposed to nap just then, however.

As I closed my eyes and tried to get comfortable, I felt like God was sitting down in front of my face, asking me not to go to sleep yet. He had something to tell me, and I needed to hear it. He gave me a stirring in my heart, and I was very much awake. Through communicating in a way only God can, He impressed the importance of this baby’s name upon me. I was stunned. I had to tell Nate and Lindsay. I had to tell them what God had revealed to me about their baby girl’s name.

Val & Baby Olive, and Lindsay & Little Man.
Val & Baby Olive, and Lindsay & Little Man.

Their son, Noah, has a significant name. Noah was one of God’s favored, and God had big plans for him. He built an ark and saved creation for heaven’s sake. He’s kind of a big deal in the old testament. He was obedient to God, following His will, and a man after the very heart of serving his Lord. God saved him from the savagest of storms. He still had to endure the storm – absolutely – but he lived through it.

When the ark finally settled and the rain had stopped, Noah sent a dove out of the ark. It came back empty-beaked. The next time Noah sent the dove, it brought back an olive branch. The third time, the dove found a place to nest and didn’t return.

An olive branch. Brought by a dove. Do you see the significance here? A dove – the universal sign of peace. An olive branch. A sign of hope. New life. Promise. That branch was the significant beginning of a new season of the Lord’s promise of renewal and restoration of life. Baby Olive is that branch extended to the hearts of Nate, Lindsay, and Noah.

10 He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. 11 When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. (Genesis 8)

Noah is an incredible kid, and I know he will grow up very attuned to the voice of God. I know he has big shoes to fill. And Olive – she is a beautiful baby who brings beautiful promise to her family.

When I told Nate and Lindsay what God had laid on my heart, they couldn’t believe it. They had agonized over what to name her, and the story of Noah and the ark never crossed their mind. It’s more than just a story, though. It’s a fulfilled purpose. There is no accident in the names of their children. God knew. He knew Olive’s name before her parents did. He knew Dayton’s name. He knew Noah’s.

I hate how I know Nate and Lindsay. I hate the reason they were brought into our lives. I hate we share that thread. But I love them dearly, as my own brother and sister, and I can’t imagine my life without them. The fact that God would speak so prophetically through me – as I was about to take a Sunday snooze – blows me away. But the fact that the message was for and because of a family so very dear to me, makes it all the more special.

There is no detail that does not pass through His hands first. He is the God of miracles. He is the God of life. Even when death leaves us with its intense sting, God is still the God of life.

I, for one, am thrilled to be able to watch the lives of Noah and Olive unfold. Their story is just beginning. I can tell it’s going to be a good one.

The Aftermath

Last week was a tough one. In anticipation of two years since we lost Harlynn, my emotions were running high. Thursday night was the hardest on me. I cried relentlessly that night, not allowing myself a hint of sleep until well after the 12:16 a.m. delivery time. Friday morning when I woke up, my eyes were sore, puffy, and longing to see the precious face of a little girl who isn’t here.

The weekend itself was hard. Living without your child is hard. There is no word, really, to explain it. “Hard” seems like something you’d say about a test you weren’t prepared for. Or trying to change a tire without a torque wrench. Those things are hard. But to live without your child? To know my living children are without their sister? To know Little Miss won’t have those tea parties, or yell at her sister for borrowing her clothes, or keep secrets with her sister from their little brother…. I still can’t fathom it. I still can’t believe, or understand, how this is our life.

a little bit swirly

Today is difficult as well. Even though the anniversary of her death was last week, I’m struggling today. Tomorrow will be two years since we buried her. I remember the 15th two years ago – how I was thankful for the snow storm the night before that made us reschedule her funeral, because it meant she was above ground for one more day. One more day. What I would give now for one more day…

The difficulty in the days since the 10th has been surprising to me. I spent so much energy preparing myself for the 10th, and was quite drained afterward. The fact is the 11th was no better than the 10th. The day after the anniversary of her silent entry into this world was no easier. Every day is spent without her. Every day there are reminders of what “should” have been.

It’s all part of the tide that is grief. I’ve said before, as I stand on the shore of life, the waves gently tickle at my toes. I stand stationary, enjoying the relaxing, harmless lap of the water. Whether it creeps in slowly, or rushes in, the tide changes without any concern for my well-being. Where I once stood in calm and peaceful reflection, I’m now flailing in the sand, gasping for air, and wondering if this will be wave that does me in. Just as it comes in, the tide eventually leaves, though it takes me a while to recover from being thrashed around. I sit up, weakened from the beatings of the waves. Eventually, I stand again, embraced by calm and peace. I know what will come, eventually, yet it always takes me by surprise. I always struggle just the same. I always wrestle my strength completely away, and have to spend time recovering.

It’s not unique to my situation. This is how grief works. There is no getting over it. There is only getting through – each time it rears itself.

This morning, I went to get Little Man from his crib, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him so happy to see me. His smile, excited waving, and giggles are all the jump start I need to have a blessed morning. Little Miss loves to say “Good morning, mama!” and snuggle before starting her day. I have a wonderful life. I have a blessed life. I have so much I’m thankful for, and appreciative of.

And I still suffer.

It’s the price of being human. It’s the price of being mortal, and imperfect. And in the aftermath of this past week, I’m once again picking up the pieces of myself that seem scattered across so many emotions and moments and responsibilities.

I suppose this is why our verse for Harlynn resonated so profoundly with my husband when he suggested we adopt it to use for her brief life.

I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

We suffer. We grieve. We ache. We get pounded by the waves of grief and sadness. Then, we stand. We faithfully plant our feet once again. We hold fast to the promise that no matter what we endure, He has overcome. All of it. Pain. Sadness. Evil. Death. He has overcome. And no matter the weight of the aching we carry in our hearts, it also fills with hope and anticipation. One day, (soon, I pray) everything we suffer or endure will be no more.

We will no longer be separated from Harlynn. We will no longer know her in death. We will no longer feel defeated or desperate. He has overcome. And we will be lifted up. Carried. Embraced. Renewed.

That is the aftermath I live for. That is the aftermath I long to experience.