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I used to wish I had a more interesting story.

We moved around when I was growing up, so I didn't have much in the way of close friends. I had been in church since birth and can't remember a time when I wasn't a follower of Jesus. I mostly stayed out of trouble and had a supportive and loving family.

I didn't have much context for grief, either. I never had someone I was really close with die, not even a grandparent. My only living grandparent since I was born is my dad's mother, who is still with us at 95 years old.

Not that I would ever want to go through hardship or loss, but there were times when I would speak to someone who had been in one of life's valleys and the way they would talk about Jesus was clearly different than what I had experienced. Sometimes there was anger or despair, and sometimes there was a closeness and love that seemed impossible. Neither of those descriptions lined up as something I could identify with.

When you grow up in church, you hear people talk about "experiencing Jesus' love" and "knowing Jesus" and I made the assumption that I knew exactly what they were talking about. Don't get me wrong, I was a believer, a follower, and even sometimes something I would consider a disciple, but it always felt like it could be deeper. Jesus was more of a loving relative, someone who I knew cared for me and would be there for me if I asked, but we didn't "know each other's stories".

This shouldn't be a huge shock to anyone though because as a fairly strong introvert, I don't open up too often. The other introverts reading this know what I mean, but for those big E's with us: it wasn't because I didn't want to, it just doesn't come naturally. For me, depth in any relationship has to come naturally, or it feels disingenuous.

Fast forward to the late '00's and early '10's and I began to realize, through some amazing relationships with other believers, that what I was missing was maturity. When people generally speak of maturity, we use it in a way that makes it seem like a natural (or spiritual) gift, something to aspire to or work towards. In reality, similar to humility, maturity can only come from adversity and hardship, not earned through effort. In the same way that 'wisdom is the application of evaluated experience', maturity is a change in perspective due to past events.

Practically, we see this play out in those people we know, and often look up to, that seem to have a slightly deeper understanding, or perhaps comfort, in a particular situation or season of life. Often that is because in that area they have made mistakes, experienced loss, pain or hardship, and now have a greater understanding or respect in that area. They have gained a new perspective.

For me, this has been coming to life for the last 7 years. I have always struggled with conceptualizing normal life goals for myself. When I would see someone get married, buy a house or have children, I had a hard time putting those pieces together in my mind's eye. It wasn't quite "that can't happen to me", because it wasn't a state of self-pity or depression, it was as if my reality was the haze of a dream, and at any moment the haze would vanish and I would return to the world of normalcy where the reality was that nothing had really changed.

This was seldom more evident than when I asked my then girlfriend, Kristi, to be my wife. She said yes, and it took until after our wedding day for me to relax in the understanding that it had actually happened. The year of planning that went into that day wasn't truly committed to my story until we walked out of that church as husband and wife.

It would be two years into our marriage before we started our journey towards parenthood, and I was still getting used to the idea that I was married. We had known all along that we wanted to be parents, but we spent a couple years getting settled into a routine of life and comfort with each other before we decided it was time. It didn't hurt that our circle of friends had all been married within a few months of each other, and now we were all preparing to take the next step in life around the same time.

It's different for everyone, but for me the idea of kids was right up there with marriage on the "I am not sure this is something I am really going to get to do" list. It has nothing to do with any rational concern, it was simply my own lack of maturity in the area. I had been a child, I knew children, and I even had a niece and two nephews at the time. None of that could give me the perspective of being the agent of God in the creation of a new life.

I was so naΓ―ve that I had "water cooler" conversations, as a newly married man, that went like this:

Me: "If your family was in a sinking boat, and you could only save you wife OR your kids, which would you choose?"
Co-worker with kids: "My kids, of course"
Me: "See, now I just don't know about that. You know, you and your wife had those kids, and if they were gone, you still have your wife. If you save them, then your wife is gone and it's all over."
Co-worker with kids: "Man, I get how you could say that now, but wait until you have kids, it changes everything."

I was a fool. I lacked the maturity to understand what children actually mean to parents. I knew deep down that my perspective was limited and it would surely change, but not until I had the experience to develop that maturity.

Likewise, I had known people who had miscarriages before, in fact, my own brother and sister-in-law had experienced the loss of an early pregnancy. When events happen around me in life, the same two mechanism tend to trigger: 
  1. "This is what happens to other people" - Like knowing someone who gets cancer at a young age, or loses their house to a natural disaster, or even loses a loved one. It happens to other people, not to me. It’s scary, for sure, and you learn to take precautions and know the risk, but there is never an expectation of it happening to me.
  2. "That's not how I would handle it" - Thoughts of "that's really sad, but they will be fine eventually" or "If they would only handle it like X instead of Y, they could move past this more quickly".


It would take me many steps over the next 7 years to eventually shatter all of these tendencies. Our story, and my journey through it to this point, has been an experience that God used to tear my comfort zone to shreds and drag me through the battles that I had to go through to change my heart.

My head knew this information, I could read that and hear people talk about these things, but my heart was cold. The running joke in our house has long been “it’s a good thing my wife has such strong empathy, because I didn’t get any”.

Empathy isn’t something you learn, but something experienced. Words have new meaning for me. For instance, “grief” went from an abstract concept to an everyday reality. Did you know that you never stop grieving? How about that grief has several physical components that can be debilitating? I didn’t, but I do now. How about “loss”? I used to believe that there is pain in this world, but I would never have ranked “loss” at the very top of the list of types of pain that hurt the most.

If you haven’t experienced anything in our story, I hope I can give you a glimpse of how these things can affect people, and at the very least a starting point for understanding what they may be going through. 

If you know the pain of losing a child, then my heart hurts for you. I hope that reading our story can give you a hint of peace that others share your pain. That what you are going through is not something you have to do alone and the feelings you have and experience are not wrong.

I don’t have all the answers, or maybe any answers for you, but what I have is a story. A story of a family going through a valley of darkness and a hope that cannot be explained as anything that we could have done, but only comes as a gift of the One who holds all life in his hands. 

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