Carol’s Story: A Sacred Conspiracy

Does God still speak to us today as he did in biblical times? Carol Stratton knows that he does. After the death of her infant granddaughter, God spoke a promise to her heart. Here’s Carol’s story…

On a blustery April day in 2015, my daughter Caitlin went to check on her sleeping baby and found little Juniper dead in her crib. She had been fine when Caitlin laid her down for a nap, but only a short time later she succumbed to SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Juniper was five months old.

The loss was devastating to Caitlin, her husband Matt and their four-year-old daughter Magnolia. But the grief of course didn’t stop there. Only if you’ve lost a child or grandchild can you know the emptiness it creates for an entire family. An empty car seat sitting in the garage and boxes of infant clothes ready for the Goodwill were sad reminders of Juniper’s short life. And spotting a five-month-old baby at the grocery brought renewed tears at a moment’s notice for any of us.

The months that followed were a time in which each of us worked through our grief. My grief encompassed not just the loss of my granddaughter, but the pain that my daughter was going through. I ached deeply for Caitlin, and wished I could somehow lift the burden of sorrow from her shoulders.

I turned to God for answers. I needed him to speak to me in the midst of this heartache. Maybe he couldn’t tell me why Juniper was taken from us, but I needed him to tell me something so I could go on trusting him.

~~~

In previous generations people used to talk about how God spoke to them. The Old Testament regularly has the Almighty speaking to Adam, Moses, Abraham and many others. And the New Testament has Jesus speaking to regular folks like you and me. But nowadays stories about our Heavenly Father weighing in on our daily lives are rare.

I’ve often wondered why.

Could it be that we don’t pay attention to that quiet voice? Possibly. I lean towards that theory. We lead noisy, busy lives. With our frantic bustling around to accomplish everything on our chore chart, vision board and bucket list, reflection rarely fits in with our schedule.

But God operates best in silence. In that quiet place of grief, God had my attention.

~~~

A few days before Christmas that same year, I awoke one morning with the strong impression that God had spoken to me in the night. Jumping out of bed and running around to my husband’s side, I announced to my half-awake spouse that we were going to have three grandchildren to add to the four we already had, and all within a year’s span. And as the words leaped out of my mouth I thought, “Where did that come from?”

It was a bold confession. Since the loss of Juniper, I didn’t imagine there would be any more grandchildren for a while. Nor did we bring up the subject with our three married children during family gatherings. It was simply too sensitive a topic. Surely, we’d keep this secret to ourselves.

Christmas Day, our oldest daughter Erica marched her three boys into our family room. They were all wearing orange shirts that read, “Party of six.” Busy cooking the dinner, I glanced over at the group. It took a few minutes to register that they were announcing their family of five would soon become six!

Ah ha, Baby number 1 is on its way!

We all jumped up and down and applauded. Then my husband John decided to let everyone in on what I’d shared with him a few days earlier. “Yep, kids, your mother predicts three grandkids in a year.”

I gulped. Please, no. Now I was really on the spot.

Little did I know that my daughter-in-law, Betsy, standing by me, had her own secret. Christmas Eve she’d shown positive on a pregnancy test. Two weeks later she and our son Seth told us they were having their first child.

Baby number 2. Hey, Lord, we’re on a roll!

But what about baby number three? Even though Caitlin wanted another child, she had to watch from the sidelines as her sister and sister-in-law donned maternity clothes for their new baby bumps. I wished my husband hadn’t made the pronouncement at Christmas. What if I hadn’t heard from the Lord correctly? I felt guilty knowing my youngest wondered if God had forgotten her.

Later that year on Father’s Day I dropped in on Caitlin to help her prepare for a cookout. Walking into the house, I discovered it looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in a month. Poking around the kitchen I found nothing but dirty dishes, no sumptuous dessert in the fridge, nothing brewing on the stove. Did she not remember they were hosting a barbecue that day?

My daughter Caitlin was stretched out on the living room couch looking unwell. I figured she was fighting allergies. Then I spied a basin sitting on the coffee table waiting for her stomach to erupt once again. With a woozy expression, she blurted out, “I’m pregnant,” and rushed to the nearest toilet.

There ya go, Baby number 3!

Time for rejoicing. Rejoicing three times. Three babies in nine months. Happy chaos now reigns when the three toddlers get together.

Today, I look at these three miracles and marvel at God’s loving-kindness in letting me in on his plans. In the midst of my grief, when I needed him to speak to me, he didn’t tell me the why of our loss, but he gave me a hope for our future.  He invited me into a sacred conspiracy, giving me a peek at what was to come, and he did what he promised to do.

headshopt turtleneck closeup Carol Stratton

Alice’s Story: Graveside Epiphany

My friend Alice Wisler lost her four-year-old son to cancer treatments in 1997. Though she wrestled with deep grief, it was divine grace that kept her from losing faith in a loving God. Jesus is able to hold together all the pieces of a mother’s broken heart, and to give meaning to even the briefest of lives. Here is Alice’s story…

Daniel'sPlaceOakTree The cemetery was decorated in fog that morning when I pulled my Jeep to the usual parking place under the oak. Some think cemeteries, especially when foggy, are spooky spots. For me, the cemetery is a classroom. Revelations happen there.

When my son died at age four, I wasn’t interested in much of anything, especially not a lawn with buried bodies. It seemed strange and empty to honor a grave that held what was left of Daniel. I wanted him with me. Four years was not enough time.

While Daniel was going through cancer treatment, I had hoped for a normal family life again.  For healing, health, and kindergarten.  More trips to the park for picnics, and pausing to hear train whistles. More hours of reading Maurice Sendak’s books and laughter over wild things.

I had prayed, clung to Bible verses, and had faith that Daniel would beat the malignant tumor in his neck.

After his death, I cringed at the platitudes neighbors and friends offered.  “He’s in a better place.”  “You’ll see him again.”  “Don’t cry, don’t cry, Alice. Daniel’s with Jesus.”

Time passed, the platitudes continued, but, surprisingly, the cemetery changed for me. Instead of a place of sorrow, it became a setting for family traditions. My husband, three children and I had picnics on the grassy slopes, tossed Frisbees—even played softball. On Daniel’s birthday we let go of helium balloons with messages attached to the strings. They sailed beyond our reach into the August sky.

Now, on an October morning 21 years after Daniel’s death, I came to the cemetery alone. Once I parked by Daniel’s grave, I did my usual mothering—brushing away twigs and wiping bird droppings off his marker with a wet toilette.

The cemetery hawk circled overhead—most likely looking for a critter to surprise—but I rather liked to think he was protecting the gravestones. As he showed off his wing span, I continued with my ritual of walking around the grounds, pausing at markers to read the familiar epitaphs. There was Audrey who lived one day. Taylor, another infant, was just steps away. According to his stone, his parents were so glad he had come into their lives, however briefly. Peregrina, who had been a beloved mother and grandmother, had an armload of red roses in the vase on her stone. I continued my trek, breathing in the morning air.

Solomon’s grave was new to me. The scripture on his epitaph was well-known, but it was the first time I’d seen his gravestone. I took in the words written in bronze: I have finished the course. I have kept the faith.  II Timothy: 4:7.

My first response to this stranger’s epitaph was, Well, Solomon, you had 75 years, so the passage makes sense to put on your resting place.

Daniel?  He had four.

I thought of how Daniel wore a Jesus Loves You pin he got in church. I remembered how he wanted me to read to him about the vine and the branches in the book of John. He told me that you give gifts to your friends. He recited jokes from a book, memorizing all the punch lines, because he didn’t know how to read.  When we crossed the swinging bridge at Grandfather Mountain he held my hand because I am afraid of heights.

He had lived.

It was much too short a life.

But my mind didn’t stop there. I don’t know if it was something in the morning air or in the wispy patches of fog, but God got my attention.

Daniel’s life had a purpose and he fulfilled it. He ran his race with bravery, becoming a Brave Cookie to us. He had cherished his faith in God.

It was the first time in 21 years that I could apply this passage from II Timothy to the life of my boy. And from memory I recalled the rest of the passage found in that verse: I have fought the good fight.

It fit Daniel perfectly. As a cancer patient, he had fought hard through chemo, surgeries, radiation treatments, infections, and invasive needles.

I walked back toward Daniel’s grave as Jesus’ love weaved into my broken mother’s heart.

“You were created for a purpose and you lived it,” I said in the way mamas talk to their child’s grave. “I don’t know why you had to go so soon, but your life was every bit as profound as someone who got to live to see 75 or 85 or 92.”

The fog still hovered; there was no burst of sunlight, no sound of angel wings or trumpets, absolutely no physical indication that I had had an epiphany.

But my spirit knew. I think that it’s in these moments that Jesus’ love wraps us tightly. He gives us what we need, and it comes right when we are able to comprehend it, absorb it, and be thankful.

AliceWisler-2  Alice Wisler