“Thank you for your prayers over our families and holding us in our pain. We are extremely grateful for your kindness and generosity. Ruthie is now out of the ICU and healing, by all accounts it is a miracle our second child is unharmed. Please continue to pray for the Lew and the Blumenstein families as we process the unthinkable and lay our grief in the loving arms of Jesus. Joshua and Abigail are now resting in Heavenly peace and Joy.”
It was a screenshot when I saw it on Twitter. The background was that textured look that meant it was typed, probably quickly, in the Notes app. Broadway folks I’d never heard of before, hit by a car, their young children killed. I’m not a Broadway person, but when the news of the family’s trauma was spread by both Lin Manuel Miranda and Tim Keller, I kinda stood up and paid attention. We are about to have our final four year old, the same age as at least one of the kids. But the age of the children lost wasn’t the reason the Miles family note made me weep while I was supposed to be fixing supper, getting tears on the sweet potatoes I was peeling. They told everyone that they trusted Jesus with their children.
I don’t know how long it’s been since the Parkland shooting, when a troubled kid/evil dude (you pick) shot up a Florida high school and killed 17 people. It’s still fresh to me. My kids still do intruder drills at school. Yesterday I saw a Twitter thread that suggested that given the actual statistics and numbers — though they are horrific, only a teeny tiny percentage of people in the country actually die in school shootings (yes, the number should be zero) — anyway, given the actual smallness of the number, the trauma that practicing to be shot can do might be greater than being unprepared in the midst of an attack. And even when you are prepared, the loss can be so great. My kids are in elementary school and young enough they can just say they’re practicing for a “bad guy” — I’m pretty sure that only my third grader actually realizes the bad guy might come in and shoot people. I feel reasonably secure when I drop my kids off at our neighborhood school. I don’t cry. I do get anxious now, post-Parkland, in ways that I didn’t before, when I hear the not-infrequent sirens in our neighborhood and wonder if bad things are happening at our school. Surely I’d know, right?
You send your kids to school, and then they are gone. And it’s not just evil plans — maybe it’s a heart condition you don’t find out about until they collapse at cross country practice, maybe, like Ruthie Ann Miles’s daughter, it’s a car with a distracted driver. Maybe it’s cancer. Maybe, like in our family, you don’t lose born babies (please, Jesus) but one or more pregnancies end with loss. As much as we try, whether we are helicoptery or laid-back, we can’t ultimately guarantee our children’s safety. I wish this weren’t true.
When our babies were born, after all the mess was cleaned up and I was cloudy and joyful with morphine, I whispered to them (or at least I think I did) “We love you and Jesus loves you so much.” It was the first thing I wanted them to know. Later when they were a bit older and we got our act together, they were baptized. “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” water trickled over their bemused little faces. Their father and I made vows, I’m sure somebody prayed, “that they would never know a day where they don’t know Jesus.” We acknowledged that though each sweet baby was part of our family, they are also part of a greater family, and they belong to Jesus.
Last week, I read/listened to a paranormal romance novel featuring bear shifters. (I know, I’m a woman of many parts; I promise I still love Jesus and Roy.) The novel’s hero is the alpha or head of a Russian bear clan. [So yeah, most of the time he’s a person, but sometime he’s a bear. You just go with the rules of the story and enjoy it.] There’s a birth in the story, and the hero stops by to visit and make skin-to-skin contact with the newborn: “Pressing his lips against his newest classmate’s forehead, he murmured to the cub that he was home, that he was safe, that his alpha would permit nothing to happen to him.” In this series, the alpha of a clan or pack holds the group together. He’s bonded with each pack member and knows them. His job is to keep them safe, make sure they are provided for, and above all, I think, to nurture the cubs. In another instance in the book, when he sees children of the clan, the text notes, “These were his cubs, his babies to love.” I won’t recap the whole novel, but he ends up making some hard choices, driven in part by the need for the children of the pack to be able to trust their parents and their alpha.
I have been reading Matthew lately, and providentially (heh), this week has included the passages where Jesus talks about the value of being like children, of not causing children to sin, of letting the little children come to him. (Matthew 18 and 19 if you want to look it up.) I don’t know if Nalini Singh was thinking about Jesus’s words when she wrote about this leader who cared so deeply for the children in the families he led, but while I was reading her words (or rather, listening to them), I was struck by the alignment in that core value of the novel. Am I saying that Nalini Singh wrote a Christ figure? Not exactly? I mean, we can ask her on Twitter. But as I’ve contemplated and mourned other families’ loss of their children, (and our own miscarriages and friends’ recent and not-so-recent still births), this bear shifter just showed up in a common grace way and provided a visceral picture to me of how Jesus loves our babies, whether they are with us or with him. He carries the grief of their loss in his loving arms, and he also holds the fear and anxiety that loving and living in this fallen world create, whether it’s worry over our children’s safety or the damage our own insufficiencies may cause as we raise them. He is connected to each one, and he loves them.
Our babies are his, and he loves them. I’ve held — or tried to, at least — this truth for three miscarriages, for the four living children I fear I fail every day. I’m not sure I would want to turn into a bear, and I pray my kids have long and contented lives, but either way, I’m comforted that there is someone more and greater than me, and our babies are his to love.
(The novel I reference is Silver Silence by Nalini Singh but if you’re not a romance reader already, I’m not saying you should read it.)