People have been asking how we're doing. How we've been getting through each day.
My short answer: one moment at a time.
My long answer: We're soaking in every minute with our kids, their laughs, their giggles, their questions. We're spending time with friends. Investing time with family. Feeling our active Baby Girl kick in utero, wondering what she'll be like and completely stunned that she'll be here in six weeks or less. We're talking, laughing, crying, remembering, celebrating, and grieving. Experiencing every emotion possible, all at the same time.
It's been almost three months since Ben entered heaven. And we've spent that time trying to find out what life without him on earth looks like.
Jack talks about his brother multiple times a day. He'll point to one of the hundreds of pictures that line our walls and say, "I wish it were... THIS day!" And he'll go on to explain the adventure they were experiencing in that particular moment. Catching a frog, making a slingshot out of the water hose in the backyard, making s'mores and spider-dogs while camping two years ago. And each of his memories is just beautiful. How else would you expect a five-year-old to remember his twin, the only person he spent more time with than his own mother? Every single one of his memories is tied to Ben. It was a relationship we had worked hard to foster since birth. Ben's absence means a whole new learning curve for his brother who is now learning life as a singleton. And so it seems that Jack's timeline of life is now divided into three sections: When Ben was alive, When Ben was sick, and After Ben died.
Oh, how it breaks my heart.
Jack drew a picture of our family, all six of us. Including his new Baby Sister, still 33 weeks in utero.
There are days when Andy and I are especially weepy, crying much of the day and into the night. And then there are a string of several days where the tears don't come. I don't know that we feel any further from God on any given day. We just hurt. And grieve. And try to move on.
We're different people than we were seven months ago. We feel more deeply. We love more passionately. We hurt more severely.
Oh, how I wish we never had to walk this road. How I wish that God would have allowed us to have Ben - the healthy Ben - for a long long time. What I wouldn't give to have my whole family together again.
Throughout these past few months, I've had a lot of tough moments. Moments that made me cry until my eyes burned. Moments where I missed our old life with Ben so much that I wanted to throw up. Moments that made me so angry where I just wanted to give it all up and just hide in a corner. But in thinking about our horrific journey over the past few months, one moment stands out as my worst. And it lasted much longer than a few moments.
My lowest low was just before we came home from the hospital with Ben. Our compliant four-year-old had emerged from life-threatening brain surgery with flying colors, just days after discovering the source of his headaches, and we waited a pain-stakingly four days for them to determine what kind of tumor we were dealing with. Up until that point, I was full of faith. Scared, but hopeful. There's no way God would take our son, I thought. He needs us to trust Him. Just like God tested Abraham. He wouldn't ask us to sacrifice our own son. He will carry us through. I just know He's going to heal Ben. We knew our God was capable of a complete physical healing, but we were also aware of His sovereignty. God was in no way obligated to intervene. But we weren't allowing our imaginations to go there. Not unless we had to.
And then we had to.
The neurosurgeon said Ben's tumor was Stage IV Glioblastoma. Cancerous. Aggressive. The most aggressive of the aggressive tumors, just shy of the line where doctors would have deemed him 'untreatable.' Ben had a 3% chance of survival with this cancer that normally showed itself in a man of his fifties. But it also had a 100% reoccurrence rate. We would undergo an extensive treatment plan, but even in the best case scenario, that would only give us a little more time with him on earth. It would not heal him.
It was a death sentence.
The tears of anguish Andy and I cried in the hallway of Children's Hospital that night tasted even bitter than the thousands of others we had shed over those past few days. Without a miracle, we had a pretty good idea of the road that faced us. Even after looking into several homeopathic options and running them by our doctors, we were being sent home in order to watch our son die.
That, my friends, was my lowest point.
I was at the bottom of the pit. In darkness. Completely confused and angry at my God for allowing this to happen. We had always tried to be so faithful. How is something like this even possible? Our story had begun to spread and people felt invested in seeing how God was going to carry us through. Was this some sort of reward for being a faithful follower? Was it possible that we were just too grateful, too proud, of everything He had blessed us with?
That's when it's especially important to know where you stand. To have chosen a solid foundation where you keep your feet planted. Because without it, we would have surely drowned.
It was during this time where I was especially grateful to have memorized scripture in the past.
I'm telling you, there is no one in the world that can pull you out of a pit that deep. No word of encouragement from a friend of stranger that would shed light on your situation. No self-help book in the world that can talk you off the cliff. It's that silent voice of God, speaking to you in the midst of the darkness. Those quiet words of faith that you memorized as a child that speak against the words of doubt, worry, and fear. Those words of truth you've cling to all your life. That you knew to be true because you had seen them in action for many years as you've walked with God.
When I was in high school, I kept a small notebook of some of my favorite verses. I still have it. Throughout different points in my life, I've taken it out and scrolled through until I found one that encouraged me and then committed it to memory. Not only did that simple practice help get me through some challenging times, but it also helped keep me focused. In times of doubt, those were the words that were brought to my mind.
This past weekend, our pastor talked about having a Life Verse. A verse (or collection of verses) from the Bible that you've chosen to define you. To outline your faith and give you structure for your life. And the one I've always identified with was Jeremiah 29:11.
"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord,
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give
you hope and a future."
Those horrific few months where I had to watch my baby struggle were some of the worst moments of my entire life. Largely because I couldn't see where truths outlined in that verse fit in anymore. I had always been able to see God's hand in my life. Even when things didn't go exactly according to my plan, they always turned out even better than I could have expected. We prayed for God's protection, His blessings, His favor. And He had always proven to be a merciful and gracious God. But this situation seemed to throw all of that out the window. God wants what's best for me? How is this good? How is this positive? How was this going to benefit me? How could this possibly give my family a hope and a future?
Honestly, I still don't have the answers to those questions. I'm doubtful that I ever will. I do see glimpses of how God used our story for good. And that brings me a lot of comfort. But it doesn't take the pain away. They are, however, the closest thing to "answers" as I can muster.
And yet, in the midst of it all, I hold to the truths I've memorized:
- God is good. All the time. (1 Timothy 4:4,5)
- Only good and perfect gifts come from Him. (James 1:17)
- He loves us more than anything. So much so, that He sent His only son to die so we could be saved. (John 3:16)
- He will make everything perfect, in His time. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
- Everything will eventually work out for His glory. (Romans 8:28)
As much as I may have wanted to abandon my faith over the past few months - and Lord knows, I tried - I couldn't. Because God has always been so real to me. My faith has always been my stronghold. Andy was the one who had to remind me when we were in the thick of things: "Mindy, we can't do this on our own. We need the Lord." Oh, he was so right. The truths listed in these scriptures weren't just words on a page. They were breathing breath into my lungs. My silent strength. Even when I struggled to see their validity, I felt them to be true. Just as they always had been. I could never abandon my God because He had never abandoned me.
It still makes me cry to see Ben's picture. To remember how much joy he added to our family, to Jack and Megan... and knowing he won't be here on earth to be a big brother to our newest daughter next month... to know that Jack will be entering kindergarten alone... to know we will be experiencing a whole new "season of firsts" without him. I absolutely hate it.
But as much as it pains me to think of Jack having lost his brother, the possibility of Jack and Megan losing their mom too hurts me even more. I refuse to allow grief to swallow me up and steal my identity. To steal my joy. I refuse to allow my pain to influence and lessen my kids' quality of life. I absolutely refuse.
And so I continue to read scripture. Spend time with my husband and comfort him in his grief. Remind myself of God's sovereignty and take comfort in the fact that God did use Ben's story for good, even though Satan meant for it to destroy us. Read books, care for my growing belly, and spend time with Godly people who encourage me to be myself. To cry, weep, mourn, and remember. To look positively into the future while also being mindful of the past and how far God has carried us. Because as "final" as death feels, I know that it is merely the beginning. And there is coming a day where we will be reunited with our dear son, where God will wipe away our tears, and He will escort us into our forever home, saying, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."
I'm not gonna lie. As much as I know that God still has a plan for me on earth, I am really looking forward to heaven. A quarter of my heart is already there.
And because for the very first time, I'll be Home.