My precious baby girl,
My Joy is surely in The Lord! I understand this with so much greater depth this Christmas.
It’s been a month. This Christmas Eve marks the date. We are doing well, but we miss you so, so much! I don’t think that will ever change—not next Christmas and not in a hundred-kazillion Christmases (I revert to my mathematical credentials in establishing that this is a legitimate number). The nostalgia and joy of the holidays have made thoughts of you more powerful. The thought of an Infant Savior coming into an uncertain world makes these considerations overwhelming. You have always been on my mind, but in this Christmas season, the confounding feelings of joy mixed with loss is so much more persistent.
As I teach my classes, drawing arcane symbols upon the chalkboard and introducing the occasional joke to lighten the mathematical mood, I imagine what you would have been like in school. As I watch football, pretending to care about who wins, I wonder if you would have happily sat with me on the couch on a lazy Sunday afternoon. As I play with your big sister, trying to give her an extra share of love, I think about how proud and happy she would have been to watch you grow. And as I kiss your mother goodnight, struggling to seek the correct mix of compassion and strength, I wish that I was starved of sleep on account of your cries in the dark of the night.
I could write on and on about what I wanted you to have done. Even in this first month, we had so many plans for the way things might unfold. This was never part of our plan.
I have read about other families’ broken plans and broken hearts. For some of them, decades have not healed the wounds. For some of them, the loss has destroyed their faith and their joy. For some of them, the bitterness has served as a caustic catalyst to dissolve the bonds of marriage. I pray for these families, and I pray that ours will not join their company. I don’t know the specifics of why you left so soon, but I know that the depths of our pain are as much a part of life as the highs of our joy. For, we are fearfully and wonderfully made.
I can’t imagine the vastness of God’s love to assume such incredible risk in creating us! He loved us so much that he gave us a conscious and active part in telling the story of life—he even gave me a part in the story. In doing so, He opened up His perfect and pure kingdom to people like me. If I were Him, I can’t claim that I would have been half as gracious. What a beautiful risk God assumed!
Many would argue that an omnipotent God fears nothing. I don’t even know what ‘omnipotent’ means, but if Jesus was capable of sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane for the anguish of taking on the sins of His fellow man, then I know that God must have the capacity to fear. He knows the outcome of the story, but this does not make the weight of the unfolding any less painful. I know that God feared the pain that we—His beloved children—would feel in your absence, Bella. But, He loved us enough to endure this pain so that we might also enjoy the blessings in life and the eternity of His Kingdom. From where I am right now, I feel your absence like an enormous weight pressing on my soul. From where you are, I know that this temporary discomfort will melt into an unending sea of love.
I had such amazing plans for us, Bella. I wish that this story was the one I dreamed to tell, but I know that God’s plans are better. Even amidst this trial, you have shown me so much.
You have challenged my faith. I have always admired Job of the Old Testament—good old Job! Tooth and nail, he fought an epic battle. Amidst the battle, he could not see the big picture on account of the onslaught of atrocities delivered upon his very life. He suffered what seemed like a pointless and merciless struggle, but he continued to fight! Little did he know that his victory over adversity would not only inspire a history of peoples, but that he was serving as a pivotal knight in God’s Army establishing the sovereignty and dominion of Good over Evil. I don’t dare to imagine that my struggles begin to rival Job’s, but I know that we all will face adversity in this whimsically confounding life.
I know that we define ourselves in the midst of these battles that were not of our choosing. This is when our faith is truly tested with the fire of eternal truth. I’ve done things to prove myself among men. I’ve traded lead with our nation’s adversaries—and only been super-scared a couple times; I’ve proven my ability to suck well with little food or sleep in the raining cold—and nearly died from the most loathsome feeling of self-pity; I’ve ran far quickly and lifted heavy objects above my head—in a way which only impressed people who undertake these events as a hobby; I’ve brewed beer that could warm a lumberjack’s belly—and a couple misadventures that even my best drinking buddies would not imbibe for free. I don’t suppose that God really cares much about any of these challenging feats of my choosing. These endeavors were not trials of faith and these were not true tests. Bella, I confess that I did dream of losing a child in the depth of my fear. In the darkest of my nightmares, I considered a life lived after burying a child. Yes, this is a true test of my faith, and I am determined to succeed. When I succeed, I will be stronger for the struggle. Bella, you have renewed and energized my faith!
You have taught me what it means to be a husband. I’ve been a husband for seven years now, but—as you well know—your mother is a strong woman! Truly, she has not needed me much, which would probably cause me concern if I were more aware. On the contrary, perhaps she is the perfect Army wife, so willing and able to strike it out on her own. Still, in the depth of her sorrow over losing her perfect little angel too soon, she has needed me like never before. Awkwardly but resolutely, I’ve been there for her. As I have been there for her, she has been there for me. How precious the bond of marriage is! Bella, I thank you for reminding me. Let me love your momma like you love her from Heaven. Let me be her compassionate and enduring strength in the depth of her sorrow. Let me be there for her as a husband ought to be.
You have taught me to consider my role as a father. I love your sister like I love you, but I remember the day that your mother and I returned from the hospital. As we came through the door, Caroline jumped up and down on the couch with excitement and asked, “Where is Bella?” As I shared the heartbreaking news with your big sis, she hid her face in a blanket and responded, “Dada, you’re teasing me. Stop teasing me!” My heart broke for the disappointment she felt compounded with the justified belief that I would joke with her about a serious matter. I know that I would never joke with her about something so serious, but it truly doesn’t matter what I know. What matters is the confidence that I inspire in my children.
Even as an adolescent teenager, I knew that raising children would be the defining endeavor of my life. Caroline came so easily. Maybe I took my role as a father for granted. We hoped and tried and prayed for you for four years after Caroline. Your future is well assured, but Caroline’s is not. Bella, I know that you love Caroline with the intensity of Our Father’s perfect love. As a testament of my love for you, I will instill confidence in your big sister. Should God bless us with more children, I will instill confidence in them. The gift of parenthood is so indescribably precious. So, I won’t try to describe it any further. Bella, I am so proud to be your father. You have made me a better father.
My little angel, what a beautifully painful month this has been! Do not worry; I will not fall in love with my sadness. The world has bigger and better plans for this family. I know that you understand all of these things far better than me as you rest with Our God in Heaven. I’ve always aimed to get things at least 50% correct. I surmise that my view was about 12% correct prior to recent events, and I hope that I am now close to 25%. In any case, I have certainly grown through the gift of being your father. I pray that this is only the beginning of my growth.
My dear and precious Bella, thank you for reminding me that my Bella Joy is with the Lord and, as always, my joy is in the Lord! Merry Christmas, my little buddy.