Eleven years ago today my youngest brother, Nathaniel, was born.
Excited isn’t the word. I think I began counting down the days until his birth about two months before his due date. When my mom woke me at 3:00 a.m. to tell me she was in labor, I couldn’t contain my joy.
If excited couldn’t describe the anticipation preceding Nathaniel’s entrance into my world, I don’t know the word that could describe what I felt when I learned a few hours later that he had been stillborn. Heartbroken doesn’t even come close.
Several weeks after, a mentally challenged lady in our church said it just right: “I miss your little brother,” she commented out of nowhere. “I would have liked to have gotten to know him.” I gave her a hug and then walked outside and bawled. I would have liked to have known him, too.
Somehow, I felt I had a measure of ownership in this child. I had prayed for his very existence (which was, of course, completely outside of my control), and I had the heroism of suggesting the winning name to the general family counsel. I missed him profoundly.
(As a side note, I have long thought it ironic that Nathaniel’s birthday fell on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade—the court decision that has, to date, denied over fifty-five million children their birthday. What makes this connection even more significant to me is that Nathaniel had Down’s Syndrome—a special need that tragically condemns many babies to death by abortion. Sometimes when I see a sweet “Down’s child,” I think of Nathaniel and wonder if he would have a similar personality and buoyancy. )
A strange invitation
Two weeks to the day after Nathaniel died, I read Psalm 65 and was particularly struck by the first phrase in verse 4:
Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts: we shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house, even of thy holy temple.
In one sense, Nathaniel was the one chosen to approach thy physical presence of Christ—well before my opportunity would come. But in the weeks of grief following the loss of our baby, I was learning that I, too, had been given a special call to approach the Lord.
There is no invitation into the presence of Christ quite like the invitation of suffering. I found a sweetness and closeness to Jesus in those weeks that I had not previously experienced.
No, I never would have chosen the situation. But all the same, I couldn’t be anything but grateful that the Lord would choose to so personally call me to approach Him and find the satisfying goodness of His presence.
Safe in the arms of Jesus
Perhaps you already know that Fanny Crosby wrote the song “Safe in the Arms of Jesus” in the wake of losing her baby daughter. It’s lyrics are just right for a baby’s funeral, and my sister sang the song at Nathaniel’s.
One year later, I visited where Nathaniel was buried and etched that very phrase into the crystalized snow covering his grave: “Safe in the Arms of Jesus.”
It seemed the most appropriate way to sum up the year previous. For regardless of our circumstances, we are safe indeed when we rest in the arms of Jesus. And sometimes it is loss that causes us to run to those everlasting arms for comfort and strength.
The benefits of being chosen
This past Christmas when I visited my family, I made a private trip out to Nathaniel’s grave for a few minutes to reflect.
I remembered the anguish of seeing Nathaniel’s tiny casket lowered at that site. I remembered the mind-numbing sense of loss as I said goodbye to the little brother I so wished I could have gotten to know.
And I couldn’t help but thank the Lord.
I still miss Nathaniel. I still occasionally calculate what his age would be and wonder what he would look like, what fun he would stir, how he’d be learning and growing. But overall, any sense of loss is far outweighed by a profound sense of gratitude. The heart-wrenching grief of several years ago has been replaced with deep gratefulness to God for the many ways He worked in my life through Nathaniel’s short one.
And every one of those ways related to the Lord drawing me closer to Himself.
Rejoice in God’s choice
Most people I know have seasons of grief and loss. Some of these seasons are visible; some are veiled as “unspoken” prayer requests. Perhaps you’re in such a season right now.
I wouldn’t begin to say that pain brought to you by way of other people’s sin is God’s choice in the sense that He wanted someone to wrong you. But neither would I begin to deny that He did, in fact, allow it. As in Joseph’s life, He means it for good.
If God has, through suffering, chosen you to draw nearer to Him, rejoice. Although His invitation has not been delivered on the stationary you expected, it is yet a treasure. Accept it as such, and trustingly fall into the safe arms of Jesus.
Grief eventually subsides, but the satisfying goodness you find in the presence of Jesus is the discovery of a lifetime.
Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts: we shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house, even of thy holy temple.—Psalm 65:4