I’ve been in pastoral ministry for over twenty-five years, and the most difficult experience I’ve had to help people through is the death of a child. Most of us cannot even conceive of the anguish of a parent who has had to endure such a loss.
Recently, I officiated at a memorial service for a precious baby who passed away just ninety minutes after birth. While a memorial service like this would normally be filled with indescribable grief, this particular service was filled with a special sort of joy, which I have only witnessed a few times in my life. While this young couple from my church, Erik and Jessica, were grieving over the loss of their beautiful little girl, Ella, they were able to experience God’s grace in a profound way.
This was most clearly demonstrated by the words they each read as a part of the service. Following is a transcript of their words which brought tears to every eye in the auditorium:
I had never expected that nearly five months ago Jess and I would receive life changing news after what I had thought would be a simple, routine ultrasound. I remember the day that the doctor told us that Ella had a severe brain deformation and was likely to have an impaired and very short life. That was the hardest day. The shock of going through the experience was jarring and devastating. It crashed headlong into my dreams and ambitions for Ella, destroying them and leaving in its wake a landscape of fear and uncertainty.
The night of the diagnosis I remembered lying in my bed, hoping I would wake up the next morning to find out that everything had been a horrible nightmare. I hoped that I would awaken the next morning and the memory of what had transpired would fade from my recollection quickly and painlessly. But when the morning came and I asked my wife, “Was it just a dream?” I was again confronted with the harsh reality of our circumstance.
That morning I sat with Jessica on the floor of what would have been Ella’s room, and I held her hands, and together we prayed. I opened my heart up to the LORD, and I cried out to Him with tears in my eyes. Between sobs of desperation, I pleaded with God to give us direction for Ella’s life. I asked the LORD to give me strength to lead my wife through this time of hardship. I asked God to take away our fears and help us to give Ella the unconditional love any child deserves from his or her parents. I asked God to protect our hearts from the despair and depression that loomed around us and to give us His spirit of peace that surpasses all understanding.
I thanked God for the many blessings in our life, and I acknowledged Him for His sovereignty in all things, including Ella’s life. I thanked Him for giving her to us to be her parents. I prayed that he would lead us to be the parents he wanted for Ella. I asked that God would give us the strength to honor him during our hardships and not turn our backs on Him, our only shelter from the storm.
During this time in our lives, Jess brought a verse to my attention, and I think it is has great relevance. Psalm 34 is a beautiful psalm that encapsulates much of what I want to convey to you today. Here is what it says:
1 I will praise the LORD at all times. I will constantly speak his praises.
2 I will boast only in the LORD; let all who are helpless take heart.
3 Come, let us tell of the LORD’s greatness; let us exalt his name together.
4 I prayed to the LORD, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears.
5 Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces.
6 In my desperation I prayed, and the LORD listened; he saved me from all my troubles.
7 For the angel of the LORD is a guard; he surrounds and defends all who fear him.
What I would like everyone to know is that the LORD holds true to every promise he has made to me. The LORD freed me from the bondage of all my fears and my troubles. The LORD has given me joy in this dark hour of my life. The LORD has surrounded me with his angels which are those of his children whom I am blessed to know as friends and family. The LORD is truly great, loving, and deserving of exaltation. HIS grace has overwhelmed us, and the power of HIS spirit has overtaken our weakness.
Ella’s life on Earth was tragically short, but it was entirely sweet and filled with joy. I miss her and long to hold her. But I am comforted by the truth that her life hasn’t ended but only begun. HIS promise to us is that we will be reunited with HIM in heaven some day.
This is the reason Jess and I wanted this to be a celebration of life, because we are grateful for the one she was given! It was filled completely with love. And Ella’s life hasn’t ended! It has merely been transformed from the one here on Earth to the one the LORD has created for those who love and believe in Him in heaven. Thank you all for coming and being with us tonight as we remember her short life on Earth and celebrate God’s greatness and His eternal life for us. It is our honor and privilege to share our little girl’s life with you so that you can know her as we did.
Jessica’s words (a letter from her to Ella):
Today is the day we have chosen to celebrate your life and acknowledge the impact you have made in your very short time here on earth. You were a true gift of God to your Daddy and I, and we know that our lives will forever be changed because of you. Your Daddy and I are closer to each other now and stronger as a couple because of you. Most importantly we are closer to God and so thankful that, because of you, we know what it means to truly surrender our lives and trust to Him each day.
The day you were born seems like a blur to me now. I remember checking into the hospital and getting things in place for your arrival, and before I knew it, the doctor was in the room telling me that it was time! You were so beautiful. You had a full head of dark hair and the most wonderfully unique features. Your little lips reminded me of your big brother Ethan when he was a baby. You cried when you were born, which filled mommy’s heart. It would be the first and last time I heard you cry, but I treasure that sound you made. You even opened your eyes which I took as your way of saying hi to me. We knew, little girl, that you might not know how to breathe once you didn’t have mommy’s help anymore, and that turned out to be the case. Thank you for trying to figure it out, though, for so long. Thank you for letting us love you and hold you and share you with all of the people that came to meet you. I am happy to have filled your short life with love. I have learned so much about unconditional love from carrying you. I would have traded my own life so that you could have experienced the joys of this world, and I understand so much clearer now the love our Savior has for me. I know that you are made perfect now, though. And I also know that part of my love included being okay to let you go and be with the Lord instead of getting to raise you here. My perfect healed baby girl, you are experiencing a life that Mommy could have never given you here. I am so happy for you that you get a headstart into eternity!
In the book of James he says we should consider it a joy when we face trials of any kind, and now I know what he means. I consider it a joy to have walked this journey with you Ella and a true privilege to be the one that God chose to be your mommy. He has a strong purpose for your life with us, and we are only beginning to see the impact you are making in this world. I will treasure every minute that we shared together and have great expectations for our time in eternity together. Your Daddy and big brother Ethan and I will never forget you. Fly high sweet angel girl. Mommy loves you very much.
I have known Erik and Jessica for many years now — since they were teenagers. And I can tell you that the reason they were able to find God’s grace in this difficult trial was because they knew what it means to walk with God. I have watched them for many years as they have sought the Lord, served Him in ministry, and surrounded themselves with a support system of godly friends.
When you find yourself in a dark hour of trial, my encouragement to you is to lean into God. That is where you will find strength, hope, and courage.
When the storms of life approach,
run to God and not away from Him!
Photo credit: © Getty Images/Photoboyko
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