Today marks a year that our little baby boy came into and out of our lives in one moment, one breath, that knocked us off our feet. (If you haven't read our story yet, click here). A lot of people who go through tragedy and suffering come out the other end and say that they learned so much, they wouldn't change it for the world, and if they had to do it all over again they wouldn't take back what happened.
For us, it's completely different. While I have learned a great deal since January 3, 2016, if I could I would go back and re-do everything in a heartbeat. I remember feeling so helpless at the time, knowing that there was absolutely nothing I could do. In a lot of ways I still feel helpless. I couldn't prevent anything from happening to Joel, and I couldn't stop the heartache that happened in our lives. If there's anything I could have done to change the end result I would have but instead here I sit, a year later, in disbelief that this ever happened to begin with.
Joel changed us. We never even met him and yet because of his short life we are different. As I reflect on the last year, I want to honor his memory and the ways his life and death changed us for the better despite the reality that it was the hardest thing we have ever had to walk through. Here's what we learned...
- We learned that real love is not conditional. Joel never did anything for us and we never even got to hold him, yet we love him more deeply than we thought possible.
- We learned how to grieve, and how to grieve with others. Tragedies happen around us all the time, and a year ago I would often stay in awkward silence, not knowing how to respond. Today I have a stack of sympathy cards sitting in my closet and a heart that has learned how to mourn when others mourn.
- We were broken more times than I ever wanted - and more than I ever mentioned on this blog. A few short months after Joel's passing, we experienced another loss. And just a few months after that, we had yet another adoption fall through. Yes...we had 3 failed adoptions in 7 months. At that point, we felt beaten down and tired. We couldn't continue. We took ourselves off the adoption list for the entire fall, praying about what to do because all we felt like doing was giving up.
- I learned that busyness is poison to my soul, as much as I love it. Had Joel been here, I would have had to say no to a lot more things - and that would have been ok. I stopped the constant train of one event after another and learned how to rest for the first time in my adult life.
- I said yes to [almost] everything. On the flipside, when an opportunity came that I at all wanted to go after, I said yes. While I love travel, I know on some level this was a way to cope with my loss - doing all the things I wouldn't have gotten to do had Joel been here. Oftentimes this caused me to come face-to-face with my grief, as I would walk around cities I didn't know thinking of what had brought me here. It was so hard and so good all at the same time. (some of my trips: Africa in January, Africa in July, Arizona, Lake Tahoe, New York City)
- We held on to each other tightly. Just a couple weeks after Joel passed, on our fifth anniversary, Nathan and I took off for Africa. We celebrated our anniversary with some laughter, a lot of tears, and a late-night trip to Wegman's as we prepared for our first international trip together. This last year we have grown unspeakably closer as we have been there for each other on the hardest of days, and I know I love Nathan more than I did a year ago.
It's a strange and unnatural thing for a child to leave your life before they even enter it. We had no tangible evidence of him besides an ultrasound framed on the dresser we saved for him in our spare bedroom. And yet he feels so real when we think of him with fondness and pain, remembering the night we lost him and the days that followed.
The name Joel means "Jehovah is God." Through the past year we have been through the deepest heartache of our lives, and at times it's felt like the only consistent thing we have is the hurt in our hearts. But above our hurt, the biggest consistency in all truth has been the presence of God and His grace in our lives. He did not prevent us from suffering or pain, but He held us close through it all. He gave His Son for us and knew beyond the depths of our hurt, often comforting us in the exact right way at the perfect time. I do not have all the answers but I know they are found in Him, and this is what I'm praying for the next year as we honor and remember a little boy who changed us forever. Happy birthday, Joel.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners...to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion - to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. (Isaiah 61:3, NIV)