“The ceiling is sagging mom,” Ellie said to me when she came up from the basement and saw all the people.
Our small group came, just hours after landing from their trip to Israel. Our church friends came. Family was here. Kelly and Finley made the drive from Roscoe. Teachers and bus drivers came.
Linda, his buddy from our special needs program at church, told me what a gift my son was. He changed her life without words. His silent presence, a most precious gift.
Tom, his bus driver, told me he still had a items in his home to remind him of Jayden.
All these seemingly disconnected people-connected by love for one little boy. We swapped stories, snot and tears. We laughed. We watched the video from his funeral. Justin cried as he read 2 Corinthians 4, giving permission for others to cry with us. Then, in the bitter cold, (as we prayed all the unsupervised kids destroying the basement had on coats and shoes) we lit up our fence, light by light:
“W E L O V E J J”
People ask, “what can I do?”
People say, “let me know what you need.”
I say that to people.
But the truth is, we don’t know what people need any more than they do. Or, the hurting know what they need, they just can’t have it. It will never go back to what it was. That’s what makes walking with people that are hurting, difficult. There’s no easy fix that makes the pain go away.
It’s a difficult truth, but the ones in need, lead. Yet sometimes, we just wish people intuitively knew what we needed and how to love us. But honestly, we barely know; our needs are always changing.
One day we want to be alone, the next day we need people.
One day we want to cook a meal, the next day we need one delivered.
One day we want to work, the next day we want to be under the covers.
Most days, we are thinking all these things at once.
It makes us crazy so we watch Netflix.
We say, “we’re good,” when you say, “How are you?” but we both know we aren’t, yet we never want the question to stop.
On this day, though, I knew what I needed so I told my people. “We needed you here. We needed tonight. We need you to continue to say his name and tell us stories about him. And, tears are welcome here. Thank you.”
It seems like the one year mark gives us all a little more permission. People responded online using #JBThankful, sharing memories and tagging pictures. It does a mama heart good when people remember. People sent cards and flowers. Even an, ‘I-know-you-but-you-don’t-know-me” friend circled back when she recognized me in the checkout line, just to give me a hug, just to remind me I am loved and seen.
She didn’t have to stop.
She could have kept walking; her smile passing by was kind enough.
But she did.
I am so thankful she did.
Love hinges on these moments. The moments we choose to enter in or keep walking. Moments when we don’t know what to do or say. When it’s uncomfortable. But love also hinges on the invitation. In the asking and opening up.
It’s scary to say you need people to show up because what if they don’t?
Who wants to be a burden?
We wonder cautiously, what will you do with my one broken heart?
But what if the real blessing is in the act of offering our heart, not what will happen to it when we do?
Brené Brown, in her book, Rising Strong says, “vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.” Asking for what we need and showing up when people ask both require vulnerability.
And the pitfalls? Rejection. Isolation. Loneliness. Being too much or not enough. Saying or receiving the wrong thing at the wrong time. Will pitfalls happen? Of course! If you’re in the arena (as Brené also says) you can expect them.
Take heart…take heart….we are reminded.
Another surprising blindspot of vulnerability? Wires get crossed. Assumptions are made. Miscommunications happen even with the best intentions. And even though when we enter in, we try not to make it about us, it is. We want to know our love mattered. Our showing up mattered. Our time mattered. Our gift, mattered. Showing up isn’t one sided. It’s the call and response of love.
But what happens when everyone assumes everyone else is showing up when no one really is? In a sea full of show-er upp-ers, we can believe the lie we wouldn’t be missed if we weren’t there.
I am telling you, that’s not true.
You’re never useless if you are physically filling a room for someone.
We have to start trusting our presence is enough, it is needed, and it is the best gift we can offer. It is our presence that matters most.
It’s why Justin and I have become official funeral junkies. We are going to spend the rest of our lives trying to show up for people on those days. But we also want to be the people like Kate, people that mark their calendars for 3 months past the funeral to intentionally bring a meal then.
We are very blessed to have so many beautiful people be a part of our story. Not everyone has what we have. We also recognize part of the reason we do is because we chose to share our life with others. My hope is that entering into our story is a dual blessing. A gift to us, but also to those that choose to enter in. And because of this overwhelming love, sometimes I feel like there is no way to individually pay back we have received. Thank you’s get lost and fall short. I’m sure we have let a lot of people down by not showing up in the same way they have for us.
But things are different now. Our plate is emptier and we are looking forward to trying to be better at showing up for others.
Actually, everything is different.
Can I be vulnerable for a moment?
When we lost Jayden, then Brooklyn, the house went quiet. We had grown into a noise level that was comforting. Annoying at times, chaotic for sure, but beautiful nevertheless. The traffic in our home stopped the day Brooklyn died. No more respite workers, nurses, child life therapists, case managers, social workers, bus drivers, or CNA’s. No more girls nights that had to be here instead of somewhere else. The house that was built by our community, for our community, no longer held our community.
Our floor stopped sagging.
Strollers gone, bedrooms changing, noise levels decreasing, needs fading, vehicles smaller, dinner less messy, syringes, meds, g-tubes, diapers….gone in one breath. Death took our children, our identity, and our routine…and for a moment I believed, our people.
The weeks leading up to the first anniversary of Jayden’s passing, I chose to isolate. I didn’t want to be a burden. I didn’t want to be with people that ask good questions-mainly, I didn’t want to be vulnerable and face what I didn’t even know was bubbling in fear I would have to try to make sense of it.
Do you know even when we have a sea of people that will show up, we still have to decide to be open? Every. Single. Time. We have to choose to be vulnerable. And, we have to also make sure we are giving, not just taking, by sharing and showing up for others like they are for us when we ask. Sometimes it’s easier to just say silent for silence doesn’t require vulnerability. But silence will always hurt us more than vulnerability in the long run if our identity is in Christ.
As some of our community gathered with us in our home, another group of women were sitting around a table reading the Bible study I wrote before, during, and after Jayden’s passing. My dear friend Nicole is leading the group to see if the material I wrote can be taught by someone else. We are finding out, it can. Under Nicole’s suggestion, they sent me a video to thank me for using my pain to comfort them and creating space for them to be with God. Then in solidarity, lit a candle for Jayden.
2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (NLT) says, “3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. 4 He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 5 For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. 6 Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. 7 We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.”
Comfort others as God comforts us.
Yes, that’s why we share and show up.
I watched the video with Nicole late that night when she dropped by to give me a gift. Nicole’s really smart and has a million great things to say that I love to hear, but she barley spoke that night. She just listened, and really, that was all the gift I needed. The same gift most of us do.
Before she left, she handed me a handwritten, framed piece of paper. She had gone through my blogs and created a beautiful collage of my “tweet-able” phrases. Her gift were my words, reflected back to me.
We comfort others as God comforts us.
One little boy’s love, which looks strikingly similar to Christ’s love for us, brought us all together one year after his passing. Jayden’s light and love continues to connect us to one another. And light never dies. It remains in the people we love and who love us. Like little pieces of broken glass, we all came together and created a beautiful mosaic of love and healing, of light reflected back and into and through and beyond all of us.
There’s no manual for children’s funerals, for the year that follows or a chapter containing what to do on the first anniversary of our loved one’s passing.
We wouldn’t read it if there was. So you do what feels right in those moments. You study the notes God left us on grieving with hope. You memorize the ones that remind us we are alive together with Him. You read 2 Corinthians 4, watch a funeral video, and light candles. We all show up and comfort one another.
Love connects us.
Love reminds us.