For Those Who’ve Lost a Child

I’m currently working on a book of essays for people who have lost a child. I’m looking for folks both recently devastated by their loss and for people who have been able to heal over time to contribute quotes on any of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

If you’d like to contribute, simply fill out the form below with your name, email, phone and story. If I can use your contribution, I’ll get in touch with you soon.

Advent Thoughts: That Baby Smell

My son is two years old, and he still smells like a baby. Fresh out of bed in the morning (once his overnight diaper has been changed), he smells like powder and childhood. It’s an intoxicating smell, one that my sister-in-law Melodie once declared her favorite in the world. It’s a dainty smell, a scent really, that doesn’t overwhelm and just puts people in a good mood.

I mean, really – have you ever held a cute, bubbly baby and been foul? It’s almost impossible.

(Though there are some Scrooge’s out there who could manage the feat. And this doesn’t include those times that you hold said baby and the tender little child turns his/her diaper into a hazmat zone.)

There’s something magical about that new baby smell, that scent of innocence that just makes the world feel like a more welcoming place. It’s more powerful than new-car smell or new-gadget smell, because those are scientifically fabricated to infuse us with a sense of longing. While the smell may be pleasant, it is manipulative in a cynical way, a form of subconscious mind-control.

But a baby’s smell is natural, devoid of suspicious engineering, locking onto us without pretense or guile. It comes gently off the child to soothe and comfort us, and in turn help us comfort the baby. I think this exchange happens as a way to welcome the child into this world, to protect it from the brokenness. When we hold a child, there seems to be a part of us that not only hopes for a better future but can actually see one and believe in it, holding it out as a promise for the little one.

I’ve never really thought about it before, but if the baby Jesus must have smelled this way. He must have smelled sweet and hopeful, filling those around him with the notion that somehow the world was different because of his presence in it. Holding the infant Christ, there had to have been an interesting dynamic at work – an adult wanting to show this tiny child a world full of wonder and potential, and the child himself wanting to show that adult a world full of grace and beauty.

If the scent of a baby is innocence, then the scent of that babe in the manger must have been overpowering.

An infinite God you could hold in your hands.

Hope made flesh.

Innocence made real.

Put your head next to his tiny head and inhale deeply the smell of purity, undefiled existence, and feel your heart long for the same within your own soul. Feel the softness of his fat baby fingers and the down of his hair and marvel that to you a Savior has been born.

It is easy to reject the adult Jesus, what with his words and actions that convict us to our core, showing us truths about ourselves that we are too often uncomfortable with even knowing, let alone facing. But the baby Jesus, who smells so divine, does not give us reason for offense. We cannot come near him and feel disturbed. We kneel before the manger and feel a peace so deep and so true, that it echoes still 2,000 years later during the season that lauds his birth. Even those who reject him as a man are affected by his infancy. Even skeptics hum Christmas carols.

This is the power of that baby smell.

Innocence. Newness. Life. Hope.

The gifts of Christmas.

The Majesty of Being Human

A mystery to end all mysteries: the Incarnation of Christ.

Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent, and rather than struggle with a blog idea for today, I’ve decided to post some thoughts on the season each Monday during Advent. For those who don’t know what Advent is, here’s a great article on the season and what it means to the Christian faith.

On a more personal note, I’ll say this: Advent is sort of my Lent (and if you don’t know what Lent is, here’s an article to explain). For me, the coming of Christ is a time for serious reflection on my own sinfulness that required His birth, the transcendent power of God in becoming human, and the miracle that is the gift of life. While others may be excited and cheerful during this time of year, I can’t help but be somber. Perhaps I’m just weird, but to me, the tragic destiny that awaited the innocent baby in the manger outweighs almost everything else. And for me, the power of the resurrection outstrips the melancholy of the cross, making the Lenten season a cause for celebration.

As I said, I guess I’m just weird.

But enough background. On to today’s Advent thought: the majesty of being human.

Lately, my daughter has been somewhat fascinated with the topic of flatulence (yes, a weird transition, but bear with me). For some reason, perhaps her age or family history, she finds gas endlessly hilarious. It’s gotten to the point that if she poots in public, she immediately announces the transgression by saying, “I pooted!” followed by a stifled giggle. If you have children of your own, you can imagine the embarrassment we have as parents, particularly since – as a minister – my child is often scrutinized a bit more thoroughly than her peers. Not that people are ever unfair to her – if anything, she actually gets a bit of a pass compared to some of the horror stories I’ve heard – but what she says and does tends to stand out because she’s my daughter.

So her choice of comedy becomes something beyond personal preference.

Thankfully, she’s had the good sense to not commit these indiscretions at church, but we’ve not been as fortunate at the park, or in her kindergarten class, or when dining at a restaurant. Mercifully, the only clue that anything has happened is her heralding it for all to hear; were there to be a preceding sound effect, the announcement would be that much more horrifying.

But as it is, I’m stuck with Gas Girl for now, and I have to say it’s gotten me thinking a lot about being human. I mean, honestly, without venturing into too gross a territory, can you think of a single thing that makes a person any more real, any more human, than pooting? I mean, everyone does it (despite some people’s best efforts at keeping that fact under wraps), so whether your a king or a member of the great unwashed, this is something we all have in common, something that goes beyond our contrived social conventions and structures and marks us all as the same.

Flatulence: the great equalizer.

It reminds us of what we are: made creatures, roaming around this rock we call home, each in need of nourishment that our body will process and use and discard as regularly as the sun rises and sets. No matter what station we may attain in life, no matter how noble our story might become, we all have the same bodily needs and functions and thus we are more alike than we imagine ourselves to be.

And it is that creatureliness, that horribly impolite side of our existence, that makes me marvel all the more at the Incarnation.

Now, if you’re a bit of a traditionalist you’ve probably stopped reading by now, but if you’re still with me, chances are you just pushed back in your chair and howled, “What does this have to do with one of the most sacred mysteries of the Christian faith?”


What do you think of when you think of God? Be honest. Most people, even people who profess no belief in God whatsoever, would use words like holy, transcendent, other, separate, non-human, ethereal, divine – the list of adjectives can march on and on. When we think of God, we’re almost conditioned to think of the splendor, the majesty of His very being, and part of that rests in the fact that God is absolutely not us. He doesn’t have the same character, the same essence, the same frailties. He is God, for goodness sakes.

And yet, if you’re a traditional Christian, this is the very time of year that you begin singing carols and sending cards and performing cantatas centered around the truth that this transcendent God, this holy and other being, entered into our historical story and became a baby boy born in a Bethlehem stable.

Guess what? Babies poot. And poop. And cry. And pee. With babies come boogers, burps, rashes, vomit, all part of a list that is too long to physically type – and these are things they do while still tiny and immobile. Once they start to move? Look out. And I’m not just talking about crawling or walking; as soon as babies have mastered the fine motor coordination required for digit manipulation, those digits find disgustingly horrific places to go, and the built-in human default for dirty fingers is apparently to lick them clean. I mean, every parent has endured the horror of turning just in time to see their infant’s fingers, covered in something, being plunged into their wide-open mouth. It’s the one time in real life that you can experience slow-motion.

I realize this is gross. It is. It’s disgusting. But it’s part of being human, and it’s something that we all too often scrub out of our theology to our detriment. Because when you cease to think about human beings in human terms you erase part of their beauty. And in the case of the Incarnation, you certainly take away some of its power and awesomeness because you minimize the difference between Eternal God and man. That would also be known as blasphemy.

We are not like God. He is not like us. And yet, in the person of Jesus Christ, the two met, each being fully revealed in Him without diminution. I mean, it’s not like everyone saw Jesus as God when He lived; point of fact is that only a few believed in the reality of His divinity. And it’s not like God saw Christ as only human after his death on the cross; after all, the bible says that not only was he resurrected, but Jesus sits at the right hand of God, given all authority and praise as head of all creation.

It is part of the mystery of faith that God would choose to come as one of us to save us from ourselves, a fact that we recognize with the season of Advent. It is a mystery deserving full thought and imagination, even when it brings us to places that are uncomfortable and seemingly base or banal. Because sometimes our only hope of really seeing God and His Son in their true magnificence is to see ourselves as we really are and to understand just how low He had to stoop to become one of us. I don’t expect people to write songs or paint pictures of this sort of thing, but we choose to ignore it at our own peril.

The Incarnation of the Eternal Word of God came with all the attendant problems of humanity. He got tired. He got hungry. He had gas. He had to use the bathroom. He lived a fully human life, not one that wimped out on the uncomfortable things. Christ never took the easy road.

And neither should we.

I hope that this season of Advent will be one of deep and creative meditation on the coming of Christ the King. And I hope that if it is, it will be one of the most powerful Christmases you’ve ever experienced.

So Tiny, So Strong

One of the many ways we passed the time before surgery...

Ella’s surgery went surprisingly well today. She was in and out of the operating room in under 20 minutes, and while she did sleep in post-op for about an hour and a half, she exhibited no real signs of pain. She’s eaten like a horse, however, and we should have seen it coming. All morning long the child kept asking, “Now, when am I going to get breakfast again?”

So it should come as no surprise that when the doctor gave her the medical “all clear” to eat whatever she felt like once she got home, Ella took note – and then took to eating. Herewith, a complete list of her afternoon ingestion, beginning from her time in the post-op room:

– 2 popsicles (orange and pink)

– Jell-O (strawberry)

– Skittles (the entire rainbow)

– pot roast (with gravy)

– potatoes (with gravy)

– carrots

– lima beans

– corn

– half a can of chicken noodle soup (her brother ate the other half)

– a roll

– 2 milkshakes (a homemade chocolate and a Zaxby’s vanilla)

Joey Chestnut wishes he had her game. Kid’s intake was immense.

All of this to say, my little girl isn’t so little as I imagine her to be. She faced today’s entire ordeal with a smile on her face, and only once did she even seem the slightest bit afraid. We watched Tangled, colored, shot baskets (on a kid-sized goal), played with an Etch-a-Sketch (“Cool! Just like in Toy Story!”), and in general just passed the time before surgery with confidence and ease. It helped me, as a matter of fact, to be involved with her, and I think she knew that.

There are those moments when you realize that the kid you see is a mirage; that you look at your child through a refracted lens, the light bending in such a way to show you a small baby or a cute little toddler just learning to navigate the big bad world and utterly dependent upon you to guide and hold them, to be their foundation. I still see Ella as the curious two year-old who loves to smear chocolate on her face, or as the suddenly verbose three year-old who can’t wait to tell me the latest word she’s learned.

I’m not hallucinating, mind you – I see her physically changing into a school-aged kid just like everyone else, but when she smiles a certain way, or turns her head just so, I still see that little baby I so loved and longed for, the one that showed me the world wasn’t unnecessarily cruel and heartless. I still see the tiny infant who would sigh in my arms as I rocked and sang to her every night before laying her into her crib and staring at her, first to make sure she was still breathing, then just to marvel at her existence. She’s all legs now, but when she runs on her toes I still remember the first steps she took, her little body bouncing uncertainly into the wide open spaces of our living room, her face lit up with the wonder of her own self.

I saw past my mirage today and saw the reality of my daughter: a tough, intelligent, creative girl who will have no problem with school or the bus or anything else that life throws at her. I saw her spirit, her strength, and not for the last time I marveled at the wonder of someone so essentially beautiful and pure and good being given to me as a trust.

This entire day has come and gone without my shedding a single tear, until now. To suddenly just see my daughter for who she is – who she will become – is a gift that demands tears. And I willingly give them as payment.

My Ella, so tiny, so strong, is a big girl now. Part of my heart, that sub-basement level that will always see her as nothing more than the blond bundle of joy that healed me when she drew first breath, is breaking.

The rest is stronger because she is, too.