A Letter to My Son on Your 5th Birthday

January 30, 2016

I haven’t been keeping up with this blog, but I figured my son’s birthday was a good excuse to post. Every year since my son was born, I have written him a letter on his birthday. One day I will give them to him, and I hope they will mean as much to him as they do to me. My son turns 5 on Sunday. 5 years old. It’s hard to believe.



Dear Son,

2009 and 2010… those were the main months and years of my Dark Night of the Soul time. I won’t easily forget the confusion, pain, sadness, and anger of that time. It has become a defining season- one of great loss that yielded great gain, one of great suffering that yielding new meaning. Not that any gain would be worth doing it again, but over a long time, meaning emerged. The scars remain, and I like to think I’ve used that time to allow my soul to expand, grow a couple sizes maybe, but that season, that time will always be the Dark Night. The very long Dark Night. The darkest season of my quickly aging life thus far.

But 2015. Last year, however, was perhaps the loneliest year I have ever faced. Not the darkest, but the loneliest. The most barren. The most desolate. Your 4th year of life was defined by exhausting schedules of therapies and medications, doctors and I am pretty sure half the seconds of every single 24 hour day were punctuated by my silent prayers- my sometimes screaming, sometimes hopeful silent prayers.

I’ve logged many hours seeing my internal self on her face in the dirt before Jesus. Or pounding on the door of what feels like an unjust authority. Or screaming with Joseph at the prison bricks. And sometimes my actual face has hit the carpet or the grass or the shower floor weeping out the desperate groans of a mama who each day becomes a warrior for her child and many night crumples into bed daring to hope once again that the morning will break open with mercy and healing for you. 

It’s been a hard, hard, hard year. Most days have been so lonely. You have one of these illnesses that goes on for so long that the people I have called my closest friends don’t even ask how I am doing anymore. It’s not really their fault- I don’t usually have anything new to report. I have had to learn that bitterness toward those friends is a sour taste that doesn’t go away if I bite it. Fortunately, God has filled that void with those who barely know me, and many who do not know you at all, who do indeed ask and worry and wonder about you when I am absent from them. And I have had to learn to embrace even the stranger who loves us hard and well. And there have been the good faces and support of many others- those who opened their home to you when we went to a doctor in Boston, the many who opened their wallets for you to support us financially, the people who have bought you gifts and loved you well. I have never felt such a depth of gratitude for goodness in people.

However, the pressure has been beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. Even cancer, losing your sister because of that cancer, ministry that was achingly hard, anything else in all my story has not compared to the pressure of 2015. It can be staggering, suffocating. When I let down my guard long enough I feel it, landing on my soul with a cold, indifferent heaviness that threatens to break me into dust- not just pieces, not just shards… dust. I imagine you’ve noticed that I am fiercely protective as best I can be of my CrossFit workouts. That’s because at my gym I lift heavy weights- well, heavy for me. I do hard things. I do scary things. I fail a lot, and I’m pretty terrible at it in general, but I come back and I do the workouts again and again. A counselor I sometimes talk to often gently jokes that I must be a glutton for punishment to do this sort of workout day after day, week after week. I get that. It does seem rather insane to many people in my life. But what they don’t understand is that it seems like God knew the unbearable weight of your story that would slam into me- the saving of your life and future- and so he opened the path to this gym where I am reminded daily that I am in fact tougher both mentally and physically than I ever thought I could be. I didn’t know that I would doing the Herculean feat of saving you, of carrying you. I didn’t know that a 40 lb 4 year old could be so heavy. And yet even in the excruciating pressure, I find that I still am. I still am. And you still are. And we still are. The darkness has not overcome the goodness of Jesus in us.

But it’s been lonely. Making decisions I never thought I would have to make and often bearing the brunt of those decisions. Choking on the fears that maybe all this work won’t matter in the end. Closing the bathroom door for a few minutes so you won’t see me panic in fear and then squaring my shoulders and opening the door and greeting your sweet smile and contagious laugh with a kiss and a cuddle. It’s been lonely.

You have come far though. Your 4th year is a long, drawn out blur of therapy and meds and doctors and fears, but you have come far in that year. I have to stop sometimes and take a moment to remember that. I know we can’t rest long in this treacherous journey, and so I am constantly pushing forward, hoping that you won’t resent the pace I want to set. But sometimes, I remember that you have worked so hard and overcome so much already. There is still far to go and the lights of home are not even on the horizon in any way, but you have come far. And in the moments when light breaks in, I dare to believe that if you can come this far maybe you can go farther.

The grief is a companion. A hated and despised companion, but I can’t shake her yet. She gets in the way when I’m scurrying around like a hungry dog who watching someone toss some bread of joy my way, but my nose can’t quite find it yet. That grief gets in the way and sometimes someone else gets my bread. But sometimes I beat the grief and I find a morsel. A taste of joy. A taste of peace that I fight for with many deep breaths and moments of quiet. Sometimes I get a small taste and oh, it tastes so good.

But I long for the day when I don’t have to scurry for joy or peace, hoping to reach the crumbs before someone else gets there. I long for the day when I don’t start the morning heavy. I long for the day when you can not simply smile and bounce as though you knew all along you’d be well, but when you can fully and totally say, “I am healed… praise Jesus, I am healed.” I long for you. I long for the restoration of these lost years. I long for joy that comes with the morning. I long for the overflowing life promised us. Promised you.

I realize this letter is more about me than it is about you. I’m sorry for that. Your 4th year has actually been about you but in the most boring and mundane of ways because your life is scheduled so rigidly with your appointments and needs. So yeah- this letter is more about me than it is you. And again, I’m so sorry. Our stories are so intertwined and woven or tangled as the case may be. You still are my delight. You still are the love of my life and the one person who can melt me in an instant. I am in awe of you- of your createdness, of your joy, of your courage, of your endurance. Every year I give you a verse, a scripture that I have found that I speak over you, remember for you, hope for you. Each year, on your birthday, I have given you these scriptures in hopes that they might grow something big and wild and unruly and beautiful in you. This year I give you 1 Peter 5:10

And the God of all grace,

who called you to his eternal glory in Christ,

after you have suffered a little while,

will himself restore you

and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

Oh, my little happy, resilient boy… strong and firm and steadfast. God himself restoring you, and with you, restoring me. Some days I dare not hope it since disappointment is a crushing and drowning experience. But most days I do hope it. I pray it. I believe it.

You know that I have a music playlist on my phone that I play sometimes in the car. I blast it when you are not there, but play it only quietly when you accompany me. That playlist is the sounds of this season for me. The songs draw me back to the inner courage that only comes from a gritty God. They draw me back to the inner strength that only comes from a gusty Jesus. They draw me back to the breathing hope of a Holy Spirit. So I listen and I sing and I cry and I pray to this soundtrack. And sometimes I play a few songs on repeat all day long.

One song I have played repeatedly is by the Decemberists and is called Rise to Me. And I often hear the words of this song sung in my soul during the day:

I am gonna stand my ground

You rise to me and I’ll blow you down…

Let me see you stand your ground

They rise to you, you’ll blow them down

You remember when your daddy and I introduced you to the ocean this fall- so big and bright and astounding? You were scared at first. You were cautious as the waves hit your ankles and then you grabbed your dad’s hands because the water rushed away taking the sand beneath your feet with it and you were left scrambling for something, anything, to keep you standing. But after a couple waves on the beach, you grinned wide and toothy as you realized that beneath the sand rushing away was more sand, more ground, more earth. That you could enjoy the feel of the water and the pulse of the tide because you always found your footing again. And if you fell, you knew Dad was close by to grasp your arms and catch you up. I was pretty sure we would not get you out of that ocean that day. You learned to love it quickly.

I guess I see that image a lot with you. The little piece of ground we’ve managed to get- I’ve fought to get for you, you’ve fought to get for yourself- it may be small and it may not be too stable sometimes, but it’s ours. So stand your ground, son. Stand your ground, and I’ll stand there with you until I die if I have to. Stand your ground and I’ll push to get you more. And when it feels like you can’t stand and you are going to fall, trust that there’s a Rock named Jesus beneath. Trust that that Rock named Jesus is still there, somewhere, ready to help you keep afoot.

So your 5th year emerges. I have learned to not hope too hard for anything. I imagine that for years after you are healed I will still hold my breath and fear a little bit. But oh goodness, wouldn’t it be incredible if we found your 5th year to be the year you experience the greatest power of Jesus in your body and soul ever? Wouldn’t it be amazing for me to sit down to write you next year and be bursting with the story of what God has done? Restored. Strong. Firm. Steadfast.

I love you so much it hurts, my little man. And so we will continue on- you with your smile and me with my stubbornness-that-really-helps-me-endure-so-I-am-not-convinced-it’s-stubborness. And both of us with Jesus.

Love, Me.

2 Responses to “A Letter to My Son on Your 5th Birthday”

  1. Mary Etta King said

    Thank you for sharing your story and the story of your 5 year old son, Karen. I’m slowly learning more about you and the struggle you’ve endured. My love and prayers are with you tonight.
    ~ Mary Etta

  2. Kendra Berry said

    ” Stand your ground, and I’ll stand there with you until I die if I have to.” Oh I read this in tears and in delight. In tears because of the continual fight and in delight because of what magnificent people you all are.

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