Community Story: A Letter to a Sister on her Birthday

Dear Serena,

When my dear friend Catherine invited me to write you, I was struck with a combination of happiness that someone still wanted to know about you and also feeling afraid of what it would look like to make time to sit with the knowledge that you are not here.

On most days I let every day tasks overwhelm the opportunities to remember you. Although you died almost nine years ago, there are moments that the mere statement: “my sister has died,” will bring me to tears. Perhaps I haven’t mourned fully or perhaps the impact you have left on me is so deep and lasting that it will take a lifetime to enter.

Every so often there are reminders so obvious that no amount of noise can drown out the reality.  When I listen to a friend complain about his siblings I feel envious that he has someone to complain about. When I realize that you have never met my dog Keiko (she is laying on me right now) I think about how much you would enjoy her. When I realize that I am alone teasing Mooma there is a sharp pang. There are countless moments where I look longingly at my phone and wish I could share a witty thought, seek comfort from you or just talk about nothing important, thoughts that only a sister would really understand.

Today is your birthday. You would have been 28 today.

I loved your birthdays. Mostly I loved finding the perfect gift and listening to the “wow” factor in your voice when you opened it. I loved being able to surprise you. Choosing a gift is a combination of knowing someone deeply and keeping an eye out for an opportunity. I used to pride myself in finding the “ah-ha presents”. I haven’t enjoyed giving gifts the same way since your passing.

I tell people that much of who I am is because I was your older sister. You were my favorite person and the person I trusted the most. The hardships of life were much more bearable because we were together and because I had someone to laugh with. Much of our childhood consisted of me running forward, seeing what was to come and guiding you through it. You came to me to learn how to use makeup, how to shave, how to deal with mom and dad, homework, friends. I was older, wiser and had faced the issues before you and I loved being able to teach you what I knew.

In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, Paul says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all of our troubles, so we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”  Throughout the past nine years, I’ve gradually allowed the Lord to enter in to the places of loneliness. I sense Him holding me as I ask Him, “Why?” Why He would take away the person that was supposed to be there for my whole life- even after our parents died and if I never get married and have children?  I have felt Him telling me: “You will need to wait. This time Serena will have more experience and will teach you.”

Here I am, Serena, waiting to join you in Eternity. While I wait on earth, my prayer is that the pain of your passing would gradually open my heart to be able to accept comfort from the Lord, so that I can in turn, comfort others in their pain and sorrow.

I love you and I miss you.

Your big sister,

Larissa

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and we all tore our robes

Then Job arose, and tore his robe… and fell on the ground and worshiped. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away, Blessed be the name of the Lord.  ~ Job 1:20

This weekend at the Respite Retreat, in Henrietta, TN with David and Nancy Guthrie was a hard and yet glorious time.

My heart was freshly broken for all the families we met, and feeling their pain of loosing their children along with them, along with our own heartbreak for our first daughter Tirzah.

At the end, we all agreed that we didn’t want to leave the retreat…. It was so good, because it felt so safe… it was wonderful to cry and not hold back.. to have people to cry with, and not try to fix it, or feel awkward or rush us past it… i could freely let out the deep guttural cry of my heart… it was wonderful that Tirzah’s name was said, naturally and often. It was amazing to be with people who “get it” and just “know” and we didn’t have to explain or justify anything. Tirzah’s value and worth was assumed and celebrated.

We also found in our time together, the Lord to be faithful and the Rock on which we stand. The *name of the Lord* is salvation, redemption, and resurrection… for our babies… and for us.

We found together that *Jesus understands* both the overwhelming weight of grief, and the loneliness in that grief:

Then {Jesus} said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?

Jesus understands what it is like to pray and receive a “No” from the Father:

he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me

Together we found God’s answer to the “Why??”… and a beginning of putting to rest the guilt and regret we all are tempted to have eat away at our hearts:

Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.

Here in John 9, in this story of a blind man, we see Jesus answer in terms of purpose, not cause, as Nancy drew out of the passage. That was a wonderful reminder, and a truth in season for my heart. Nancy reminded each of us that God DOES NOT punish those *in faith*. For those who have accepted the free gift that Christ offers (the gift of being our substitute on the cross, and dying the death our lawbreaking demands as penalty), ALL the punishment that I *deserve*, Jesus took upon himself on the cross. *This sounds too good to be true* but we accept it and rejoice in this gift by faith. And now, God wants to pour out on US love, mercy, grace, forgiveness and GOODNESS.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. ~ Psalm 23

*ALL* the days includes the days that our children died. God’s *goodness* was there, and IS there in the depths of the despair we still feel.

Ecclesiastes 7:1 (paraphrase) ” and the day of death is better than the day of birth.”

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. ~ Psalm 116

And not only is God good on these days, but He has planned them, purposed them, and written them. Nancy read to us from Revelation 1:17 and Psalm 139. She emphasized this TRUTH: *God holds the key of death. No one walks through until God himself opens the door. And He is ALWAYS right on time.

“Fear not, I am the first and the last,  and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. ~ Revelation 1:17

God has written *every* one of our days. Even the days that our children die.

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me… ~ Psalm 139:16 

And finally, we read this *on going* invitation of Jesus in Matthew 11:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

She gently reminded each of us to come to JESUS himself, with a simple and pure heart… it doesn’t say “go to church”, or “seek a spiritual experience”, or whatever we might turn to… instead, we come to our Lord- the *person* of Jesus, and, like the *beloved* disciple John, we simply lay our head on his chest, experiencing his love and rest.

A feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine…

I’m up early, and can’t sleep, so I’m going to share some philosophical thoughts with you all about *food*…{originally this was a Facebook post for the “Fitness Challenge Group”, but I thought it was good to share with ALL… but a warning, it may not be my most *refined* entry ever!}  I was laying in bed, just thinking about how often for us women food becomes an *enemy*… and a source of bondage maybe? For those who struggle with too much weight, or those who struggle to eat food at all….. how often do we find the freedom to *enjoy* food?? ……… And i was recently convicted of the importance of delighting in food, well, several weeks ago listening to Dr. Dan Allender, he spoke of the earthy, sensual pleasures of food and romance are what the Bible *most often* uses to picture our relationship with God, and are meant to foreshadow for us the joy of eternity in heaven…. He spoke of an opportunity to taste 800$ wine, and he spoke of it with *tears*, like real tears… and said that it was a moment that prepared him for eternity, and it was an experience he will never again have in this lifetime… And then I read a few days ago an article by Douglas Wilson “Go overboard celebrating Christmas”, and he quoted Isaiah 25:6-8, in which Isaiah prophesizes the new covenant, and does so with the image of a glorious feast: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow… He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces….” …. This *FEAST* is a picture of the Gospel!! And in the NT gospel books, in the parables, the Lord likens the Kingdom of God to a feast, and he invites many people to come, but too many think of themselves as too *important* and their own agenda too *important* to come, and so the Lord goes out into the streets and brings in the homeless and the destitute, for they have *time*, and *desire* and they can see His worth and the worth of the banquet…. So I pray that the Lord would save me from my own importance (even of this diet!!), and make me to be *poor in spirit*… so that I may *come* to HIM, and delight in HIS banquet, and be *enthralled* in His presence….. AND to *symbolize* this by going *overboard* with a great Christmas FEAST!

Happy Three Month Birthday Tirzah!!

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Today Tirzah’s 3 month birthday…. i asked Ryan if he had any thoughts… He said, “Well, we’re three months closer to our eternity… to seeing her again.”

How true… I think the past three months I’ve been living more “in light” of Eternity then ever before…. the reality of my own *imminent* death (because really, compared to eternity, isn’t ALL of our deaths *really* imminent??)

In celebrating Tirzah’s life and birthday today, my one request, is for you to consider your own soul… and your own eternity.

To the person who thinks only of this lifetime and says: ” I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’… God says to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you,…” (Luke 12:19-20)

How do we know that anyone of us could have our soul “required” of us this very day….

For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? ~ Mark 8:36

How do we secure our souls for eternity? Mark 1:15 says,” repent and believe in the gospel.”

This is the Gospel: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” ~Romans 5:8

When Jesus died on the cross He became the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29)

And this is the promise that His death purchased for those who come to Him… the only requirement is **COMING** : “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” ~ Psalm 103:12.

This is a once-for-all-time transaction, the moment we come to Christ in faith. THEREFORE, we can have BOLD ASSURANCE on the day we stand before God. **KNOWING** that our sins have been removed from us… We will not bear our sins upon us in God’s court of Law on the day we stand before God’s judgment. We know that Christ bore our sins, and our penalty… and therefore, we know that we shall be declared **INNOCENT** and ushered into His Kingdom.

The invitation is open to ALL: “Come!” ~ Revelation 22”:17

{this is my addendum, which I thought good to add! Can enough ever be said of the Gospel of Salvation??}

Who can stand before The Lord God and before His Throne?

Psalm 24:4 asks this question, “Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?”
And answers: “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.”

Which of us can say that we have clean hands and a pure heart??

Jesus says that if we hate, then we are murderers at heart…. If we look on another person with lust, we are adulterers at heart… Matthew 5:22 says, “whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Who of us has not done that?? Each one of stands before God as a murderer, a thief, an adulterer… and that’s just a start!

But God being *RICH* in mercy, has provided a way for us to be redeemed…

Just as Jesus took on our sin, to bear our punishment…. We take on His righteousness, as a cloak or garment, to bare his purity. This is known as **THE GREAT EXCHANGE**

For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.~ 2 Corinthians 5:21

Isaiah 61:10- I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness…. {which is the righteousness of Christ!}

Fall is in the air

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Dear Tirzah,
I was thinking about you and missing you during our walk along the harbor today… the fall colors and the stillness of the Lake were so beautiful… and I thought you’d be with us for all this. I would have bundled you up to keep you so warm… and your little beautiful cheeks would have been so cute and pink from the fall air. And Everyone who walked by would have stopped to gaze and you and see how beautiful you are, and you would have looked up with your big blue eyes in wonder at the world and people around you (I *know* you had your daddy’s eyes). And right about now I would be searching for the *perfect* Christmas stocking for you… and every time I see a pretty little baby dress I’ll think of you… how perfectly beautiful you are.
My beautiful Tirzah, did I tell you about my new photography project: Souls of Chicago? It was inspired by you… because I have a life time of questions I never got to ask you… to know all about you… and I know you’ll have all eternity to answer…
And maybe you’ll still have a little Christmas stocking here with us, and I’ll line the top with mistletoe for all the 1000s of kisses we have for you!
Love you so so so so so much, Tirzah. From your mommy

Memorial Speech for Tirzah

The Sacred Dance of Grief and Joy
As part of our memorial service for Tirzah, I’d like to share with you part of the journey that Ryan and I have been on over the last several months.
When Ryan and I first found out by ultrasound that we were expecting a baby girl, I cried tears of joy right then and there. I was so excited to have a girl and I hoped that she’d have red hair like me!
We knew right away that we’d name her Tirzah Catherine. Tirzah is a Hebrew word meaning “She is my delight”, and is found in the Scripture book The Song of Solomon, which is a love poem between a man and his bride. We chose our wedding scripture from this book, and we knew that our Tirzah was going to be a beautiful little picture of the special love that Ryan and I have in our marriage.
The Lord laid on my heart a Bible verse to be Tirzah’s “life verse”, which signified our prayers and desires for her: Song 2:10- “My Beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise my love, my beautiful one, and come away…”

Our prayer for her through this verse was that she would have a beautiful and intimate relationship with the Lord. We didn’t realize the meaning the words would later take on, as the Lord truly did call her away.
Ryan and I have joy in knowing that our main prayer for Tirzah, which we prayed over and over during the pregnancy, has been answered- our prayer for her salvation. We have the most confident assurance that she is with the Lord Jesus in Heaven. We believe that the Lord delighted in her so much that He wanted her to be with Him right away. And I believe with all my heart that if we knew what she knows now, and we could catch a glimpse of what she’s experiencing with God, we would have only pure joy and celebration for her. The Lord brought this to my mind in the first hours after learning of her passing, and it has sustained me through the dark valleys of grief.

In a few moments we’ll be singing a praise song called “I stand in awe.” I requested this because through Tirzah’s passing, I have stood in awe at the work of Christ in new way. I accepted the Lord as my Savior when I was 5 years old, and in some ways I think it’s easy for me to take my own salvation for granted. However, when I realized that the death of Jesus on the cross as our substitute and payment for sin, made it possible for Tirzah to be with God as well I was overcome with thankfulness and awe in a new way.
As Ryan and I grieve by faith in the Lord and we have a lot of hope, and joy mixed in with grief. I often feel an overwhelming thankfulness- because Tirzah was a beautiful gift, and everything I prayed for- she even had red hair! Also, every prayer we prayed for her life has been answered as well, although in different timing than we expected.
Now our prayer is that many will be blessed through Tirzah’s precious life.
We pray for our loved friends and family who do not have assurance of salvation and eternity in Heaven that you will respond to the invitation of the Lord.
Romans 10:13 says, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
The invitation is so simple and the grace of God so stunningly free: He requires no level of goodness or checklist of good works, and there is no sin He won’t freely forgive. All that He desires is that we come to Him with the simple trust and heart like a child to accept His gift of salvation with delight- like a child eagerly opens a gift on Christmas.
Romans 10:15 says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news!” I picture this verse for Tirzah- how beautiful she is in heaven, like the instrumental hymn just played- in the Garden with Jesus, inviting us to join her in eternity.

I’d like to close by adding that Tirzah has been a very real part of our family the past 9 months, and even though Jeremiah did not get a chance to meet Tirzah face to face here on earth, he was the very best big brother to her!
I’d like to share just a few of our special memories:
1. Jeremiah would sit with me during story time with his little hand on my tummy to feel Tirzah move. He would pause and say, “Tirzah is moving!”
2. When I was getting Jeremiah out of the car one day, he kissed me and I said “You’re going to have lots of kisses for Baby Tirzah too right?” and in reply Jeremiah bent down and kissed my tummy for Tirzah!
3. During my trip Buy Buy Baby, Jeremiah knew right away that we were shopping for Baby Tirzah. I asked him help me pick out a little sweater for her- he knew right away that the one with brightly colored flowers was the one for her!
And last of all, Ryan and I want to thank you all for your love and support and being here with us today.
Thank you!