A Letter in a Shoebox

Reading Time: 11 minutes

In a decorative shoebox, sitting on the fourth shelf of the bookcase in our living room, is a letter I spent the past year and a half avoiding.

I knew who wrote it. I knew why they wrote it. I knew what it was about and I knew, deep in my heart, that reading it would take an emotional toll I wasn’t ready to pay.

You might be wondering how I could possibly know all that about a letter I had spent so long avoiding, but the answer for that is really quite simple:

I’m the one who wrote it.

* * *

We spent a lot of time praying and fasting about the right time to start our family, so when we found out Mary was pregnant, we were ecstatic. That little blue line on the pregnancy test was a clear and unmistakable answer to our prayers.

We were parents. A tiny little somebody was growing in Mary’s womb. A child—our child—was going to make its way into the world, and our lives would change forever.

And oh, how they changed.

* * *

I know a lot of you have been looking forward to seeing how Primrose will work her way into Sabbath Thoughts—and, let’s be honest, my little wildflower takes up the majority of my waking (and sometimes sleeping) hours. I’m going to write about her; it’s a given.

But not today.

Not many people know this, but even though Prim is our firstborn, she isn’t our first child. About six months before we found out about Primrose, we were celebrating an entirely different blue line on an entirely different pregnancy test—and that’s who this blog is about:

The baby who didn’t make it.

* * *

The day after we saw that first blue line, I wrote a letter to our baby.

“Dear little one,” I wrote. “I’m a daddy now. I wasn’t that before you, but I am now because of you. … I pray you’ll grow up big and strong, but right now, you’re just an itty bitty lentil that we’re going to protect and cherish while we watch you grow.”

My plan was to write more letters over time—to have an entire stack that I could bundle up in a couple decades and say, “Here you go. I wrote these for you.”

* * *

But there is no bundle. No stack of letters waiting for a recipient. There’s just the one, stashed away in a shoebox on the fourth shelf of a bookcase. Just a handful of weeks after I wrote it, Mary and I stood by helplessly as the lentil we had planned to protect and cherish vanished from our lives.

I remember so many moments from those weeks—moments that burned us like fire; memories that hurt to recall but would hurt worse to forget.

I remember the sinking feeling we had when the doctor called to tell Mary that something wasn’t right with her blood work, that the numbers weren’t where they should be. I remember talking to Mary’s belly, begging a baby who couldn’t hear me to hang on, to keep fighting, because there were so many wonderful things ahead. I remember begging God not to take our child; begging Him to step in and save its life; begging Him for mercy.

And I remember sitting in the doctor’s office, jaw clenched, holding Mary’s hand while the ultrasound tech tried to find our little lentil. I remember minutes passing that felt like days, the monitor showing us nothing but the sensation we both felt welling up in our hearts—a gaping, inescapable emptiness.

I felt shock, disillusionment, betrayal—I had been counting on God to step in and do something. To work a miracle. To prove the doctors wrong like I knew He could.

I felt fury, anger, rage—that very day, tens of thousands of unborn babies were being casually murdered around the world, and here we were, begging to keep ours but powerless to change anything.

I felt a thousand different emotions at a thousand different intensities, but they all coalesced into the same aching sense of emptiness and despair:

Our baby was gone, and there was nothing we could do about it.

* * *

When God took the kingdom of Israel away from Solomon’s son and gave it to Jeroboam, it was with the intention and hope that Jeroboam would guide Israel according to God’s commandments. Instead, Jeroboam proved to be a leader so corrupt that God promised to wipe him away like refuse.

Jeroboam had a child, a son named Abijah, who became very sick. Jeroboam sent his wife to ask a prophet of God what would happen to Abijah, and this was God’s answer:

“Therefore behold! I will bring disaster on the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam every male in Israel, bond and free; I will take away the remnant of the house of Jeroboam, as one takes away refuse until it is all gone. The dogs shall eat whoever belongs to Jeroboam and dies in the city, and the birds of the air shall eat whoever dies in the field; for the Lord has spoken!”

Arise therefore, go to your own house. When your feet enter the city, the child shall die. And all Israel shall mourn for him and bury him, for he is the only one of Jeroboam who shall come to the grave, because in him there is found something good toward the Lord God of Israel in the house of Jeroboam.

(1 Kings 14:10-13)

* * *

I think about that last verse sometimes. There’s a lot of bigger-picture stuff going on around it—a small, selfish man has set God’s people up for generations of turmoil and instability because of his own failure to trust God—but in the middle of all that, we read that Abijah, a child on his death bed, a child whose last breath was drawing close, was the only one in his whole family tree in whom was “found something good toward the Lord God of Israel.”

I don’t know much about Abijah. I don’t know how old he was or what his sickness was. I don’t know what kind of relationship he had with his mother and father—or even with God, for that matter. But that verse tells me that God cared about him. There was something good in him, and the world he lived in was about to become a very ugly, very awful place. It’s hard to see at first glance, but I think that in so many ways, Abijah’s death was an act of kindness from God.

* * *

There aren’t a lot of parallels between what Jeroboam went through and what Mary and I went through. I get that. But I still think about Abijah from time to time.

I think about other Bible stories, too. David, lying on the ground and fasting for seven days, begging God to spare his first child with Bathsheba. I think about the widow in Zarephath and the Shunammite woman, and the rollercoaster of emotions they must have felt while watching their children die and return to life. I think about Hannah’s years of barrenness before she was able to hold Samuel in her arms and say, “For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition which I asked of Him” (1 Samuel 1:27). I think about Jacob, who gained a child but lost the love of his life when Rachel died delivering Benjamin.

These stories aren’t new. I’ve known them for decades—but now I’m seeing them from a new perspective. It’s difficult, it’s painful, but it makes those passages richer and deeper for me than they ever were before—and that’s doubly true for Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones.

* * *

“Son of man, can these bones live?” God asks Ezekiel (Ezekiel 37:3). And the answer, of course, is yes—they can and they will. These are the bones of those who died without hope, who say, “Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!” (Ezekiel 37:11). In the vision, Ezekiel watches as God stitches that valley of bones back together—first with sinew, then with flesh, then with skin, then finally with the breath of life.

Did you know that at seven weeks, the one-inch-long human embryo has developed all 206 of the bones it will take into adulthood? They haven’t ossified (that is, become “bony”) yet, but they’re all there, all laid out where they should be.

We don’t know exactly how far along our baby was when it died. Maybe it had all 206 of its bones perfectly laid out. Maybe it didn’t. But those bones were written into its DNA from day one, along with the answers to a million other question marks Mary and I have to carry around for now.

Like the color of its eyes. The color of its hair. The shape of its nose. How tall it could have grown.

We don’t even know if it was a boy or a girl. I have to write about my baby as an “it,” which kills me. It wasn’t an “it.” It was a he or a she. We just don’t know which one—and in this life, we never will.

But God does. That’s what gives us hope and strength. God, who knew Jeremiah before He formed him, who wove David like a tapestry in his mother’s womb—that God knows everything our child was and had the potential to become.

And one day…

One day, when God stitches that valley of dry bones back together, our baby will be there. Our baby, who never saw the light of day in this world, will come to consciousness in another, far better world. The dead, small and great, will stand before God. And Abijah will be there. And David and Bathsheba’s child. And millions, billions of others who time and history have forgotten.

“Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live” (Ezekiel 37:13-14).

* * *

Mary and I are far from the only ones to experience the pain of a miscarriage. It’s how 10 to 20 percent of all known pregnancies end, which means there are millions, millions of parents who have to wade through this nightmare every year.

It’s not easy. If you haven’t experienced it yourself, you probably know someone who has, even if they haven’t told you about it. They might be keeping their pain to themselves, trying to put on a happy face around their friends, trying not to burst into tears every time they see a pregnancy announcement on their Facebook newsfeed or when someone asks them when they’re going to start having kids.

Until now, our miscarriage was something only a small handful of people knew about. It’s still hard to talk about; hard to think about. Hard to come to terms with the potential of what could have been and what will never be. There are so many answers we don’t have. We still don’t know why God didn’t step in and save our baby’s life, and that’s something we probably won’t know until we can ask Him about it face-to-face.

But that’s okay. It’s hard, but it’s okay—because we know there is an answer. There is a reason. For now, that’s enough.

* * *

A couple weeks ago, I finally found the courage to take that shoebox off the shelf and read the letter tucked inside. Here’s how it ends:

Oh, little one! We know so little about you right now, but we love you so much already. This is a new adventure for us—for you, too, I expect—and we’re both so excited to see what God has planned for you.

You are, and always will be, loved.

I can’t wait to meet you.

Love,
Daddy

A year and a half ago, I had no idea that those words would be even truer today than the day I wrote them.

The day is coming when the graves will be opened.

I intend to be there when they are.

Until next time,
Jeremy

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