On August 17, 2011, our first daughter, Kaia, went home to be with the Lord after only 20 days of life. It’s hard to believe that tomorrow will be 11 years. 11 years … Leanne and I were realizing during VBS that if she had lived, and if she had been a healthy girl rather than a girl on life support, this year would have been her first year to be a teen leader for VBS. She would be going into 6th grade in the Fall and would be excited to be joining the youth group. Her birthday was on July 29, which was the last day of VBS, and it had me thinking about how, if the Lord had seen fit for circumstances to be different, maybe she would have brought cupcakes to share with all the other leaders to celebrate her birthday and the end of a fun week of VBS.
Instead of cupcakes, we loaded up our family car as soon as VBS ended on the 29th and rushed off to Cannon Beach for the rest of the day. It’s a big deal to us to celebrate her birthday, and to remember her on the day she died. July 29 and August 17 are sacred, special days in our house. So we went to the beach to have a family day, as we remembered Kaia’s short life. We hiked around Ecola State Park, and we played on the beach and the rocks down at Hug Point. We went out for dinner but had to make sure to be seated on a patio since we had our dog, Jada, with us. It was a really nice day spent remembering Kaia. We loved our time together as a family, although we felt that loss – that one daughter isn’t in any of the pictures, wasn’t playing with her sisters, wasn’t eating a cheeseburger, wasn’t telling silly jokes, wasn’t being extra noisy in the back seat on the drive home. It’s a day of celebration for us, but it’s certainly twinged with sadness, as well. But we’re sure grateful for the three girls the Lord has given us since then, and we’re grateful that they have learned to celebrate their sister’s life too.
The pain of loss doesn’t just go away. I cried more than a few tears on her birthday and felt some of the anguish that I always feel that day. And I’m prepared for more tears tomorrow, as we visit her grave together and have another family day. The pain is less than it was those first couple years, but not too much less. It still hurts a lot.
There are a lot of possible pains in life. And we all get to experience some of them. Some people seem to get a fuller dose, but all the same, we each get our turn experiencing the consequences of the Fall, and it does us no good to try to compare pain with others. Death, broken relationships, loss of a dream, wayward children, financial strain or even ruin, rejection, ministry loss, short-term and long-term health battles, personal or moral failure, and so much more. Sometimes several of these things all at once.
In our most painful times, it can be inviting to do one of two things. One is to bury the pain, hide the pain, medicate the pain, avoid the pain, do whatever we can to not face the pain. Or a second thing we can do is to instead be overcome by the pain and, in the process, lose our confidence in the Lord. But there is another way, which may be the harder way, but I’m convinced is the better way. The Lord is inviting me and the Lord is inviting you to feel all that pain. To not bury it, to not bottle it up, to not run from it, but to experience it. To feel the raw, hard emotions. To cry. Because it really is ok to cry. And then to invite Jesus to meet us in our pain, to trust Him in our pain, and trust Him to walk with us through it. And for those pains that never go away and don’t really get all that much easier, to trust that His mercies will be new each morning, and that he will bear the pain with us each new day.
Trusting the Lord is really something incredible. Not always easy. But always good because He is always good.
Pastor Ryan Donovan