Altars of Remembrance

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

I love Timehop. If you haven’t gotten in on this app, you’re missing out on a daily dose of nostalgia being effortlessly delivered to the palm of your hand. Sean texted me this morning that it has been six years since we made Whitney “Facebook official.” In other words, six years ago today, we let the world know that I was pregnant and we were expecting a baby. A much anticipated and longed for baby. To say I had no clue what life held in store for us with that little one would be the understatement of my lifetime. I had no idea the heights of joy and the depths of sorrow I would journey through in the coming years and months as a result of that pregnancy. 

So August 19th was the day we went FBO (Facebook Official) with our cooking bun in the oven. Ironically, I had no idea that August 19th is also the Day of Hope. A day set aside to remember babies of all ages and gestation who have died. Six years ago, with a little Whitney-bean growing in my tummy, I had no idea how much the act of remembering would feed my Mommy Heart and Soul. Obviously, someone who had walked the road before me did know, and thus we have the Day of Hope.

I spent all of last year studying the Life of Moses in Bible Study Fellowship. This was an extraordinary study that basically took us through the entire Pentateuch. One point that has stuck with me from the study was all of the festivals and feasts that the Lord designed for his people as a means of remembering what He had done for them. Most notably was the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread, where they remembered God’s deliverance from his plague of death to all of the firstborn sons in Egypt. We carry on this time of Passover remembrance in present-day Christianity as well, when we take communion and remember Christ as our Passover lamb, our redemption and salvation from sin. Studying all of the occasions for remembrance has greatly increased the awareness with which I remember God’s goodness in my life.

At various times in the Old Testament, God’s people set up an altar of remembrance at a place where God did an especially powerful miracle, at a place where God dramatically rescued His people, at a place where God taught them an important lesson. These altars of remembrance- constructed of simple, local & uncut stones (so no man could get the glory for the creation)- would serve to remind future generations of God’s past faithfulness in order to give them the strength to continue trusting the Lord in their present trials. While we may not build altars of stone today, I believe that remembering ways in which God has moved mightily in our personal lives is crucial to our faith. I can (and probably will!) write a whole separate post about the altars of remembrance in my life, where God has shown his goodness & faithfulness to me. But one of the greatest times when I have seen God’s presence and mercy was when I was pregnant with Whitney. I am thankful for days like today, the Day of Hope, when I can remember the goodness of God. There are a few other days throughout the year when I also reflect on this same time in my life and am simply overwhelmed with the way all of the events unfolded and how miraculously God’s hand can be seen in every detail. (October is infant loss awareness month, as well as her birthdate (2/11/10) and her would-have-been due date (4/16/10).)

As I thought about sitting down to write all of this, to remember and reflect on our time with Whitney and the journey we’ve been on since her death, there was a great part of me that wanted to shrug it off. To ignore it. I was putting Joanna down for her nap so that I could get some quiet time to myself, and as I was walking towards my writing desk in my bedroom, the couch looked might cozy. I thought about forgetting all of this, and just vegging out in front of the t.v.  Something about that felt much safer. Much more enjoyable. But I forced my feet on down the hall and sat at my desk for a few minutes. What was it inside of me that didn’t want to remember? That didn’t want to take the time to reflect on this day?

Remembering often involves a certain degree of pain. Sure, there are the “golden memories”… the Christmases where everything was perfect. The vacations or college years that were carefree and fun. But as we remember good times, we also remember bad times. And more often than not, the two are irrevocably entwined. This can cause us to shy away from the simple act of remembering. To remember a time, a place, a person or situation that has changed us, we don’t have to do anything special. Sometimes its a song on the radio. The back of a stranger walking down the street. The whiff of something familiar in the air. And suddenly we are back in that place… that place where the joy mingled with sorrow in an impossible dance we could not stop. Its important to remember that even though memories may carry a heaviness, the goodness of God can be seen in all of them if we only look for it. 

The great compassion of our loving Father can be seen ALL OVER Whitney’s story. I could talk for hours of the ways in which God lavished his love in the midst of our pain. From tiny details such as dates, or people I met years before, to the big parts of her story, like my mom arriving in the US from Egypt on the very day Whitney passed away, God’s goodness is everywhere. I could choose to remember only the pain— the ignorant nurse who checked me in on my delivery day, telling me “You don’t look very pregnant!” (its because my baby is sick and died and now I have to deliver her thankyouverymuch), the hours of labor, the emptiness and loneliness when she was taken away, etc, etc. But in doing that, I miss the point of suffering… sharing with other the goodness of God and the HOPE we have in Christ. The acts of God’s goodness that I remember when I think about by far outweigh the pain of our earthly loss. Like the fact that Whitney was born 21 years to the day that I was baptized into Christ. Talk about new life! Or the fact that both my mom and my sister were able to be in the delivery room with us. Or how about the HUGE part of the story where God had been preparing me my whole life to carry Whitney when, as a college student he impassioned me to advocate for the unborn, learning about the sanctity of human life—in every situation!  

You see, we can choose to remember only the good- ignoring our humanity, our pain and the people or places precious enough to evoke such emotion. We can choose to remember only the bad- forgetting the faithfulness of a loving Father, compassionate gifts of His presence that pop up at the most desperate of times. Or we can choose to remember both, embracing with one arm our longing for wholeness in a broken world while also clinging desperately with the other arm to glimpses of His glory revealed to us while we’re still on this earth. 

Today, this is my altar of remembrance to the Lord. What does your altar of remembrance look like today? What places in your past are you thankful for and remembering that faithfulness of our Great God?

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