“I’m sorry for your loss.”
That sounded pretty good, right? I couldn’t imagine what it was like to lose a child. I wasn’t about to say something stupid. Peter’s son, Nicholas, had died in his sleep for no discernible reason. What else could I say to a father that just unexpectedly lost a 4 month old boy? I want to communicate so much more to him. But everything else that popped into my head seemed over the top. So I went with the first and simplest option. He firmly shook my hand as I expressed my condolences. I remember his eyes. They were wet with sadness. Poor guy.
I walked my two oldest boys across the sanctuary towards the miniature casket. I wanted them to see little Nicholas. They needed to understand what is at stake in this fallen world. The writer of Hebrew warns that, “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Everyone needs to be ready to stand before God. Even children. Shielding my boys from this reality would do them no favors. So I made it a practice to bring them with us to any funeral we attended. This was already the second one they had been to in 2012. I didn’t want it to be a weird morbid thing. I just wanted them to understand the wonderfulness of Jesus’ resurrection. Death has been conquered. We have a blessed hope.
On the way out to the minivan my oldest son, Hudson, said, “I don’t want Nicaea to die.”
Athanasius, the middle child, quickly chimed in too. “Nicaea gonna die?”
“No, no. Nicaea is doing just fine. Boys, don’t worry. You’ll be hugging her before you know it! She isn’t going to die.”
Hudson smiled. He had been looking forward to a little sister.
Eleven days later, that exchange kept playing over in my mind as we tumbled down State Route 45 in our minivan. How wrong I had been! Nicaea, like Nicholas, was with her Heavenly Father. There wouldn’t be any hugs from her big brothers. Not in this life. And I’d have to explain this to them in just a few minutes.
How do I say this right? A thousand scenarios played out in my head. All of them seemed bad. And before I knew it we were there.
Shit! I should’ve read those pamphlets the nurses gave us.
The two oldest boys were playing by a tree stump in the front yard. I walked over to them as Em went onto the porch to get our youngest, Caedmon. I sat down on the old stump and looked Hudson in his eyes. He knew but still bluntly asked, “Is Nicaea dead?”
“Yes. She is in heaven. We won’t see her until we also are in heaven.”
“How long will that be?”
“I don’t know. Probably a long time.”
He cried. We all cried. It hurt bad that she was gone. The pain was excruciating. It still is most days. However, our tears have never been tears of despair. We had plenty hurt but we also had plenty of hope. The hope of the resurrection and the life to come in heaven has been central to getting us through the hurt. Nicaea’s death brought this hope into sharp focus.
God mercifully led me to a deep study of The Epistle of James in the weeks before everything with my daughter. No matter how hard I tried, I was found myself pouring over the first chapter. My eyes were stuck on three verses in particular. James 1:2-4 reads:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Oh, those wonderful and dreadful verses! Why was God bringing me here? I sensed He was preparing me something. I was right. He was preparing me not just for Nicaea’s death but for heaven. He knew I loved this passing world. He knew heaven was often far from my mind. So He blessed me with a trial. Pastor Thomas Brooks said it well:
….Surely, these afflictions are but the Lord’s pruning-knives by which He will bleed my sins, prune my heart, and make it more fertile and fruitful! They are but the Lord’s potion by which He will clear me and rid me of those spiritual diseases and maladies that are most deadly and dangerous to my soul! Affliction is such a healing potion as will carry away all soul-disease better than all other remedies (Zec 13:8-9)!”
He did just that. He broke me. I hate sin and death more than ever. Heaven is never far from my mind. Just few days ago, Athan began to cry about Nicaea being gone. Hudson turned to me and said, “I long for heaven.” What a gift Nicaea has given us! God has used her to make the entire family heavenly-minded. After all, heaven is where our treasures are. Not just a daughter or a little sister. But our glorious Heavenly Father! Listen to the words of Pastor Brooks once more:
Such is the splendor, the brightness, the glory, the happiness, and blessedness that are reserved for the saints in heaven, that had I all the tongues of men on earth and all the excellencies of the angels in heaven, yet I would not be able to conceive nor express that vision of glory to you! That glory is inconceivable and inexpressible! It is best to be hastening there, that we may feel and enjoy that which we shall never be able to declare!
All the troubles, afflictions, and sorrows of this life, in comparison with eternal happiness and blessedness, are to be considered as nothing. They are but as the point of a pin compared to the starry heavens.
Thank you sweet Nicaea! God used you to fasten daddy’s eyes on heaven. See you soon.
Read pt. 4: Heaven on Earth