One of the oddest things for me about losing a child is how we as bereaved parents obsess over the lost one… doesn’t matter how many surviving children we have… the lost one is the one on our minds and hearts 24/7. I’ve struggled with it… fought it. I’ve tried to honor and enjoy the kids I still have here while I can… and yet the obsession hasn’t gone away.
When my kids were really little (I had 4 in under 6 years) and I took them all to the grocery store with me, I would continually count them… 1, 2, 3, 4… to make sure one hadn’t wondered away. Often when one had wondered off, Joel was the one who was missing.
We lost him in Target once when he was four. Have you ever lost a child in Target before? Your heart races.. you are in a panic… almost in tears… I can’t tell you how terrifying it is. Four minutes feels like a lifetime. We found him amongst the Christmas trees marveling at the bin of ornaments. He has always loved Christmas.
Another time we were coming out of HEB (our all time favorite Texas grocery store) and 1, 2, 3… 4 (Joel) was standing in the parking lot with his hand held up to the approaching cars like he had some crossing guard superpower and could make the cars stop for us to cross.
That’s where the obsession comes in… at terror. As a homeschool mom I was continually counting them at home, too: Josh is at the kitchen table doing his math, James is on the computer writing a paper, Joel is sitting on the couch reading his history book, and Judi is on the floor practicing her grammar. 1, 2, 3, 4.
As my four grew into young adults they chose to live at home, work and go to college locally (happy me). Counting grew a little more challenging: Josh is doing a lab, James is on his way home from work, Joel has to leave for work in an hour and Judi is teaching swim lessons.
1, 2, 3, 4.. all accounted for.
I had this 1, 2, 3, 4 thing so much in my mamma heart that I always hated pictures of only three of my kids …now all I can take are pictures of three. In those pictures one was missing. Two kids in a picture was okay because the missing one wasn’t by themselves.
This is the last picture I have of the three boys together. Josh and James are glad to be home with Joel and are telling him all their news. Judi is teaching swim lessons at the Y. I was so caught up in the joy of the boys enjoying each other that this photo never bothered me
I am counting them still. Sometimes I am halfway through before I realize what I am doing… and it’s too late to stop.
When I get to Joel now, I account him as happy in Heaven.
It’s been a little over 21 months since his first day in Heaven… and some days the thought brings me joy and others tears.
Lately, I have been struggling with what I am calling “frustrated love.” I have opportunities to love the kids who are still with me.. cook for them.. celebrate their accomplishments… buy them clothes and little gifts, but I keep searching for Joel. He is missing… and I am longing for a way to show him that I love him. If I am really honest, I am feeling somewhat jealous of our Heavenly Father. He gets to be with Joel, to see him every day, and to shower him with gifts that I could never afford.
The day these feelings began pushing from my subconscious into my conscious the Lord reminded me of the story of the lost sheep:
Luke 15:4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?”
That part of the story has always bugged me… HE LEFT THE 99?! What about them? Are they wondering where He is? Are they okay while He is gone?
I love the next verse though:
Luke 15:5 “And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders.”
I want to be that sheep… the rescued one.
I want to see the joy on His face and rest on His shoulders.
I felt like God was saying to me through the story, “It’s okay. You don’t have to feel guilty about obsessing over your lost lamb. I AM like that, too. I’d leave 99 at home and search for the one. You are created in My image. And it’s okay.”
Some bereaved parents find comfort in the fact that their children aren’t really lost. They know their child is Heaven and refuse to use the word lost when referring to them. I understand, but my heart counts 1, 2, 3, and then comes the terror … FOUR!! Where is FOUR? He is lost to me… no longer in my possession.. for now. My heart searches endlessly for him even though my head knows that I am powerless to recover him… and that if I could, it would be wrong to take him from his happy joy in Heaven.
Until the day I join him there and the terror is washed away, I will ever be teaching my heart to rest in my search secure in my hope in Heaven, in His joy and upon His strong shoulders.