What I Thought Lent Would Be.

Every year in early January, I begin to get excited as I look ahead toward Lent. I begin to think about what I want to give up (or fast from) and what I want to study during this special time. This year, I was more excited than normal because I felt as though my life were blooming in new ways. My wife and I were expecting our first baby. We also were seeing opportunities arise professionally as well. When I saw the He Reads Truth study for this year, I thought to myself, “This is perfect!” I truly felt as though I was coming alive. I ordered the Bible study and couldn’t wait to begin.

Then, the unthinkable happened. On February 21st, we delivered and lost our beautiful baby girl and our dreams shattered. It wasn’t just the fact that we lost our daughter, but we also lost the hope and excitement that surrounded her. She was ingrained in every thought, every decision, every purpose since the day we found out we were pregnant. We also lost the hope of what was to come—the family gatherings, the holidays, taking her to football games, all of the anticipation surrounding her life. Our hopes and dreams came crashing down and the last thing that I felt I was doing was “coming to life”. The opposite would be a more accurate depiction of how I felt that day.

Lent began for me in a Nashville hotel room. In the midst of loss, my wife and I decided to get away for a couple of nights. We didn’t want to go far, so we booked a hotel in Nashville. I desperately needed a change of scenery. Every single thing in our home was a reminder of what was lost. We needed rest. We stayed in, watched TV, ordered delivery, and talked and prayed about what was next. On the first day of Lent, I opened up Come to Life. While reading scripture, this was the first verse that stood out to me—

“The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” -Romans 8:21 (NIV)

My soul needed that verse more than I knew. A promise that we, all of creation, will be liberated from death is exactly what I needed to read just over 2 weeks after the loss of my daughter. It didn’t stop the pain. It didn’t make me hurt less, but what it did do was give me the smallest glimpse of hope. So small, in fact, I don’t think I realized it, but on that day, God planted something in my heart that is still growing today.

This years Lenten season brought tremendous pain. I didn’t know I could hurt the way I do and still breathe and function. Actually, some days, I barely did function. I felt dead, numb, and out of touch with reality. I felt as though life was going on around me, passing me by, but I was standing still. But, as I started forcing myself forward, I noticed that my fundamental values and thoughts were shifting. Things that were significant before aren’t so significant now. Things that I was previously interested in seem boring to me now. I see the importance of things with a fresh perspective—family, the fragility of life, the impact of our words and actions—all of it feels different. Even the way I worship feels different.

The Bible talks about how God can take the tragedies our of lives and use them for good. I’ll never, ever call losing my daughter “good”, but I can tell you what I’m learning about myself. My heart is wide open. Not only that, my heart is willing to go and do what God has for us now more than ever before. I’m more dependent on Him because I’ve had no other choice. I see a purpose in every since action I take. I love those around me better than before. I truly see the world very differently than I did before February 21st, and I am grateful for that. I guess it turns out that I really am coming to life.

During our Easter service at church, as we were worshipping, a group of special needs individuals were sitting across from my wife and I. Everyone in the group was singing at the top of their lungs. Their worship was so genuine, pure, and authentic, and if I’m honest, it made me cry. There was something so special in that moment, and I thank God for it. And I thank God for what He’s doing in my life too even though the pain is almost unbearable at times. I thank Him because what He’s doing points me towards Him.

I want you to know as I’m writing this, there’s nothing I can type that will allow me to tie a pretty bow around my situation and move on. We still lost our daughter. We still grieve that everyday. I actually feel pretty lost at the moment in all honesty. But, here’s the thing—just because I feel a certain way doesn’t mean that I actually am. Because of our relationship with Jesus, it’s impossible to be lost because He has us right where we’re supposed to be. And even though I’m impatient and I want what I want right now, I know that good things are ahead. Because of that hope, I can take my next step, one at a time, into the next season God has for us.

The Difference Between Then and Now

It’s been just over 4 weeks since we brought our beautiful baby girl into the world and held her as she slipped away into Jesus’ arms. So much joy and so much sadness was wrapped into such a short period of time. It almost feels like a bad dream—that I’ll wake up and things will be different.

Grief is so strange. You’ll be fine one second, and then the next, you’re right back to the starting line. I think it’s important to embrace these moments. I think it’s important to feel all the feelings associated with this type of loss, but I also think our sweet girl deserves all the joy of the world as well. It’s easy to try and diminish what happened because of the sadness and pain surrounding it, but our baby girl lived a short and beautiful life, and she deserves to be honored in that way. I have so much to share in the future, simply in hopes that we can be a light to others going through similar situations. But, for now, these small offerings are all I have.

Evie changed both of us the second we saw her. We saw a glimpse of heaven in her that we had never seen before. She was truly the closest thing to Jesus I’ve ever seen. And, because of that, our lives are changed forever. I don’t care as much what people think anymore. Things that I thought were important are seemingly insignificant now. The character of our family and friends was truly revealed during this time. We have never felt so loved. And still, there’s a heaviness in my steps that wasn’t there before. I hope that goes away with time as we look towards what’s next for us.

I don’t know much. I don’t understand why these things happen. I don’t understand why one minute I’m okay and the next, I’m overwhelmed with so much emotion, it’s hard to stand on my own two feet. I don’t know what’s next for us, but I do know this—our baby girl, in her short, beautiful life, had such an impact on everyone she met. She gave me a new heart and took a piece of it with her simultaneously. She gave me new eyes to see the world. In all the confusion surrounding everything that unfolded, she gave me clarity about what really matters here. But, most of all, she gave us the greatest gift that we had been praying for—to become parents.

My Verse for 2022

“Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.”

Romans 8:26-28 [MSG]

I had intentions to post this scripture at the beginning of the year. When God laid this verse on my heart, I had no idea how the events that were about to unfold would shift my own perspective towards this verse in the early months of this year. I have much to share… grief, loss, beauty, and hopefully growth, and I will soon.

What 2021 Taught Me.

A few things I’ve learned this year—

God’s timing and our timing is usually not aligned.
I should have learned this years ago, but this year, it really sank in. God has blessed me more than I could ever have imagined, but it didn’t look anything like I thought it would, and most of the time, it never does.

Time is currency.
So many times, I hear, “I’ll do that next year” or “I’ll get to that in the future”. There may not be a future. You never know what could happen, so if there’s something we want to do, we better get to work on it.

People care.
People really truly care. I’ve never seen so much love from our community around us like I have this year. And focus shouldn’t be placed on the ones that don’t care for that matter.

Dreams really do come true.
This year has seen so many dreams come true, not just for us, but for friends and family as well. One of our best friends landed an incredible position in New York. Another couple moved to Kentucky to pursue a doctoral program. I was given an incredible opportunity at work. After years of prayer, Ashlynn and I are expecting a baby. 2021 was beautiful in so many ways.

Our perspective changes everything.
All of our thoughts—our insecurities, our guilt, our shame—the way we look at the people and things around us directs our steps and our reactions.

It’s not so much about the quantity of time spent, but the quality of time spent.
I want to be all in on what I’m working on, whether it be a project for work or time with my family. Distractions (like our phone) rob us of what’s right in front of us.

Light always drives out darkness.
Since September, I’ve seen references to darkness and light in the Bible over and over. Then, I saw several Advent studies focused on darkness and light. This was no coincidence. This year has taught me that light always drives out darkness.

I was wrong… about a lot.
This year, I’ve learned I was wrong—how others perceive me, how I perceive myself, and how I perceive others on my part as well. I learned I was wrong and it is humbling, and I’m excited to shift my perspective for what’s to come this year.

We’re Pregnant!

We are so excited to announce that we are pregnant with a beautiful baby GIRL due in July 2022!

God has been so good to us through this journey! We have prayed for this baby for years and can’t contain our excitement for what’s to come!

Her name will be Evelyn Gray (called Evie). Evelyn is a family name after my mom and grandparents. Gray was Ashlynn’s grandmother’s name. She comes from a long line of powerhouse women on both sides and I will love watching her grow as she continues that legacy. This baby is blessed from the start and we can’t wait for all of it—the late night feedings, the dance parties, Saturday pancakes, trips to the beach, and more love than we knew we could give.

I’ll share more of our journey in the future, but for now, we are settling into the fact that our dreams are really coming true.