Eternally Engraved


A photo of freshly washed clothes for a baby boy flashed across my computer screen the other day. My mind instantly rewound to the day I washed and folded a pile of gently worn hand-me-downs in hues of baby blue, bright reds, greens, and sunny yellows as I was anticipating the arrival of my own son. Days later, we learned he would never wear them.

Even now, the doctor’s words, “I’m sorry. He’s gone,” seem surreal, but cut through my heart like a steel edged sword.

Six years ago, I lay in a hospital bed admitted for premature labor contractions. I was pregnant with 28-week old twins — a boy and a girl who had been gaining weight, hitting all the development marks, and happily kicking me and one another. That morning, their heartbeats were strong and steady and by night, his was silent. An umbilical cord accident brought an earthly end to my sweet boy’s life. Without any indication of distress, he slipped quietly into the arms of Jesus. His lifeless body was delivered four weeks later with his sister who struggled, but survived.

Every year on the anniversary of our Leyton’s death, we celebrate Heaven Day — the day when Leyton went to his real home. Not the one we had prepared for him and his sister with freshly washed clothes in a butter-yellow painted room with matching cribs and Pottery Barn bedding, but the one he was truly created for.

We head to the same special spot in the mountains and talk about him and to the Lord. We release baby blue-colored balloons, eat birthday cupcakes, and do something he’d love if he were here with us. One year, we went to a dinosaur museum — a perfect outing for a little boy. Another, we went to a train exhibit and still another, we hiked trails and explored. We talk about what we will do when we are reunited in heaven. My oldest wants to jump on the trampoline with him. Leyton’s twin sister plans to swing side-by-side at a park and talk. My two littler ones will come up with something equally fun, I’m sure.

Throughout the year, we talk about and include Leyton in our family traditions. At Thanksgiving, a candle burns at the family table in his honor. At Christmas, we hang a stocking and stuff it with letters from each member of the family. We decorate the tree with ornaments for him right alongside those of his siblings. For Mother’s Day, we join other families who have children with the Lord and release butterflies. When my sister got married this year, she lovingly left her ring bearer position open in his honor and my three daughters walked down the aisle as her flower girls wearing blue-stone necklaces she gave to remember him.

Some have asked and others may wonder why we intentionally and repeatedly remember Leyton. Because he is a part of who we are. Not a faded memory or an unpleasant incident in our history. A living member of our family — more alive than we are now and safely in the arms of Jesus. We do so because we want our four children on earth to know and experience what their brother knows with assurance in heaven right now — that every life is precious to God, every hurt is of concern to Him, and every soul is in need of a Savior who has paid a tremendous price to pave the way to heaven.

Not too long ago, I came into the living room to find my seven-year old daughter arranging several photos of Leyton neatly on the coffee table. I asked her what she was doing. “I’m opening the Leyton store where I can give away pictures of my brother so that no one will forget him,” she said. My heart broke. For her. For me. For us. My husband and I had heard and sensed the “aren’t you over that” comments that can accompany grief. While we tried to shield our children from these conversations and details, we knew they felt it. A sense of shame in sharing our woundedness reverberated in our souls after such interactions. Worse yet, a cheapening of our sweet boy’s brief, but precious life.

We know that Leyton’s absence will be felt for all the years that are left to be, but I wrestled with and agonized over such sentiments as well as with my own fear and doubt. As I did, I wrestled with the Lord and with truth. A few weeks ago I reread a familiar Scripture that jumped off the pages and into my troubled heart.

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has born? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:15-16a, NIV)

I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of that verse. A mother’s love for (and conversely, her grief over) her child is a gift from God and by comparison, a small token of the overwhelming love He has for that little one. I looked at my hands and realized that a name engraved on the palms signifies permanent and public visibility. There is no concealing an image on an extremity used every day for everything. Then, the Lord spoke gently to my heart, “Julie, how could I forget you? How could I forget your pain? Your life is ever before me and so is Leyton’s.”

He was not through.

“I am not bound by time. I am not bound by your faded memory or anyone else’s. The value I have placed on your son will forever remain because I am the One who assigned it to Him. It cannot be reversed.” I was breathless with awe.

Remembering Leyton is far more than an expression of our grief. It is a declaration of who we are and Who we have believed in. It is an affirmation of the enduring value God has placed upon us as His creation. It is a reminder that eternity awaits every soul. We remember our son and we do so with the humble knowledge that God remembered us first. It is He who created and bestows us with value. It is He who engraved us upon the palms of His hands. It is He who offered up His only Son for our deliverance. It is He who has triumphed over death. It is He who will sustain us until the journey here is over.

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Julie Neils is passionate about living a real life in a fabricated world. Digging beneath the surface in her relationship with God and with others is the thing that gets her up out of bed. That and fussy little ones. And a big ol’ cup of coffee. As a media relations and branding consultant, she has spent more than fifteen years advising ministry leaders, policy makers and authors on relevant, out-of-the-box communications strategies. She and her husband, Brian, live in the Rocky Mountains where she homeschools their five kiddos.

  • Karen

    Thank you for sharing your heart with us, your grief and the continued celebration of Leyton.
    I have been blessed by reading your words.

  • Julie

    Thank you, Karen, for taking the time to share that. I was so encouraged and blessed by your comment. Thank you again.

  • This week marks the two-year anniversary of when our baby, Noah, died in the womb. We didn’t find out that she’d gone to be with Jesus until five weeks later, though. I love where Julie writes:

    Every year on the anniversary of our Leyton’s death, we celebrate Heaven Day — the day when Leyton went to his real home. Not the one we had prepared for him and his sister with freshly washed clothes in a butter-yellow painted room with matching cribs and Pottery Barn bedding, but the one he was truly created for.

    It’s yet another reminder that we are not home yet. Someday we will finally be in the home we were created for — and there I’ll get the opportunity to see and hug Noah for the first time.

    Julie, thank you for sharing Leyton with us and encouraging all of us who also have children waiting for us in heaven.

  • Shellie Carles

    Beautiful…..our Zoe lost her twin brother at just 2 months old. My heart aches for her not having him by her side. I might need to start celebrating that day for her to remember him! Thankyou for sharing your heart! He passed away while they were still in Africa…but Zoe loves to talk about him. <3

  • Shirl Lee Huscher

    Thank you so much Julie, for putting words to what is in our hearts. God bless you and thank you for letting us share in the life of your family, including precious Leyton.

  • Lisa

    Julie, you have been a dear friend and inspiration to our mom’s group. I love how you refuse to let Leyton be erased from your family. Our children are still a vital part of our lives whether they are alive here or alive in heaven. I rejoice that my own children…the one I never knew outside of the womb…and Katie Beth who I was allowed 15 years with, still live on and I await our reunion!

  • Julie

    Ashleigh, Thank you for your kind words and for allowing me the space to honor Leyton. I can hardly believe it’s been two years since sweet Noah went to be with Jesus. I know you miss her in ways difficult to articulate. Praying for you this week as you walk through the anniversary, long for Noah and anticipate heaven. I can’t wait.

  • Julie

    Shirl- Thank you for your kind words. So blessed to know you, friend.

    Lisa- Thank you for that. Katie Beth and your sweet little one are faces I am longing to see in heaven. I am blessed to know them through you and to witness your warrior love for your children and for others.

  • Julie


    I am so very sorry for Zoe and for your family as well. My Lauren talks about Leyton all the time. Helping her process her grief has been a challenge from Day 1 and one of the hardest parts of this journey. I see the Lord multiplying her vision for heaven. For that I am grateful. Praying for Zoe and for you all as you help her grieve.

  • I absolutely love this. My sister just went through the same thing around the same week in pregnancy. She delivered her baby girl a few days before Christmas. IT has been incredibly painful for our entire family. My heart hurts for her everyday. Thank you for the courage to share your pain.

    I forwarded this to her.

    • Karin, I’m so, so sorry. I’ll be praying for your sister and for your entire family.

  • Julie


    I am so very sorry to hear about your sweet niece. That breaks my heart for your sister and your whole family. She is blessed to have a sister, lik you, who grieves with and for her. I’ll be praying for you all as you walk through this.

  • Tonia

    If there is one thing I’ve learned as an infant bereavement photographer, it’s that a life doesn’t have to be long to be large. It’s so wonderful that you’ve found a way to celebrate your son, to think of him not just with grief, but also with joy. For nothing is grieved that is not first treasured.

  • Julie

    Tonia, Thank you so much for sharing that. So well said and so very true, “For nothing is grieved that is not first treasured.” So, so true. Thank you for sharing this with me.

  • Becky Hanson

    My second son went home to Jesus before I could meet him. When they thought I was asleep I heard them say, “Such a blessing for this mom–the little boy is missing his right arm and left leg. Nothing there.” I cried. I did not want that kind of blessing. Over the years my children, my first son and my daughter that came five years later, have known about Benjamin David. In school when my daughter did a family tree, she included both brothers. God HAS blessed us, much more than the nurse could ever imagine.

  • Julie

    Becky, Thank you so much for sharing about your precious boy, Benjamin David. How very, very painful. It was so neat to hear about how your daughter shared his life and honored him publicly. What a blessing for your family to have Benjamin David as part of it and what a blessing for us to share in his life this way. Thank you for opening your heart.

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Eternally Engraved

by Julie Neils time to read: 4 min