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Eternally Engraved

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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.

16 Comments
  • Karen

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

  • 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

    Shellie,

    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

    Karin,

    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.

Articles

When Doing Justly, Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly Stand at Odds

If your compassion far exceeds your capacity, here’s one way you can be sure to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

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One of my life verses is Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

It is one of my favorite verses because my heart has been so moved by the love Jesus has for me and the sacrifice He made for me that I am grateful to have a way to express my gratitude through acts of justice and mercy while walking humbly with God.

I have found at times, however, the call to do justice and love mercy come in conflict with the call to walk humbly with God. For me, one of the ways to walk humbly with God is to recognize my limitations. I have to put skin to the fact that I am not God which means saying, “no” to ministry requests. It means going to sleep when I could be spending time advocating for the harrowed and helpless in the world. It means limited seats at my table, limited funds in my bank account, and limited energy in my body cannot be ignored but respected and adhered to.

This is hard for me at times, especially when I scroll my Facebook feed and see friends who are caring for their really sick children, spouse, or other family member all while millions of refugees flee war torn countries and babies are slaughtered by the hundreds each day in our country through the abortion industry.

As I scroll, I receive texts about one family member’s surgery gone wrong and another family member announcing a new baby is on the way. I have in mind my neighbor who has inpatient surgery scheduled this week and another neighbor who is trying to hold down a full-time job, care for twins all while battling profound “morning” sickness.

Folks at church are fighting for their lives in physical and spiritual ways, and strangers who pass me on the road are clearly battling something as demonstrated by their impatient honking because I won’t take a right turn on red. I want to meet the needs of all; I want to do justice and love mercy, but I’m daily confronted by the fact that I am so limited.

What am I to do when doing justly and/or loving mercy seem to come in conflict with walking humbly with my God?

God keeps bringing me to this answer: prayer.

God invites us to cast our cares before Him because He cares for us.
God tells us to be anxious for nothing BUT WITH PRAYER present our requests before Him.
God commands us to pray without ceasing.

And, when I walk humbly with God, I see the immense kindness in His command.
He gives us a way to do justly, love mercy WHILE walking humbly with Him.
It is by praying without ceasing.

I cannot take a meal or give money to every sick person or family I know. I cannot extend kindness to all my neighbors all at the same time they’re in need nor conjure up sustainable solutions for the refugee crisis and contact all the necessary world powers to make it happen.

I cannot heal all, but I know the Healer.

I cannot provide for all the needs, but I know the Provider.

I cannot rescue everyone in need, but I know the Rescuer.

I cannot comfort all the broken, but I know the Comforter.

I cannot speak peace over every situation, but I know the Prince of Peace.

I cannot be all to all, but I can go to the Great I Am through prayer, lay all the people, problems and pleas for help before the Omniscient and Omnipresent God of all Creation.

I can do this through prayer.

Recently, via an Instagram contest of all things, I came upon A–Z prayer cards designed by blogger/author/speaker, Amelia Rhodes. It is a simple concept packed with a powerful prayer punch. It has served me personally in this tension of wanting to do far more than I practically can do. It provides prayer prompts starting with each letter of the alphabet along with a scripture that coincides with the prayer focus. It ranges from Adoption to a creative “Zero Prejudice” for the letter “Z.”

The cards are well thought out, color printed on sturdy cardstock with blank lines for the user to write in the names of people and/or organizations that are personal to them.

If, like me, your compassion far exceeds your capacity, pick up a set of these prayer cards and unload your burdens onto a God whose competence matches His kindness, both boundless.

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Articles

Facing Our Fears in Motherhood

Do you have fears tied to motherhood? If so, here’s encouragement for you.

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“Are you scared?”

I was taken aback by his question. Scared? Of what?

“Of anything,” he answered.

I had just shared my due date with a new class of trainees.

“He has three boys,” another new hire volunteered. So fear is to be expected, I reasoned. I’m just about to face the most frightening experience in my life.

Of course I was scared.

I was scared…

  • I’ll lose my temper.
  • I’ll whine about sleepless nights.
  • I’ll breastfeed too often or not often enough.
  • I’ll leave piles of unfolded onesies in the middle of the nursery floor because I’m too tired (or lazy?) to fold teeny-tiny baby clothes for the upteenth time.
  • I’ll go with disposable diapers when the better choice would be cloth.
  • I’ll work too many long hours at the office and miss precious moments with her.
  • I’ll sign her up for too many activities and push her to become Miss Achieve-It-All.
  • I’ll pass on to her my ugly pride, self-righteousness, and perfectionism like a dreadful contagious disease.
  • I’ll miss countless little joys in life while pursuing worthless dreams.

Facing Our Fears in MotherhoodIn short… I was afraid I was going to fail miserably as a parent.

And now, holding my second-born daughter in my arms, thinking back on that brief exchange just a few years ago, I realize those fears were well-founded. I’ve failed many times. I’ve lost my temper. I’ve raised my voice. I’ve worked too much and played too little. I’ve seen my own sinfulness reflected in my daughter.

Yes, I’ve failed, but over and above it all, God’s grace has covered my parenting imperfections and made me run to the cross day after day. The writer of Proverbs puts it this way:

Whoever fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

When it comes to fears, we have two choices: Will we fear the unknown or will we fear the Lord? Will we allow the uncertain to grip us in its clutch or will we turn to God’s Truth to set us free?

Scared? Oh yeah. There was so much to be scared of that day. And even now, if I’m completely honest, there are still fears nibbling at the edges of my consciousness. Fear that we won’t outgrow the temper tantrums. Fear that the two girls won’t get along. Fear that I’ll mess them up and cause them interminable hours on a psychologist’s couch.

I’m sure you have fears, too.

But rather than allow those fears to consume and paralyze us, we can take them to the Lord, acknowledging His sovereignty over our parenting, pleading His grace over our mistakes, and entrusting His provision over their futures. He is not only able to handle it all — He is far more capable to be trusted with it all.

If I say one thing to that frightened 9-month-pregnant me standing in that room years ago, I would say this: Don’t let fear rob today’s joy with tomorrow’s unknowns. Each day has enough worries of its own (Matthew 6:34).

Instead, let us keep seeking God, running to Him as our secure fortress and resting in the knowledge that He will care for us and our children one day at a time.

What are you scared of today? Name your fears and bring them to the Lord, allowing Him to replace them with His peace that passes all understanding.

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Articles

He Gives Shade To The Weary

If anxiety is a struggle for you right now, remember that He gives shade to the weary.

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Do you ever have those moments of fear because you don’t know what lies ahead? When do those thoughts tend to happen to you?

For me, most of those thoughts happen when I lay my head down to sleep at night. The vulnerability comes forth every time. That’s what happened the other night to me. I shut my eyes and immediately anxiety welled up inside me.

What if we don’t succeed in this new venture? What if we have to move? What if we can’t pay our bills?

I laid there with the covers drawn tight over my head (I still think that I am safer if the covers are over my head), praying scripture over my anxious heart. Assuring myself that God sees me and that He cares.

In the morning, I turned to Isaiah 41, specifically verses 10-20.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NASB)

Yesterday, the “what if’s” piled up as I anxiously looked about me. My daughter needs tutoring, however at this point in life, tutoring feels like a luxury we can’t afford. So I listed some items online to sell hoping to make just enough to cover the tutoring. I’m buying groceries on a Visa reward card. I’m holding my breath until the next paycheck comes. But what did God speak over me: Do not fear. Do not look anxiously about you.

“For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’ Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel; I will help you,” declares the Lord, “and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:13-14 NASB)

Why shouldn’t I be anxious? Because God will hold me up. God will help me. When I first read the word “worm” as a description, I took it as a slam against Israel. Like, gesh, God. What animal does He relate me to? But through further study, He calls them a worm because worms are helpless. They are viewed as insignificant, despised and weak. God will help me — seemingly insignificant, helpless me — because He is my Redeemer. He is my go’el — my next of kin. The Redeemer is the one who provides for all my needs. Rent. Car payment. Credit card bill. Gas. Food. Clothes. Debt. God will redeem.

He Gives Shade to the Weary

“Behold, I have made you a new, sharp threshing sledge with double edges; You will thresh the mountains and pulverize them, And will make the hills like chaff. You will winnow them, and the wind will carry them away, And the storm will scatter them; But you will rejoice in the Lord, You will glory in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:15-16 NASB).

God is transforming me from a helpless one to a powerful one. The description of that type of threshing sledge is like a modern day earth mover. Powerful. Strong. Immovable.

“The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, And their tongue is parched with thirst; I, the Lord, will answer them Myself, As the God of Israel I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 41:17, NASB)

He will come to our rescue. God, Himself, will answer you and me. Can you hear how personal that sounds? Have you ever pleaded with someone important whether your boss, public figure, or even a parent, and they responded to the need themselves? You expected for them to send their assistant, but instead they — the most important one — responded to you.

“I will open rivers on the bare heights And springs in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water And the dry land fountains of water. I will put the cedar in the wilderness, The acacia and the myrtle and the olive tree; I will place the juniper in the desert Together with the box tree and the cypress.” (Isaiah 41:18-19, NASB)

This passage describes the wilderness-like times in life. You are barren. You are thirsty. You are hot. You are in need. God will provide what you need. God will quench your thirst. He will provide shade when you are weary. During those times, God can provide in creative, innovative ways. He can provide something out of nothing. Doesn’t that give you great hope? Even when you can’t answer how He will do it, He is creative enough to figure it out even when the odds are stacked against you.

“That they may see and recognize, And consider and gain insight as well, That the hand of the Lord has done this, And the Holy One of Israel has created it.” (Isaiah 41:20 NASB).

God will do all of this so that His glory will be put on display. People — including yourself — will see that He is powerful.

So you can see how after a night of wrestling with fear and anxiety, reading this was like shade and water for my soul. God is a god who sees. And God is a god who acts on your behalf.

What do you need His help with today? What are you fearful about today? What keeps you awake at night? Where do you need some shade?

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Hi, I'm Ashleigh Slater, founder and editor of Ungrind. Here at Ungrind, it’s our goal to churn out biblically-based encouragement for women. We strive to be honest and transparent about our struggles in a way that inspires hope, faith, and perseverance.

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Eternally Engraved

by Julie Neils time to read: 4 min
16