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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.

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.

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Eternally Engraved

by Julie Neils time to read: 4 min