Bright Green is the Color of Hope – The Gift of Life in Infant Loss


Genevieve and I met on a non-discript day in September, I imagine. Genevieve and I bonded sharing a tiny little office off the chapel of Concordia University in Chicago, Illinois.

Young and fresh and full of theological ideologies just waiting to be hammer out, we spent a fair number of hours gabbing about which classes were our favorites, bad boyfriend breakups, and philosophical dissertations on the lectionary selection of the week.

We grew up. We met handsome men, who were chasing after the Lord and could keep up with our theological rants and so we married them. We grew out. We each moved. We lost touch a little. Then Facebook worked its magic on the world and we vowed not to lose touch again.

We liked each other’s feeds. We commented on recipes we thought we would each like. We rejoiced together as babies were born and ministry happened and life did its thing. Then my world fell apart, and Genevieve was there.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would be my turn, 3 years later, to hold Genevieve when her world fell apart. February 7th we should have welcomed Sebastian Alexander Sigmund Wagner to the world.

If the world were perfect, if Adam and Eve would have kept their grubby hands off that apple, we would have. Instead, we welcomed this precious little boy into his eternal rest in the arms of His Savior.

I created the Written in Iron Ink series of the podcast to reflect the testimonies of all the brave and courageous people I know going forth in this life and letting God write His testimony across their lives, their struggles, their joys, their losses, and their triumphs. When we go through stuff we want to know that it isn’t for naught, that God is at work, that ministry is being done, and that through it He ministers to us, and He ministers to His people.

I was blessed to sit with Genevieve and Rev. Geoffrey Wagner last month and talk about God’s work in and through the life of their stillborn son.

God has written a message on Sebastian’s tiny little life and the Wagner’s are the first to tell you that His message is Hope.

Our hands are grubby too. Adam and Eve aren’t the only ones to deal with the consequences of sin. From that day on our whole world struggles against the darkness of a world groaning for Christ to heal it. Death is our reality, and sometimes death that comes far too soon. The Wagner’s, in this podcast, help us to clarify God’s grace for the unborn, God’s work in every single life He creates, and the testimony that our Savior works for ministry to and among one another in times of grief.


Here are a few of the highlights:

Every pastor needs a pastor. Every pastor’s family needs a pastor.

Grief is an individual process and requires a judgement free zone. Spouses grieve differently from one another. Children need to grieve. Others who offer support and grieve alongside are a gift.

The promise of the Gospel is heard in the womb. We cling to the promises and the grace of God, the Word of God, rather than our own abilities and doubts. God works His testimony and ministry happens through the tiniest of lives.

I Love My Shepherd- Episode 16

Written in Iron Ink – Infant Loss

Resources for infant loss:

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep- Infant loss photography

Molly’s Bears – more than just a teddy bear

Grieving the Child I Never Knew: A Devotional for Comfort in the Loss of Your Unborn or Newly Born Child

Share – A National Organization for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support

Star Legacy Foundation: Stillbirth Education, Research, and Awareness

At the Death of a Child – booklet on infant loss and baptism

I Will Carry You: The Sacred Dance of Grief and Joy (book)

 

Not forgotten

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So much of childhood is wrapped up in our search for belonging. We want to belong in our families, from the oldest trying to please and excel to the middle child vying for attention, trying not to fade into the wallpaper, and the youngest putting out sparks of humor and zest to liven up the party. These are sweeping generalizations but at least they’re research-based generalizations, right? You or I may not “fit” the mold, but one thing our birth order tells us is that we all want to belong. We want to fit, even when we are trying ever so hard to be rogue. Developmentally, our parents approval meant the world to us growing up, even if they were MIA. Our siblings opinions also mattered, whether they understood it or not. Our teachers and peers and youth leaders, we wanted them to see us. We didn’t want to be forgettable. Who wants forgotten. We want to belong and to be remembered. It’s why infants cry to alert us to needs, preschoolers ask for bandaids every 47 seconds, and teenagers try out new outfits and attitudes daily. Even as adults we make drama where there’s peace, we try to buy the very best and newest stuff, and we add friend after friend to our Facebook feed…the task of being unforgettable is exhausting.

Today we find out the Jesus-truth on this matter.

We are never forgettable.

Open your Bibles to Isaiah 49:13-17 or read below.

Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
    break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the Lord has comforted his people
    and will have compassion on his afflicted.

14 But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me;
    my Lord has forgotten me.”

15 “Can a woman forget her nursing child,
    that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
    yet I will not forget you.
16 Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
    your walls are continually before me.
17 Your builders make haste;
    your destroyers and those who laid you waste go out from you.

He can not forget. All this vying for attention in life is really a search for the One who can not forget us, even if He tried. The questions God asks of Israel here are hard,

“Can a woman forget her nursing child?” (v.15)

Some of us may say, “No, of course not!” Others of us may say, “My mom did.”

Can you see how life complicates our ability to see Truth? Maybe this knowledge can give us compassion for those who still wrestle and are disconnected to church or Faith.

God understands this complication. Listen again to the next Words from Isaiah 49:15 –

“Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”

God further drives home His promise in verse 16 –

“Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…”

God makes promises to the city, but you better believe that each of the residents of those walls heard the promise in it for their own lives. When siege laid waste and Babylon breaks through the city walls, terror and fear struck every heart and every family. Their city was destroyed, the temple, God’s dwelling place among them, destroyed. Each of those people needed to know, “I am not forgotten. My God is with me.” He was giving them something better – Redemption.

And He wrote the promise on His hands.

On His hands, He engraved our names, the name of His Church, His people. How could he forget?

Turn to Isaiah 63:9-16. Feel free to start at verse 7 if you have your Scriptures open.

In all their affliction he was afflicted,
    and the angel of his presence saved them;
in his love and in his pity he redeemed them;
    he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

10 But they rebelled
    and grieved his Holy Spirit;
therefore he turned to be their enemy,
    and himself fought against them.
11 Then he remembered the days of old,
    of Moses and his people.
Where is he who brought them up out of the sea
    with the shepherds of his flock?
Where is he who put in the midst of them
    his Holy Spirit,
12 who caused his glorious arm
    to go at the right hand of Moses,
who divided the waters before them
    to make for himself an everlasting name,

who led them through the depths?
Like a horse in the desert,
    they did not stumble.
14 Like livestock that go down into the valley,
    the Spirit of the Lord gave them rest.
So you led your people,
    to make for yourself a glorious name.

Look down from heaven and see,
    from your holy and beautiful habitation.
Where are your zeal and your might?
    The stirring of your inner parts and your compassion
    are held back from me.
16 For you are our Father,
    though Abraham does not know us,
    and Israel does not acknowledge us;
you, O Lord, are our Father,
    our Redeemer from of old is your name.

Even when others fail to acknowledge us, God in Trinity remembers us.

Look back at the passage and look for the work of each member of the Trinity in our Redemption. I’ll highlight my vantage point below.

“You are our Father…”

There’s that familial language again. We need not look any further than to Our Father in Heaven to acknowledge us, to recognize us, to see us. As children and as adults we are not forgotten.

“In all their affliction, he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them…”

The Angel of the Lord is believed by Old Testament scholars to speak of God’s son before His incarnation. This is Jesus, plain and simple. He was afflicted for us. He saves us. He loves us. He looks upon us and redeems us.

“Where is he who put in the midst of them his Holy Spirit…”

God placed the Holy Spirit into our midst, into each of us. The Spirit’s work is connected to remembrance. The Spirit isn’t just for our remembrance of God, but His remembrance of us. God sees us through His Spirit now, in Jesus Christ. We are remembered as faithful children because of the Spirit’s faithfulness in us. We might grieve the Holy Spirit by our rebellion (v. 10), but that alone is a promise. God sees our rebellion because He sees us. Only in having our rebellion, our sin laid bare, can redemption enter in. Thank you, Holy Spirit for seeing all of me – and loving me anyway!

Great are His promises. Aren’t they remarkable? We are not forgotten. No matter what this life and this world may hold, our Redeemer of Old is bigger, is greater, is more steadfast. We want to leave a lasting mark in this life, we want to be remembered, and we do it in the only place that matters – on God’s hand – engraved on His hands and held by His Spirit.

You are not forgotten.

 

Exploration:

Sometimes I think we speak of the Trinity in vagueness, because it is a slightly vague and complex idea to us. Which person of the Trinity gives you comfort today – Father, Son, or Holy Spirit?

Who can you share the message of not forgotten with?

The value of children

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My little Zeke. He’s adorable. When he was about 18 months he went through the developmental stage of find-Mom’s-Bible-and-do-weird-stuff-to-it. You can not fault the kid for thinking that the Word of the Lord is interesting. He ripped up most of Psalm 139 into itty bitty, almost unsalvageable pieces. There is a large hole in verses 22 through the end that I still have been unable to find. He highlighted all of Matthew 19 and some of 20, so he’s not bent on destruction, just discovery. I value my children growing up with Bibles sitting around, so I invested in my first Bible cover, which is faithful to this day.

Children are special, no doubt. In Isaiah, we learn a little more of the value God places on children and why we are called to value then. Even if you translate this passage in the broader sense of children as all of God’s people of any age, you can see why the application to the tiniest child of God is not off.

Please read Isaiah 29:22-24. This is the Gospel at the end of a passage reminding Israel that unfaithfulness hurts.

 Therefore thus says the Lord, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob:

“Jacob shall no more be ashamed,
    no more shall his face grow pale.
23 For when he sees his children,
    the work of my hands, in his midst,
    they will sanctify my name;
they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob
    and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.
24 And those who go astray in spirit will come to understanding,
    and those who murmur will accept instruction.”

God tells the people that when they look to the future, look past their present circumstances, He has a long term plan. What turns the tide of shame in this passage? God working through children.

Children give us hope.

Their very presence in this world is a message of endurance from an unchanging God. The next generation reminds us that life will continue, despite the heartache and pain, a fresh new day, a new birth, will dawn.

Let’s bullet point some things we can learn as God’s children looking at actual little children.

  • Children cause us to honor God. We praise God for the next generation, we recognize the miracle of life He has created, and we desire some kind of stability and morality for them. It spurs us on to consider and continue in the Faith.
  • Children make us talk about God. In wanting to bring our children, or the children of the world, to a loving God, we talk about the Faith, we grow ourselves, we open our hearts in ways we may not have otherwise. If we don’t bring it up, they have questions and it never dawned on them to keep their mouths closed, particularly on “politically incorrect” topics. Let us help them to feel comfortable enough to keep asking those questions. Let’s spur on the next generation by talking about Him.
  • Children are a mirror of our rebellion. As much as I struggle with each of my children’s rebellious spirits, I acutely feel the need for them to understand the reality of grace and forgiveness in their lives. When I look at my children, I see my own painful rebellion. I go my own way. I have my own ideas, when My Father in Heaven clearly knows best. Thank goodness for the family of God for me to fall against when I need mercy. Thank goodness that I can be that living mercy to my children, even when we both have to endure the consequences for our painful actions.
  • Children mirror trust and faith. Children get it when we don’t. They can smell inauthenticity a mile away, but they also are willing to be all-in despite our weaknesses and flaws. They lean on God in simple prayers and don’t need all the bells and whistles to bring them to meet with the Savior; a conversation, a small craft to hang in their room, simple relationship is enough to keep them coming back to church and learning about God again and again.

Read Isaiah 29:24 again. Write it out if you can. It holds a promise for when we travel our own ways, when our children travel their own paths, away from God.

“And those who go astray in spirit will come to understanding,
    and those who murmur will accept instruction.”

He knows the prodigal. He sees their struggle. He hears the grumbles and the moans, the ranting, and the hiding. He brings us back to Him. The lost are found in Him. (Luke 15)

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Malachi 2:10 reminds us that all God’s children, faithful, unfaithful, believer, unbeliever, infant, adult, male, female, are to be treasured, because of that very title – Child of God.

Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?

Abortion, not ok. Pouring judgment out on our unbelieving neighbor, not ok. Placing less value on the high schooler’s opinion in church, than the middle-aged leader, not ok. Leaving the elderly in loneliness, not ok.

Today, look at a child. Let them know that they are seen. Let them know that their very presences sanctifies the name of the Living God. Embrace that childlike-faith part of yourself. Sing a round of Jesus loves me, pray before bedtime, and thank the Lord for being faithful to each and every generation.

 

Exploration:

What do you remember about your faith walk as a child? What or who spoke God’s love over you as you were growing?

Commit to one way of sharing the faith with the next generation today. It need not be something complicated. Just find one way to share God’s Word and Grace with someone under the age of 18. Share your idea with us!