The Uncelebrated Birthday

Our family will be observing a special birthday this Sunday. It will be different from all others. There won’t be a colorfully decorated cake to cut. We won’t have any candles to blow out. There will be no stack of presents to unwrap. The sounds of laughter, clapping and singing won’t be heard. No pictures will be taken, no lasting memories will be made. It will be a birthday empty of celebration, yet full of sorrow.

It is the third birthday of my grandson, Nash. He won’t be present. He has fled his mortal shell. The victim of a horrific act of evil, our little red-headed boy was taken from us far too soon. We feel the sting of his loss anew every single day. The weekends are far too quiet. The house far too clean. His toys far too dusty. His birthday also marks the sixth month anniversary of the incident that took his life. The pervasive sense of sadness and loss will never leave us. It is here to stay; a cold companion who hovers in the shadow of our daily lives.

It’s difficult to process all the images and emotions of that fateful time in late October. I cried like a baby at his beautiful funeral service. The tears have never flowed so freely as it did watching the captured memories of his brief life come across the screen. The procession to the grave site was a surreal experience. Flanked by hordes of bikers (there to shield us from potential protesters) we drove by the university where I work. There, outside to my left at the football stadium I saw something I’ll never forget. The entire football squad stopped practice, faced the procession, took a knee and bowed their heads in unison. I trembled in awe at the show of respect for our grandson. I’ll always treasure that moment.

At the conclusion of the graveside services a strange sensation came over me. As the line of people paying their respects to the family dwindled, a wave of peace washed over my spirit. It didn’t make sense to me. In the midst of my lowest moment, staring at the miniature casket about to be lowered into the ground, my faith in God and His goodness stood unshaken. The tangle of mixed emotions momentarily confused me. The new sentiment didn’t make sense to me within that context. It didn’t compute. Peace? At at time like this? How? Why? I couldn’t fight it. I couldn’t reason it away. It just was. God, in that moment granted me a peace that surpasses all understanding. Honestly, that sense of acceptance and tranquility has never left me. I think I know why.

It’s easy to allow our thoughts to drift toward the grim and the depressing after a traumatic death. Our imagination tends to process only the physical reality we can see, hear and feel. It’s all too natural to think of Nash as lying alone in a cold, dark place, devoid of light, warmth and comfort. On his birthday we lament all of the good things he will be missing and how hollow, empty and sad that makes us feel.

This is not reality. It is not the truth. We must resist this kind of thinking. Not just on his birthday but every single day of our remaining lives here on earth. Nash has been received into the open arms of His loving Heavenly Father. He isn’t enveloped in darkness, but dwells in unapproachable light. He hasn’t been abandoned to the cold earth, he’s bathing in the warmth of God’s immeasurable love. Nash isn’t missing the things of this world. He sits spellbound and wide-eyed at his Lord’s side, experiencing wonder after marvelous wonder among the company of angels and the host of the redeemed. He never has a grumpy moment – for all his needs are met. He doesn’t experience sadness, he keeps company with the fountainhead of all delight. Our Heavenly Father has made known to Nash the path of life; in His presence there is fullness of joy; at His right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).

This fullness of joy swallows up any and every negative emotion Nash could have carried from that fateful day. Yes, he misses his mom, dad and all his kin but the Lord fills these voids with complete contentment in His love and grants him patience for the day he’ll be reunited with those he left behind when he ascended into heavenly realms. I can almost hear his cute little cackle and loquacious mouth running nonstop, causing the angels in his company to shake their heads and crack a few smiles.

In life our precious boy never had a bad day. He was surrounded at all times by people who loved him so very much. In death he is again encompassed by people who love him as their very own, because he is one of them, another child of God who has come home. The brevity of his life is a sorrow for us who loved him, yet Nash was transported immediately from one realm of bliss to another. God graciously delivered him from this present evil age, full of human depravity, lies, deceptions, violence, hatred and unbelief before he ever had opportunity to experience it. In his insulated little bubble he never had to deal with those realities – except in those final awful moments. Even that has no hold on him. It has left no scars. His joy is complete. All of us who miss him terribly should find great consolation in this truth.

The good news just keeps getting better. Scripture’s great hope, the climax of history, the consummation of God’s plan for man will bring about the resurrection of the dead. Jesus Christ rose from the dead three days after his crucifixion.  He once claimed, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). One future day, the last trumpet will sound and the dead in Christ will rise from their graves. In a moment, a twinkling of an eye, we will all be changed. Our spirits will be reunited with renewed flesh and bone. Our bodies will be made new, just as the heavens and earth will be made new at that time. The mortal will be clothed with immortality. Those who belong to Christ will inherit the earth. God himself will dwell among us and He will be our God and we will be his people.

We will see Nash again in the flesh. His charming smile and locks of red hair will reappear from out of the earth. The pleasures of God’s new creation order will  continue without ceasing. The perishable will become imperishable. These will be the beginning of unending happy days extending into eternity. God’s rule will endure forever. He lords over an everlasting kingdom. Nash is now a full member and participant of the kingdom of heaven. He will enjoy the unfailing security and comfort that only the King of all the cosmos can provide. Weep not for him. Give thanks to God for the sweet years he allowed us to enjoy Nash before he was called away to his true home.

I’m not saying his birthday won’t be a difficult time – it will be. For us. The absence of the joy of his presence will be palpable. We will struggle through it. Maybe this gentle reminder of the state of blessedness Nash now experiences and the future hope of resurrection and restoration will help us to cope with the void we all feel in our lives.

Happy Birthday Nash. You are deeply loved.

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