Thursday, October 18, 2012

Beauty in Suffering: Honoring Joseph

- from Christy

"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing . . . Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him." James 1:2, 12
People often ask us, "How do you do it?" How do you face what God has called you to with a spirit of faithfulness and a desire to be joyful no matter what? We of course share our complete inability without the sustaining grace of our Heavenly Father, but we also share the fact that we know God has been preparing us, for many years, individually and as a couple to face the trials and joys of Autism. Yep, you heard me right. There can be joy and indescribable beauty in suffering, and one of the ways God taught me this was through the joy and heartache of losing Joseph.
Joseph Todd Nance was born on July 6, 2005. He surprised his parents Tommy and Stefanie by arriving prematurely during their summer beach trip. After a helicopter ride to a hospital equipped to care for a baby being born six weeks early, Stefanie gave birth all alone to their first born. When they returned home, they set out on the adventure of all first time parents of learning to care for and love their baby boy. They could have been considered more cautious than most, documenting every feeding, every time they gave him gas drops, every diaper change, and the time and length of every single moment that Joseph slept. They were meticulous, and cautious, and superb at being Daddy and Mommy to their precious Boo. 
I had grown up beside Stefanie's family my entire life. She knew my love for children and she knew my experience with caring for a premature baby. Our Jack had been born ten weeks early, and he spent the first six weeks of his life at Duke. I was thrilled when Tommy and Stefanie asked me if I was interested in caring for Joseph when Stefanie returned to work. They knew that I would care for Joseph like he was my own, and our children Olivia and Jack were excited to have a new baby and future playmate at our house. Joseph provided me that fulfillment that I longed for that comes from caring for a new baby. And so we settled into our routine of early morning pick-ups at Hico Baptist Church (which was halfway between Tommy and Stefanie's house and our own), and of Joseph's scheduled feedings, diaper changes, and naps. I had no idea what God had planned, and how we would forever change our lives on October 18, 2005.

That day started like any other. Jeremy was home for a bit that morning, and so he kept Olivia and Jack at home while I made the trip to Hico to pick up Joseph. I can see it like it was yesterday. After Stef gave some instructions, kissed Joseph and said her goodbyes, we were off to the house. The morning was uneventful other than Joseph having a monstrous spit up after eating his bottle and before his midday nap. Spitting up was common for Joseph, but he got me good that time. Let's just say it required a complete change of clothing on my part. After I changed Joseph, I got him all settled down for his nap. The kids and I played with toys in the same room where he slept, I put away laundry, and I checked on him several times. Right before putting Olivia and Jack down for their naps, I checked on Joseph again right before 12pm. I will never forget that moment. The moment when I realized that Joseph wasn't breathing. The moments that followed felt like an eternity. Olivia and Jack were by my side the entire time. They are moments that come to my mind often. Some of the most heart-wrenching and painful moments of my life. But in the midst of agony, there was also beauty. Tommy and Stefanie were unwavering in their care and concern for me. In the midst of the worst moments of their lives, the fact that they even thought of me leaves me speechless to this day. Tommy crawling out of the police car just to embrace me and tell me everything is going to be okay. The gift of being able to dress Joseph for the last time. The beauty of kneeling before Stefanie with Joseph's head in my hands while she called out to our Heavenly Father brokenhearted but rejoicing in praise for the gift of mothering Joseph. I remember locking eyes with Tommy as she prayed. We both knew that it was as if heaven had opened, and Stefanie was surrendering her most precious gift back to Jesus. I felt as if I was truly on holy ground. Joseph's memorial service was perfect, and the love that Tommy and Stefanie had for him could not have been more beautifully conveyed than when Stefanie read the letter she had written to her sweet boy. I could go on and on.

Jeremy often reminds me that we make God so small when we try to pinpoint one specific "why" for the trials He brings into our lives. God has used Joseph's life and death to touch many people, and I know that He is continuing to use Tommy and Stefanie to this day to encourage others. I promised Joseph, as I held him for the last time, that my life would change. That I would be better for loving him. God has grown me and changed me through all of this, but it hasn't been easy. I have dealt with immense guilt for not being able to save Joseph. It has been a lesson in surrender. Surrender to God's sovereignty. It meant acknowledging that I trust and believe that God is the giver and taker of life, that He appoints a specific day for every man to die, that He orchestrates the events in our lives primarily for His glory, but also for our good if we love Him. I would be remiss if I did not mention how God has used the unconditional love of my husband and the gift of his wise council to see me through what would have been unbearable to endure without his loving support. Jeremy has been my greatest confidant. He knows my thoughts in my darkest moments when I am allowing myself to get swallowed up in grief. Those moments when I am tempted to make God small and me big. None of this is about me. It is about my Heavenly Father, and how He chose to use the life of a precious little boy named Joseph Todd Nance to bring Him infinite glory and to remind us all that His ways are past our understanding and that we can find comfort in knowing that He indeed brings beauty from the ashes of our lives.

Choosing to see the beauty in the suffering of losing Joseph, prepared me to see the beauty in Autism. "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen." Romans 1:33-36

1 comment:

  1. As I sit with tears running down my cheeks, I am praising our Heavenly Father that He does all things well. I love you, my sweet daughter.


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