All in a name

“Mama, I just know I’m gonna get what I really want for Christmas,” said John, smile to match his hope and longing.  I stared into the rear view mirror at him as he now turned to face the window using the blank canvas of the sky to imagine the secret scene, his smile growing.  “Please tell me” I said.  “Nope- I can’t.  Besides you can’t give it to me.” was his reply.   I was starting to feel nervous.   What was this mystery gift John longed for that I couldn’t provide?  “Oh,” I said.  “Is Santa going to bring it to you?”  “Nope- not Santa, not you, not daddy!”  Now we were parked in the driveway and I turned around in my seat to face him- John was making his way up to me.  “Well John, what in the world is it and who is going to give it to you?”I was enthralled by his smile.  There was something about his delight that I couldn’t quite place- something unique that I’m not sure I had ever seen dazzle his face before.   “I can’t tell you what it is, but God is going to give it to me!”  At that, my heart swelled!  My sweet boy longed for a gift from God.  In a world saturated with plastic and shimmer and gadgets, a world drenched with enticement and dripping with price tags, my five-year-old wanted something not even target or could provide.  In an instant I was overcome with a matched longing for my son to have whatever it was that he wanted.  I was determined to make it happen.  So I pleaded, “please tell mommy what you want Johnny.”  Looking into my eyes, the eyes we share, he stared at me with contemplation, like- should I spoil the surprise?  And then realizing that telling me would give me the same gift of anticipation, he said with a rare mix of certainty and tenderness, “Mama, God is going to give us Anna back- just for the day!”  At that, a sharp breath pierced my lungs, the impossible sentence finding its way in as well- stabbing my heart- stealing my next breath.  Ben bounded forward excitedly declaring- “Oh mommy, now we can hug her, I never got to hug her.”
There was nothing I could do to stop the wave that was coming, the one that was cascading upon me and would wash over my children as well.  I didn’t even try to reach for the fake smile I carry in my back pocket for moments such as these.   I watched helplessly as four little ocean blue eyes drained of their light, their joy, filling instead with the darkness of confusion and guilt.  I knew John feared he had done something terribly wrong.  I just grabbed them both, pulled them onto my lap and hoped that the tightness of my clutch temporarily spoke the tenacity of my love for them.
I was speechless- one sentence robbing me and yet giving me so much all at once.  It was as if John had traveled down to the deepest part of my heart scooping up the remains of my pain- packaging my longing for Anna in child like faith. Now it was time to break the silence with the bad news- Merry Christmas John, let me burst your bubble of hope, of pure golden faith with the permanent needle of death.  We walked inside and the first words I could muster as I pierced his inquisitive and fearful eyes with my own were “Johnny you know that this cannot happen, right?”  I wonder now if this was the worst thing I could have said and yet I didn’t feel I could allow one more second for a wish that would not be fulfilled.  He just looked at me, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I know mama” patting me with his tiny hand.   He stared deeper at me than he ever had before, somehow cutting to the source of my pain, smoothing a fresh layer of tenderness on my gaping Anna wound.  How did this little boy have such a grown up soul, I wondered? Faith, tenderness, compassion- he possessed it all.
I sat in the middle of the kitchen floor, holding onto John, staring, waiting for something godly to emerge.   I felt sorry for myself and sorry for my children.   I begged God to give me holy words for them. I was feeling unimpressed by all the truths I usually rehearse in moments such as these- numb to well worn treasures.  I managed to muster “We do not grieve as those who have no hope” and explained that one day they will in fact get to be with their sister.  That answer seemed to satisfy.  But for this, tired of grieving mama, the whole conversation felt like a cold bucket of water on my warm Christmassy heart. I began to feel sad, deeply sad- or maybe worse than sad…deprived.
The next day my mom urged me to get over to see my sweet 96 year old Pop, bedridden- his body slowly submerging under the rising flood of cancer. At the end of singing Amazing Grace to my dear sweet granddaddy, I held his face, professed my love and pressed three lingering kisses to his cheek.  My ears then took in his sputtering words “I love you dd…dear” and we both knew we had potentially just said good-bye.
That night, as the kids were occupied by Charlie Brown Christmas, I slipped away into my living room admiring the steely grey blue walls, fire place adorned with four stockings, Anna’s name embroidered on the first.  I then flipped off the light so as to physically embark into the dark room which my spirit had already entered in my soul.  It was time to grieve.  The heaving began, the doom rising, the memories coming back at a frightening speed.  The need to feel her, touch her, hold her and kiss her was, in a word, furious.  Chris, sensing me, came and sat in our darkness.  I know it was a choice for him- love me or resist the flood himself.  I am so grateful he always chooses me.  “I should have held her just one more hour” I lamented, collapsing into his arms. I expressed the agony of lost time as if speaking it out loud might somehow lead to problem solving…might lead to an answer.   Instead I opened a floodgate to more helpless grief and the torture of regret.  After a brief contemplative silence, Chris issued a one liner (as he always does) that spoke paragraphs more of love and wisdom.  “It wouldn’t have mattered sweets.”   He was right, it wouldn’t have mattered if eleven hours became twelve- because every hour after would have been the same.
Chris left the room, left me to myself and I knew what was to happen next.   It is the calling on Jesus moment- the one where you can choose to continue spiraling down the never ending pit of grief and regret or, call on the rescuer.  I’m not sure why, but there is always a temptation to stay in the misery.  In a strange way, the pain belongs to me and being separate from it feels wrong too.  But I know this is not a way I can live.  Time as well as the alternate route has proven that to me.   And so in a moment of grievous vulnerability I muster the courage and simply say, “Jesus, Jesus, bear my burden.”  The low hum begins, its vibration somehow entering my dark place- peace infiltrating.  The hum grows to a song and that song to a symphony and I am awakened once again- awakened to the Everything and the Only that is Jesus.  He brings the light and all at once my dark room is infiltrated by His good presence.
Now in the light I can see, it really is Christmas.  The tree is here in my room that just moments before was black with pain.  Yes the tree is here- looking very much like a cross and the gift giver did in fact come.  And in one glorious moment it all becomes clear to me- John’s precious declaration that Anna would be coming which led me into the dark room, was really God’s way of inviting me to Christmas morning.   The gifts I was receiving from Him were in fact gifts that cannot be opened anywhere but in the grief room.  “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.”  I felt suddenly grateful that John had asked me the question that led me to this room.  For in life and in death there is no greater experience than to behold the tenderness of God- the comfort of the one who loves deeper, higher, stronger and wider, than my worst and most painful hour.  And so it is true- to be comforted is to be blessed.  That awful and woeful sense that I was deprived, was supernaturally replaced but an overwhelming realization that I was in fact, abundantly provided for.
Last night, Christmas Eve, I watched as John traced his finger into the frosted glass of the storm door.  As he stepped back to look at his masterpiece, one word lassoed my heart- Anna.  Under it he etched John, Ben and Elijah Kelty and stepped back with a delighted and satisfied smile.  It gave me an idea-
This morning our children were given their sister for Christmas. It was only her name, written on a piece of paper- a voucher if you will.  What followed was an explanation that in missing Anna the best thing we can do is to get to know her home and the One she spends her life with.  I explained that her name on this paper, much like a gift card, holds a great deal of value, even though the gift is not yet revealed- that just like we take our gift card to the store to get what we really want, one day we will enter heaven and cash in her name for the real thing!
Anna has generated within the spirits of our boys a longing for which I can honestly say (on my enlightened days) makes me grateful.  They find themselves aching for more and I know that that more also has a name…
wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, Jesus.
Emmanuel, God with us- in the dark, dark rooms of life that leave us begging, panting and pleading for rest, for help, for hope.  He is the Savior of our sorrow and the One who will one day wipe away each tear and take us to the land of no more death, dying, mourning, grieving or pain.
Oh come let us adore Him!


  1. says

    Whoa Kate! BEAUTIFUL! Thank you for sharing your most intimate moments with all of us. I needed this message today at this very moment. Yep, a little child shall lead them. :)
    Love you little sister! Praying that God fills you with his strength and love today.

  2. says

    Katie, what a beautiful story. You should write a book. Hehe. Seriously I am wiping the tears from my eyes as I write this. I wish I had John’s faith, and I wish I had his mother’s insight into Jesus’ heart for us…which is always pursuing us, sometimes in unexpected places. Thanks for this reminder Kate. We were made for “the more” and he has a name…Jesus. I needed that this morning.

  3. says

    oh katie. thank you for speaking your thoughts this way. i am more deeply aware of jesus and more deeply longing for him because of you this morning. love you love you love you. and missing your sweet anna always.

  4. says

    Christ our Lord! His name is sweet to the lips and sweeter to the soul. I’m amazed at what He has done for you and your family, Kate. I love you and adore Him For rescuing you (and all of us).

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