Losing a Child, Parental Guilt, and Cooling off Our Hot Takes

Three years ago on a Sunday afternoon four adults scrambled frantically around my In Laws property and surrounding neighborhood scouring for the signs of a two-year old little boy who had been missing for less than five minutes. That little boy was my son, Gideon, and those less than five minutes felt like an eternity of getting punched in the soul by Mike Tyson.

Fortunately, I found him a couple of houses down, on our front porch playing with the water faucet wondering what all the fuss was about.

Three years before that incident with Gideon a similar situation happened with my oldest, Josiah. Another case of a Daniels two-year old who had taken off quietly and unwittedly, a sly escape from his briefly distracted adult caretakers. Out the door he went, and halfway down a busy street he walked pulling his little green Playskool wagon behind.

Fortunately, observant neighbors stopped their cars and redirected Josiah back to his fraught mama who by then had sprinted out roadside screaming out his name and expecting the worst.

Our children weren’t neglected at any moment during these incidents, but their caretakers were briefly distracted. Not for days or hours or even minutes, we’re talking distracted for seconds.

Moments like this are few and far between for us, but they happen to even the most careful helicopter hovering parents. The most doting parent has likely experienced this blood curdling parenthood rite of passage: The terrible moment we lose track of a young child’s whereabouts. Fortunately, for most of us, almost all of these experiences were only temporary scares that ended with us finding, running to, and embracing our little lost one like they were a lifetime missing prodigal child.

But, not all of these parental moments end in a crashing emotional conundrum of joy and tears of relief. As with the news of the gator snatching and drowning of a two-year old at Disney World Resort last Tuesday, some parents will get no respite from the eternal weight of a million gut level soul punches. A child lost under a parents direct care produces a guilt I’m sure that is unimaginable and inescapable.

For those of us who are shocked social media spectators to these tragic moments it may be helpful to take a few deep breaths and feel the hurt (before we feel the anger).

In our culture of fast food and quick easy Googled answers we need to slow down. We need to take a moment to collectively breathe. We want to assign blame for such tragedies too quick.  And inevitably the parents (who are victims in a tragedy too) end up in the crosshairs of society’s self-righteous indignation.

Whether it’s an alligator attack where the child dies.

Or a zoo accident where the child lives (but gorilla doesn’t).

Or what tragically happened last year to a local elementary school teacher and mother. Her sleeping baby girl forgotten in the midst of a morning rush, changed routine, and left in a hot car all day.

I. Can’t. Imagine. The. Heart. Break.

Yet it is not an exaggeration to say: It could happen to anyone.

Why my sons survived my moments of parental amnesia I don’t know. Some may say lucky or #blessed or providence. I bet those answers ring hollow to the parents currently being punched in the soul by grief. Where that bone chilling moment of immense loss replays in their mind like an unavoidable infinite video loop from hell.

And my knee jerk hot take on the matter may only serve to make that hell hotter for a grieving parent. A crass burn on top of a fresh gaping wound. A message that is thoroughly anti Christ in its effect (Isaiah 61:1). Maybe when Christ says the “first shall be last” he’s also talking about our propensity to form and offer an opinion in haste. To be the first to break the news and give groundbreaking commentary. Maybe, in certain situations, we can better proclaim the gospel by shutting our mouths.

I know I’m guilty.

But sorrow and empathy and prayers I’m sure are the order for such heartbreak; not judgment or guilt or shame.

Because as parents this much is true: we’re all five seconds of distractedness away from being the lead story on the evening news.

Yes, let’s pray that nightmare doesn’t happen to us and ours. But even more: let’s pray for the poor souls living that nightmare, with heartbreak and understanding.

“Mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15)

Bryan Daniels

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“It Is Well”: A Supernatural Confession

The above hymn excerpt was written after several successive traumatic events in the life of Horatio Spafford (1828-1888).

In the mid 19th century, Horatio Spafford was a prominent and successful lawyer in the Chicago area. He had a beautiful family, beautiful home, and prestigious Christian friends who included Pastor DL Moody. Spafford had it going on like a boss, so much so maybe only Job of the OT had a claim on his Horatio_Spaffordcharacter.

Unfortunately, like Job, Spafford never saw the crippling punch to the soul that life was about to deal him.

The first blow was the death of his only son from pneumonia in 1870, at the young age of four. In the spring of 1871 he invested in large tracts of commercial real estate north of the growing city of Chicago. A couple months later the great Chicago Fire struck the area and left him utterly ruined financially.

His business interests were further hit by the economic downturn of 1873 at which time he had planned to travel to Europe with his family . They chose England in part because Spafford’s good friend Moody would be preaching there in the fall. In a late change of plans, he sent the family ahead while he was delayed on business. While crossing the Atlantic, the ship sank rapidly after a collision with the sea vessel, Loch Earn. All four of Spafford’s daughters died in the wreckage: eleven-year-old Anna, nine-year-old Margaret Lee, five-year-old Elizabeth, and two-year-old Tanetta.

His wife Anna survived and sent him this harrowing telegram from England,

“Saved alone . . .”

Shortly afterwards Spafford took to boat to meet his grieving wife. As he crossed over what was essentially his four daughter’s ocean tomb, he was moved to write these words:

When sorrow like sea billows roll; it is well, it is well with my soul...”

Only supernatural grace beyond human comprehension could produce such words after such an event.

And like Job, God wasn’t done with Spafford.

The Spafford’s had four more children. Shortly after the tragedy they moved to Jerusalem to start the “American Colony.” This ministry ran orphanages, hospitals, soup kitchens and more for all the people they encountered (Jews, Muslims, Christians). During the lean years of WWI the ministry helped sustain and keep whole impoverished communities alive. In 1888, four days shy of age 60, Spafford died of malaria, and was buried in Mount Zion Cemetery, Jerusalem.

I don’t presume to know what anyone is going through. And understandably, all this may sound trite in the midst of blinding anguish; but I know the God of Job and Horatio Spafford says this:

“I AM enough.”

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9)

And we may say in response to Him, as the world curses our faithfulness and heaps scorn on the God who would allow such tragedy:

“It is well.”

Bryan Daniels

An “Act of God”: He Apparently Hates Movie Screens

Two days ago my beautiful wife and I were able to pawn the boys off on my mother in order to have one of our rare movie date nights. We rode out to Pier Park on the beach to watch “Men In Black 3” at the Grand. After a delightful viewing experience for the first 30 minutes the screen suddenly went blank in the theater as the volume continued to run. After inquiring about the problem I learned that the screens in all sixteen theaters had been blacked out. We sat a few more minutes in the theater and listened to the plot as the sound rambled on. We decided to leave and approached the box office for a refund.

They claimed  they could give us replacement tickets but not a full money refund.

Why?

“We can’t give a refund because the reason for the blackout was an act of God,” said the kind young lady who was the ticket attendant.

I realize she was probably told by her superiors to respond like this when something like this happens (presumably lightning). I realize there is an “Act of God” clause in insurance companies that intimates disastrous events outside of human control (earthquakes, flash floods, etc.).

But I find it curious how God’s name usually only gets evoked when bad stuff happens to us.

God is the whipping boy when tragedy strikes, but not one thought of gratitude is thrown His way for the countless days, months and years of tragedy withheld from our lives. Why isn’t a beautiful sunset, a breathtaking mountain range, or a stunning sandy white beach deemed an “act of God.” Why isn’t such an amazing mystery as a successful child-birth and delivery called an “act of God” by OBGYN’s and Insurance claims?

Words mean something.

And the words and phrases our culture uses betrays something about it.

And it is strange when we use such words to quickly assign blame to Him for infrequent disastrous events and yet never praise for the consistently peaceful merciful everyday events of life. His Providential kindness is apparent everyday I get to wake up in the morning, but I can only offer anger when He takes back one of the many gifts He has loaned me for a short time? No. Both acts, those that seem like judgment and those that seem like mercy, are meant to elicit one awe-inspiring response.

Praise.

This is perfectly personified in Job after successive “act(s) of God” leave him with no family, no resources, and a handful of critical friends. Job knows only one proper response to this shockingly personal tragedy of epic proportions: Broken hearted repentant grateful praise. So Job worships and cries out from the depths of a shattered heart:

The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Job 1:21

Maybe the theater girl wasn’t too far off in her assessment. But let’s not be hypocritically selective in our own lives when witnessing His “daily” acts that we take for granted: from family, sunsets, music, to food. His fingerprints aren’t hiding from us.

A Letter To A Mother Considering Abortion

The following is a letter from a mother to a mother considering abortion. The recipient of the letter has recently found out that her unborn child has a degenerative genetic kidney/liver condition. I share it because it resonates with the post I wrote a few days ago about the 1.2 million unborn Caylee Anthony’s who die each year in America.

Many pro-choicers claim no man should have an opinion on abortion since it only affects a woman and her body (I don’t agree with that). Many would add that no one should have an opinion unless they have had to raise a child with a genetic disorder that causes lifelong suffering (I don’t agree with that either). So here is a woman who exceeds both qualifications. I’ll let her eloquent appeal speak for itself:

E,

I am so sorry that you received this news. Please know there are hundreds around you who have been in this same or a very similar position. We know the pain that facing this decision brings you. Many others before you have followed the advice of doctors, family, and friends to terminate such a pregnancy. I understand that the decision they make is almost always out of the highest love for their child and a desire to prevent suffering. I want to be very sensitive to that, but to also encourage you to look from a different point of view.

It seems to be a foregone conclusion in our culture that preventing suffering is the highest goal, but I think we lose sight of the fact that sometimes in our lives the greatest blessings come to us after we have gone through the greatest suffering. I was advised to terminate with two of my ARPKD daughters after their 20 week ultrasounds. The following weeks, months, and years have been difficult and even terrifying, but I am so glad that I did not follow my doctors’ advice. Yes, my daughters have suffered to some degree (though I know not as much as many other ARPKD kids do), but their pain and tears have grown them into strong little girls who do not take life or health for granted, and who know how to be thankful for the little things in life. They are more mature, more wise, more grateful, more loving, than so many other children their age who have always had “perfect” lives.

Children with special needs have a way of blessing and inspiring those around them too, in a way that healthy children never could. I know greater suffering probably lies ahead for our girls as we face esophageal bleeds and organ transplantation, but we have talked these things through with our oldest, and if my seven year old daughter can face these things with courage, then perhaps she doesn’t need to be shielded from the suffering, but only equipped to walk through it. Someday my girls will take the faith and the strength that they learned from their sufferings and use it to inspire and bless all those around them. It would have been great loss for all who know them to have ended their lives early.

I know that this is one of the most sensitive and personal topics. I pray that I do not sound judgmental in any way. I only mean to offer hope.

With love,

K.E.

I am thankful for the composed thoughtful response of this mother.

But I don’t comprehend how values have gotten so twisted in our culture; Let’s try to explain this abortion reasoning to the unborn child: “You see, I didn’t want to see you suffer, so my only option was to murder you….”

Since when was murder no longer an extreme form of suffering?

I’m personally done mincing words with this tragic issue.

The culture of death must stop. Recent studies have shown an upwards of 90 % of down syndrome babies are aborted when diagnosed prenatally. The disgusting demonic doctrine of negative eugenics wasn’t just an historic aberration with the gas chambers of the Holocaust. The prejudiced science that made the concentration camps so horrific still maintains a stronghold in American thought and politics.

Yet God can turn the crimson tide of innocent blood with the blood of His own dear Son.

So I’m sorrowful yet hopeful. And still pleading the blood of Christ which speaks better things on our behalf (Hebrews 12:24).

Bryan Daniels