November 25 marks the day that my sweet nephew, Payton, began his journey on earth. What none of us could have imagined on the day of his birth was that the unsurpassable joy we felt with his arrival would be met with unsurpassable pain and grief just four and a half years later.
Today, as I made my way around Point Defiance with Leif and Sochi, I reflected on Payton’s life. It is difficult for me to reflect on his life with out also remembering the raw sadness that his early death brought to my family and all who loved him. It is with great effort that I force my mind to focus not on the last memory I have of Payton’s broken body, hooked to machines in a hospital bed, but rather on the joyful squeals and laughter of our last day together before Josh and I moved to Cape Town. My remembrance, in order to over power the heart breaking images of June 2010, must move beyond my mind and encompass my entire body. I must remember the smell of early summer grass, the racing of my heart chasing Payton around my parents yard, the coolness of the evening air as we dove and rolled, wrestled and tickled. It is only then, when I allow my whole self to remember that joyful night, that I am able to allow my jaw to relax, my shoulders drop and my heart soften.
Earlier this week I listened to a man (on the internet) who lost his wife in childbirth earlier this month. Three days later, the baby also died. He said something that resonated with me– God did not orchestrate this (or something along those lines). He went on to say that he knows this horrible loss must be used for good. That God is somehow, in his grief, piecing together a beautiful melody–one note at a time. This is different from the bullshit (pardon) that I heard from some after Payton died. The “God has a plan” as if somehow a good God would be cool with a 4 year old boy falling from a window and smashing his head. Screw that. That’s not the God that I believe in. But what then? How could this happen? Why did this happen?
July of 2010, a month after Payton’s accident, also brought a life altering event for me. Lost in the mountains of South Africa, in the winter with nothing but a few dates, jeans and long sleeve t-shirts, I was certain Josh and I were going to die under the rock we took shelter in when we could no longer see our feet in the darkness of the mountains. The near freezing temperature settled in my bones. I ached for my mom who had just lost her grandson, was watching her own son bare the unbearable and was now going to lose her daughter–and probably never find out where or how. The pack of animals that surrounded us, growling in the dark, the poachers that for some reason left the crazy, shaking, pleading white girl and her male counter part (not shaking or pleading but acting very calm given the situation, by the way)…and yet for some reason, when the sun began to rise at 6 AM, 12 hours after is had disappeared completely, we were alive. By 11 AM we had found our way out of the mountains and to our car. Alive. Unharmed save a few scratches on my ankles from running through the grass and sliding down into gullies. Alive.
There is so much more to the African mountains story that leaves me questioning why I am alive. I am alive and Payton is not. It seems very unfair. In the months following, I tried over and over to process these events. I would sometimes hear growling in the night and I often felt the need to knock myself out with sleeping medication so as not to lay be bed with heart ache for Payton. One night, while reflecting on why, I had a vision. It was a hand like form holding me over one of the cliffs that Josh and I had encountered in our mountain fiasco. I was on my back, limp, head back and the hand was shaking me and shouting, in a firm but loving voice, “I’VE GOT THIS!”
My faith has changed a lot since 2010. I no longer feel the urge to worship God in a church. I feel much more alive when I worship him in the forest or my garden or nursing Leif. I sometimes still feel anger with God and even question the goodness or realness of God in wake of Payton’s death. But knowing that I don’t have to believe he planned Payton’s early death, but yet somehow has still “got this” crazy shit helps me to continue on with my days without living every moment in complete fear that it can all fall apart at any moment. And it can. In a blink, it can shatter.
God did not orchestrate Payton’s death. He did not say, “I’m going to let this one die so his family can experience body crushing pain and some other families can have his organs.” No. That’s not the God I believe in. The God I believe in felt every unbearable, breathless moment of our grief and matched every single tear. And then he began weaving good out of it– offering other families hope with Payton’s bravely donated organs…and in turn, giving our family hope that some good would come of our suffering. I still send those families love and pray their bodies accepted with grace the gift from Payton.
Payton– I see the good that God is weaving, yet I still ask “WHY?” We miss you and would give anything to have you here with us. You are loved and cherished and carried in our hearts always. Happy Birthday, my sweet nephew.
Wherever you Are, My Love Will Find You
And Someday if you’re lonely
or someday you’re sad
or you strike out at baseball
or think you’ve been bad
just lift up your face,
feel the wind in your hair.
That’s me, my sweet baby. My love is right there.
In the green of the grass…in the smell of the sea…
in the clouds floating by…in the top of a tree…
in the sound crickets make at the end of the day…
“You are loved. You are loved. You are loved.” They all say.