personally was one of those not to be forgotten days. And not because I embarked on some drunk fest. I was too much of a goody-goody two shoes in those days.
No, turning 21 was a big day because it began with getting my hair updone so that my bridal portrait session could occur--of which I was incredibly awkward to the point that the photographer finally turned the radio on so that I would "loosen up" and smile. There was no special meal that day because my afternoon was taken up with having two of my wisdom teeth cut out. I ended my 21st birthday with ice packs and pain killers. A truly stellar type of day, huh?
Eighty days later I got married. Thirty days after that we flew to Korea and lived there for about 300 days. But it was April 3, 1994, about 1, 316 days after my 21st birthday that I gave birth to a firstborn son named James.
He was the firstborn son of a firstborn son of a firstborn son. (Only a few days after becoming engaged to Jim, my future mother-in-law informed me that I was only going to have sons, and did I know that?) James weighed 9 lbs and was 21 1/2 inches long. He was born at 1:58 a.m. on Easter Sunday morning, right before daylight savings time. And as far as we knew he was perfect.
James' life though was measured in days that added up to only 926 days, a mere 2 1/2 years. It was not enough time for us to know him as a preschooler or a first grader. We did not receive his first report card or sign him up for sports. We did not get to see him learn fractions (although personally I have to kind of count that as a mercy seeing as how I still struggle with them) or cursive writing. We did not experience middle school with him (again, perhaps another huge mercy!) or watch an eighth grade graduation. We did not fret over the peer pressure of high school, take him to get his permit or driver's license, watch him go on a first date, take a girl to prom, or visit colleges with him. We did not see a high school graduation, a summer job application, the purchase of a first car, or help him pack up for his first year of college. We do not know the joy of having him home for the holidays and hearing all about what college is like.
And today, we will not celebrate 21 years with him.
Grief for a parent in the loss of a child does not end because the life milestones do not end. At every subsequent year, at every birthday, I think about what James might have done or might be doing. As his brothers come behind him and meet those milestones, I am bittersweetly aware that with the milestone, it is my first when it should have been my second or third or fourth.
So what might we have done on his 21st birthday? I have no idea.
What will I do on his 21st birthday today? I will remember how he burst into our world that day, in those early morning hours, to the cheers of the nurse and the congratulations of the doctor. I'll remember his daddy's proud and awed face when he first looked on his firstborn son. I'll remember the call to the grandparents at 3:00 a.m. because we couldn't wait to tell them that he was here, the first grandchild on both sides and everyone was fine. I'll remember the meal they brought us afterwards and how Jim and I devoured every last bite because we were starving! I'll remember the first tug of nursing and the joy of holding him swaddled and close. I'll remember his big brown eyes, his perfect nose, fingers and toes.
I'll remember that even though the Lord knew on that day that James' days were measured, He still gave to us a picture of His glory in the birth of a son. And in the hard, hard, achingly hard days that followed, when we wondered bitterly, aloud, angry and desperate, as to how we would survive, that God perseveringly showed us His glory in the birth, life, and death of His Son. Even on the days when we could not and would not look.
Resurrection and all of its hope, bound up in the glorified, risen body of the Lord Jesus Christ has its roots deep in my heart. It has to because my own days are measured and the days of every one that I love are measured. So knowing that truth means that while my life has been full of the milestones that were and are and even those that were not, I can look with assurance to the milestone that will be--a Risen Christ who will restore all things to be as they should. No more tears, no more death, no more mourning, and no more sorrow.
Turning 21 is a big milestone, I know. And I'll miss celebrating that with James tomorrow. But I will not miss the milestone of seeing him again. For the Lord has given that by His word and His work. There is my celebration. There is my hope. There is my remembrance.