100 white balloons lift effortlessly into a cloudless Nebraska sky. Words and images Prayers and greetings. Imprinted with love. Floating heavenward.
Happy First Birthday, Evan. Happy Heavenborn Birthday!
Heartache and joy. Pain and hope. Memories of what was on Earth. Expectations of what will be in Eternity. Mingle together as with the balloon’s flight.
Stillborn is the common term. It refers to the intrauterine death and delivery of babies beyond 20 weeks gestation. Still births are more common than we think. One in 160 pregnancies in the United States end in stillbirth.
Every one of us will know someone with a stillborn child. Such a tragic loss can be especially painful each Christmas season as it is with every birthday that passes. As Christ followers, how do we make sense of such tragedy? How do we talk about it? How can the Bible guide us?
Like A Dream
A year ago we awaited his arrival. James and Liz had everything ready. Their firstborn, a son, would be welcomed into a loving household prepared in every way for his arrival. They were the first couple whose wedding ceremony I officiated here in Nebraska. James, a gentle giant of a man, and Liz, a super organized school teacher, are both so loving and kind. And we all quietly wondered, like most folks do of newlyweds, “When will they have their first baby?”
One day there was a twinkle in their eyes. They had special news to share. Pregnant! We rejoiced at the news of little one who would soon be named Evan James.
Liz was at her best through pregnancy. Joyful in spirit. Active in preparation. Well read and studied up for all that lay ahead. Evan was developing well. Everything seemed perfect as she approached her due date. A weekly doctor’s appointment confirmed all was well.
And then it wasn’t.
Evan wasn’t moving. She had just had her 40 week appointment the day before. Liz told herself not to worry. But later she returned to her doctor. He had always been so quick in finding Evan’s heartbeat. As with all mothers, that rapid swooshy sound brings joy and hope.
And then it didn’t.
Sadness. Shock. Denial. Guilt. Liz was thinking, “What could I have done differently?” As the medical staff was asking, “Do you want to call your husband?,” and directing, “You’ve got to get to the hospital.” And then. The worst words of all. “The baby is dead.”
It felt like a dream. Instantly shattered.
Friends and family gathered at the hospital. We cried. And prayed. Grieved. We questioned. And waited. Evan’s body had to be delivered on Earth though his spirit had already arrived in Heaven.
Stillborn is the medical term. Not a bad word. A euphemistic attempt at mercy in the face of heartache. It is a term with temporal and physical limits. It sounds like the end. It feels hopeless. We needed a word that would strengthen our faith in God. A word that would remind us of our eternal hope in Heaven. God gave us a new word, “heavenborn.”
Welcomed Into Heaven
In The Spiritual Condition of Infants, theologian Adam Harwood declares, “Infants are sin-stained, not guilty. Infants are not sinless because they inherit a sinful nature. But infants are not guilty because God judges our thoughts, attitudes, and actions, not our nature.” This is why we can state theologically and practically that infants are not merely stillborn, but that they are truly heavenborn. God judges sin. Infants have not sinned. Therefore, infants who die enter into eternity in Heaven the instant they pass from this life. John MacArthur concurs in stating, “‘Instant Heaven’ truly is the destiny of infants and children,” in his thorough work, Safe in the Arms of God. What a comfort!
Job, Solomon, and David concur: Children go to Heaven. In 2 Samuel 12:23, David said of his infant son who died, “Can I bring him back again? I'll go to him, but he will never return to me." David, a man after God’s own heart and destined for heaven, knew he would meet his son there. And if you need another example, look no further than the lap of our Lord Jesus. He was embraced by children because he loved children. Jesus used little children as analogy for the life of a person destined for eternal glory (Matthew 18:1-6, 10) because the subject of the analogy, little children, do go to Heaven.
Creation is fallen. Sin-stained as Harwood writes. And the results of Original Sin are not only spiritual, but physical. Sickness, disease, death, and natural disasters have their roots in creation’s fallenness. Stillborn babies, no matter the cause of their death, are one more tragic result. Romans 8:18-25 explains this to us. Verse 21 states, “That the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of corruption into the glorious freedom of God's children.” I do not think it a coincidence that a passage about the griefs of this world goes on in verses 24-25 to talk about hope in the ultimate destination of Christ followers, Heaven. And don’t miss the remainder of Romans 8 with it’s encouragement for prayer in life’s most difficult times and it’s assurance of God’s great love for us. He is with us. No matter what.
We have full confidence through our Loving, Sovereign God in the reality that infants who pass from this life are instantly welcomed into Heaven. Such loss hurts. Such promise helps.
Gifted Through Tragedy
In those days between birth and letting go of Evan’s earthly body we learned a new phrase from a wonderful, Christ following nurse: The gifts of Evan. She talked about how his life did matter. How he changed us all. And how he gave gifts to each one of us. Through Evan we learned more about God, ourselves, and one another.
The Gifts of Evan became the refrain of my sermon at his heavenborn memorial service. 1 Corinthians 13:13 declares, “Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
Faith in God is Evan’s first gift.Our faith in the Sovereign, loving God of all creation increased through this tragedy. That’s the miracle of faith. It’s a gift of God. Supernatural and so gracious to strengthen in weakness. We know it is impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6). We know the righteous live by faith (Romans 1:17). We know that. And we know that God ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). But how is stillbirth somehow part of God’s plan. Think about the state of heavenborn children: they are perfect in every way; the will never have a selfish thought; never hear an unkind word; never know the pain or cruelty of this world; they are free. The God who knit us together in our mother’s wombs knows everything about us before it comes to be (Psalm 139:13-18). His ways are perfect. He is love. We can trust God. Even when we don’t understand. That’s why it’s called faith.
Hope in Heaven is another gift of Evan.Our growing, intimate faith in God gives shape to our live now. And forever. You may feel no greater hope for eternity and the sinless, painless perfection it promises than when you walk through a stillbirth. Biblical hope is not wishful thinking, yearning, dreaming or optimism. It is real (Ephesians 1:18-19). And it’s a gift from God that brings confident, unshakable trust in His faithfulness to keep His promises. Real hope is a byproduct of a real, personal relationship with Jesus Christ. In the midst of his own mess Nehemiah 8:10 says, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” That's not a shallow, circumstantial happiness, but a deep abiding joy, assured in faith, offering hope. Biblical hope makes life worth living in spite of—because of—tragedy.
Love in Life is one more gift Evan gave. Loss, especially the heavenborn type, should drive us deeper into the arms of Jesus and closer to one another. Psalm 34:18 promises, “The Lord is near the brokenhearted; He saves those crushed in spirit.” Stillbirth is heart breaking and spirit crushing. Know that God is near. In the midst of personal pain, Paul recounts the message of God, 2 Corinthians 12:9 that, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” It seems cruel, but it is true. God uses pain to break through our sinful self-sufficiency. Why? Because he loves us (John 3:16). He commands us to love one another (John 13:34). God uses tragedy, even heavenborn children, to grow our love for Him and others.
What gifts have you been given through a heavenborn experience? Take time to thank our Heavenly Father for those gifts. Consider how your life is eternally changed as you await that joyful heavenly reunion.
Just because you are a Christ follower, it doesn’t mean the loss of a heavenborn child will hurt any less. It does mean that God comforts us by the Holy Spirit and through other believers. Psalm 23 assures that God is with us when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Through. You will make it through. With Sovereign, Loving God. With loving family and friends. And this psalm promises all touched by stillborn loss, “As you walk through life and pain, do not fear, your baby is heavenborn in perfection waiting for you.”
Heavenborn. There is healing in that word. And that word is another one of Evan’s gifts.
Evan was heavenborn two year ago today on August 12, 2011. His precious, earthly body was delivered the next day. Liz, James, and Evan are not pseudonyms, but real, courageous Christ followers. You can read Liz’s own words at waitingwithhopefaithlove.blogspot.com. Liz and James are expecting their second child in November 2013.
This post was originally commissed as an article for the January 2012 HomeLife magazine. Don't miss the related Being There for the Parents of a Heavenborn Child post for suggestions of walking through stillbirth with loved ones.
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