Happy Birthday, Kirsten
Yesterday, May 5, was the birthday of our first daughter, Kirsten Brooke. She would have been 23.
Kirsten was stillborn at 36 weeks in our pregnancy due to a congenital heart defect that would have made survival extremely unlikely, if not impossible.
The whole experience was pretty tough, but Jeana and I discovered deep faith that carried us through. Most importantly, we grasped the promise of resurrection and live every day with a keen awareness that Kirsten is with the Lord and we will see her again.
Let me share a story from that experience, the story of a prophetic word that I received during that time that still anchors my confidence in God twenty-three years later. It was one of the most significant expressions of love that I ever received from the Father.
I was working with my brother-in-law, Til Napper, when I received the phone call to return home as quickly as possible, the midwife could not find a heartbeat during Jeana’s weekly checkup. I arrived home in about thirty minutes to find Jeana’s eyes red and swollen from crying, pretty sure that the worst had happened.
We all met, Jeana’s family and mine, at a clinic where a full sonogram could be done, and they confirmed that Kirsten had passed. It was a surreal experience.
We headed to the hospital in a total daze to induce delivery.
Here’s where the story gets really crazy for me. I had always struggled since childhood with feeling like bad things were my fault, that somehow I was being judged for some sin I had committed. What makes it so crazy is that I hadn’t committed any terrible sin. The worst crime on my record was looking at pornography when I was a kid. I hadn’t murdered anyone, had an affair, stolen anything or done anything worthy of divine judgment against our unborn child.
But a spirit of condemnation needs no rationale. It just needs a guilty conscience inflamed by toxic perfectionism. And I had barrels of that.
I remember walking alone through the hallways of John Peter Smith Hospital begging God for mercy. My child was dead, I was almost certain that Jeana would die (there was no medical reason to believe that, just demonic fear), and I told the Lord that, if he was taking Jeana away, too, then I didn’t want to live, either. If God killed my baby and my wife, then it would be proof to me that I was rejected by God, reprobate and beyond mercy. I was twenty-five years old and planning to end my own life since, apparently, God hated me so much.
I was so alone and so despondent.
It was insane.
Kirsten was born, Jeana didn’t die (of course), and we left the hospital to plan a funeral. The outpouring of love from friends and family was overwhelming.
The funeral was beautiful. It was a small, private graveside service for just our family. The preacher spoke from the story of David’s infant son who died, quoting David’s famous declaration, “I cannot bring the child back, but I can go to him!” We were reminded of our promise that we will join Kirsten again.
After the service, the midwife asked to speak with me. She said that she had a word from the Lord to share, and would I be willing to hear it? Absolutely.
Now, remember, I had lived the last few days isolated in my own head, wrestling with guilt, thinking all this was somehow my fault. I had spoken to no one about it. No one.
Here’s what she said:
“The Lord gave me a scripture for you, Steve. He told me to tell you to read John 9, where Jesus healed the blind man. The people asked, ‘Who sinned? This man or his parents?’ Jesus replied, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this blindness happened so that God may receive glory.’ Steve (she said), God wants me to tell you that the death of Kirsten did not happen because you sinned! This happened for the glory of God.”
I remember standing there feeling like I was watching the conversation from outside my body. I was dumbstruck and yet giddy with relief and joy all at the same time. My emotions were so numb that it took me days to really process what the Lord had said to me. I tried to share with my dad and others what the Lord had said to me, but no one really understood it. They hadn’t lived with me in my private hell for the last few days. The idea that Kirsten’s death was my fault was just odd to them. But to me, it was all-consuming, to the point of making me contemplate suicide.
Irrational, but real.
The fact that God loved me enough to send me a personal, powerful message, that he cared enough to explode the lie in my head that it was all my fault, still moves me to tears to this day. In that moment, Abba Father set in motion a chain of events that would stretch throughout the last 20+ years, recurring moments where my Heavenly Father would confront and overthrow the lies I had believed about him and about me. That day standing beside our baby’s coffin, God set me on a journey to learn the truth about his love.
On May 5 each year, I cannot give my first daughter a gift. But each year she gives me the greatest gift that I could ever be given: the love of God. Kirsten was an angel that brought light and love to me. She taught me that the Father loves me unconditionally, and that every sorrow leads to joy and pain produces purpose. All to the glory of God.
So, happy birthday, Kirsten! I love you and can’t wait to see you again. Thank you for bringing a lifetime of love.