Sunday, 9 June 2013

From Hope's Nana........"Agonizing Joy"

It’s been over two weeks now, since that night that will forever be etched in my memory. …..the night I held and caressed the lifeless body of our precious Hope for the very last time.  As we raced from the Calgary airport to the Stollery in Edmonton (at speeds of 160-170 kms. an hour), I begged God to let me hold her just one more time.   Each mile seemed like an eternity – I have never felt such an urgency to be physically there for my daughter, Amy, like I did that night.  To find out, moments later, that Hope had already gone and that Shawn was still some distance away was indescribable pain that tore through my body like a ravaging cancer.  It was an emotion that I’d never experienced before.   The reality seemed inconceivable….. 

We hadn’t been together as a whole family since November of 2011, which was just days before Amy’s ultrasound where we first learned of Hope’s heart defect.   Because we all live so far away from each other, we try to plan a family vacation every two years – our son-in-laws fondly call this their “MFV”….Mandatory Family Vacation!  (nevertheless, we still invite them every time!)  Anyway, this year, since Hope was still in the hospital and was awaiting a new heart, we decided that we would have a different kind of family vacation….. one that evolved around Hope and helping out Amy and Shawn.  We decided we would all meet in Calgary and just do fun kid activities around the city, while taking turns cuddling Hope and helping look after Sadie.  When I think of the way that God orchestrated it so that all of us could be there for Shawn, Amy and Sadie, within hours of Hope’s death, I am amazed and in awe of His perfect timing.   As much as I was looking forward to our family get-together, I had remarked to a couple of people that I wondered if God maybe had another reason for us to all be gathering at this time…..a reason that none of us would even want to consider or imagine.  

When I think about these days since Hope went to be with Jesus, it’s hard to put the multitude of emotions into words, but the phrase that keeps coming to my mind is…. “agonizing joy”.  Not the kind of “joy” that you associate with skipping down the road, whistling a merry tune, but the joy that comes from deep within….the underlying assurance that even in the storm “It is indeed well with my soul”…..the reminder of  a welcomed and time-tested promise…….the acknowledgement of the sure and secret plan of purposeful pain.  As I held Hope tight in my arms that night, I felt agonizing joy.  To think that she would no longer be with us and that, after 412 days of life with Hope, there would be no more on this earth.  That thought was sheer and utter agony.  But as I tenderly kissed her head that night, over and over, I whispered in her ear, “you are free Hope!....finally free!”.   She was free of her hospital bed, free of her daily pokes, free of all the wires and lines that ran from her body to beeping machines, free of her weak and failing half-heart……..such agonizing joy.  I pictured her running to meet her Great Grandpa (my dad) for the very first time and jumping and twirling and having endless energy…..something she had never known before.  I knew immediately that she was with Jesus and that she finally had her new and most perfect heart!

As the family continued to arrive over the next 12 hours, we were reunited once again, after 18 months apart.  In just a matter of hours, I had held one of my grandchildren for the very last time, held another grandchild for the very first time, and felt even another grandbaby in the belly of her mamma for the  first time……such agonizing joy.  

Constantly, over these last two weeks, I would hear the laughter and giggles of Sadie and her little cousins playing together.  One evening, after getting them all in their P.J.’s, we assembled them in chronological age on the couch for the traditional photo of all the grandchildren together.  To signify the place where Hope should be, was her little bunny, held by her cousin Sawyer, and it was painfully obvious that there was someone sadly missing in this picture. And, as much as I cherish these precious photos of all my grandchildren together, it was heartbreakingly evident to me that every single family photo from this day onward would always have someone missing….our precious Little Miss Hope…..and yet, I knew that she was with Jesus and imagined that He was holding her and and telling her how much her family loved her and missed her and that, one day, we would all be together again…..such agonizing joy.  

During Hope’s funeral, I stood beside our daughter as she and Shawn were just inches away from their baby girl’s casket and I watched her raise her hands in worship as she sang “How great is our God” and “Blessed be the name of the Lord”.  After all those years of affirming to her that God is good ALL the time, and that His plans are always for our ultimate good, and that He is worthy of ALL our praise, no matter what life brings our way, it was evident that Amy and Shawn not only believed those things but LIVED them, unashamed and unabandoned.   As a parent in that moment, I felt so proud to be Amy’s mom.  It was agonizing joy in its' purest form.

Throughout our time in Calgary, we watched as a vast community of people who had  surrounded Shawn and Amy over the past 13 months and beyond, continued to selflessly pour out their love, encouragement, prayers and endless gifts of their time to help make life bearable in the midst of the unbearable road we now found ourselves on.   Flowers arrived, endless meals were left on our doorstep, people willingly jumped in to organize music, programs, livestreaming, babysitters and words of reflection for the funeral, and numerous other tasks that just seemed insurmountable to us at the time.  We were kindly offered a mountain retreat which very comfortably housed our entire family for 5 days in Radium, BC.  God continually left countless post-it notes of His love for us, reminding us that He was always there and would never abandon us, even in our tears and aching hearts….such agonizing joy.

To sit in Hope’s room at the new house……a room she never got to see, and look around at the artwork people have made for Hope, the stuffed toys people have given to her and the pictures that people have taken of her…….such agonizing joy.

Hope knew she was loved.  She knew that her mom, dad, sister, extended family and numerous cuddlers and friends, loved her so completely and from very deep within their hearts.  She knew that she was cherished and treasured beyond measure.  Her life was a priceless gift to us.  And even though life with Hope was often filled with challenges, disappointments, heartache and uncertainty, her life depicted an immense depth of love that was demonstrated by all those who knew her and those whom she had never even met before..  From pumping breast milk every day, to organizing her cuddling schedule, Hope was deeply loved.   That is why she will be so deeply missed and so deeply mourned.  Her life however, although far too short, was worth every challenge, every tear, every day spent in the hospital, and every unfulfilled dream for the future.

It struck me tonight, that since the moment we first heard of her, Hope has had a broken heart.  Many times, throughout this past year and a half, I have remarked that I wished I could have given Hope my heart.  I would have done so in a heartbeat, just as I would for any of my children or grandchildren.  I longed for her to have a whole heart, one that was perfect and healthy in every way.  Finally, now she has one.  And, in giving her the most perfect heart she could ever have, it means that we are left here to live life without her, and now WE are the ones with the broken heart.  Thankfully, God has promised that He will be close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18).  Knowing that is agonizing joy.

I keep thinking of the words of a nurse in Edmonton that were said to me months ago.  As we stood beside Hope’s bed, I asked her….”do you think Hope is going to make it?”  To that she replied, “Hope has already fulfilled her purpose on this earth even in her short little life – she has already brought glory and honour to the God that made her”.   Through Hope’s journey, people have given their lives to Christ, rekindled that relationship they once had with Him that had long grown cold, found a passion for prayer like never before, reached out and extended a hand to another in need, and learned more about unconditional love than they ever knew before.   Hope’s story is still a story of hope and it is far from being over.  Although we are devastated and our hearts are ripped apart, we know that God is using her life and even her death for bigger and better things.  We would never have chosen this road to walk, but we are reminded that Hope never asked for the difficult journey that was her life either.   To know that God can take the most heartwrenching realities and make something beautiful and purposeful out of it, is agonizing joy and, right now, that is enough for me .  HE is enough.

Hope, your Nana and Grandpa will always love you and you will hold a special place in our hearts forever.   You have opened our eyes to what is really important in this world and we are grateful to God for each of those 412 days that we were blessed to have you with us.  We look forward to the day when we will see you again, as you welcome us Home.


  1. Thank you Charlotte.

    Hope's passing was the first in a trilogy of parents in our social group losing precious children over the past two weeks. Through each agonizing moment of learning of the other two children gone, I thought of Amy's words of faith over the past year and found solace.

    I think Hope's funeral service was very calming. I waited until I was alone to watch it from here because I knew I would cry buckets. I did but I certainly felt peaceful when the closing words were spoken. Hope's 'GREAT uncle' was a rock and an inspiration.

    Just over a week later, we attended the funeral of a 24 year old son of friends. The dad and the sister spoke of the joy that the son/brother had brought to them. I was reminded of the message Amy and Shawn sent through their words in Hope's memory. What strength! What faith!

    The day before this funeral, we had watched joyfully as another grand-child was baptized. So within two days, we witnessed the first sacrament of life and the last. In both places, the priests spoke words of encouragement and the need for faith to prevail. Two clear messages resonated with me.

    1. That until we are all in all, we have not arrived.
    2. No matter how one is feeling at this moment, HOPE will rise again.

    You and yours seem to already have those messages etched on your hearts. Agonizing joy, indeed.

  2. Beautifully said…God bless you

    What a great testimony of how great our God is even in the midst of a broken heart.

    Amen and Amen….

  3. It truly is agonizing joy. Through Hope the fire in my heart for God was re-ignited with a passion like never before. I was given the strength and wonder to ask my Mom what she went through with my sister, her heart baby, and to even ask what heart conditions Quanah had. I have a whole new appreciation for my Mom.
    With Hope's funeral it actually gave me more peace in my sister's passing, and to look at it in a new light as well. I have healed while mourning the loss of such a sweet little girl.
    Hope brought me back to my knees and in doing so lifted me up as well.
    My heart aches for her family so much, but it breaks for Sadie as I've been in her shoes. I am just so thankful she has such wonderful and Godly parents!
    The pain a mother goes through when their child is hurting in indescribable.
    Thank you all to baring yourselves open and raw during this journey of life, Christ and his awesomeness, sorrow and pain.
    Fervently praying for you all

  4. I just pray that as people read your words, Charlotte, that there would be a deep curiousity in people's hearts to search and find God. I pray that people will want to discover this God that you and Amy talk about. The God who comforts and grants peace to the mourning, the God that raises the hands of a sorrowed mother in praise to Him as her soul sings 'Blessed be your name', the God who helps a Nana whisper 'you're free Hope' as she holds her grandaughter for the last time, knowing she is now whole in Heaven. I pray that people reading this will be drawn to the Lord to find the strength that you, Charlotte and Amy, have in Him daily and to find the love that He has for His people. I pray that the work that God started with Hope will continue today with this blog post. I pray that I will continue to search the Lord's will for me everyday and to look to Him for the things I need. Thank you for continuing to share your journey with all of us. God Bless. D M

  5. Our 12 year daughter, who had been praying for Hope too, commented to me one day that wishes she could give Hope her heart.

  6. I am here reading your beautiful words after following from afar the journey He has led your family down and am so thankful for your testimony--each of Amy's posts, filled with hope, tears, questions, honesty invited me, a stranger but united in Christ, to be praying and hoping alongside you all. Thank you, Amy, for your strength and vulnerability and willingness to share of yourself, to share about your family, to invite others to pray alongside you and your family. We may never meet on this side of eternity, but your testimony of His faithfulness is etched deeply in my heart. Sending a big hug to you, my sister in Christ, from Ontario. Love, Jen

  7. Hopes journey often reminds me of Glennon Melton's phrase, brutiful life.

  8. "agonizing Joy" is the perfect way to describe what your family has experienced. As I have prayed for Hope and your family over this last year, I have often cried out to God to heal this little one, have questioned His purposes, pleaded for His mercy. But His grace is sufficient for this day, this hour, this minute. He does understand your pain, because His heart breaks with yours. he lost His son too, for our sake. What a beautiful picture Hope's life is and your family's testimony of how much God loves us through the pain. He is enough; thank you all for sharing the journey; such an encouragement of the fullness of joy through the depth of pain. I am continuing to pray.

  9. I think this is the most beautiful post & I am so so thankful for your family's faith! It is one thing to say what we believe, another to walk it in the toughest circumstances. Thank you for your beautiful post! And for sharing your beautiful family with us all. My walk of faith has deepened this year because of Hope. We have also had a very tough year of much loss; and walking alongside your family helped me to choose to believe as well. Sincere thanks! Wendy (Norway).

  10. Beautiful words, beautiful heart. Thank you, Hope's Nana, for sharing this.