Silas was a surprise.
There are two early memories that are burned into my brain. One marked the beginning and the next marked the end and in the terms of life and death they were far too close together.
It was Christmas 2013. I was on what turned out to be an epic road trip with my sister Katie, her husband Daren, and their three month old, Ruby. On the way up to Iowa from Texas, we got caught in an ice storm about three hours into a 10 hour drive. We were too far along to turn around and way too far away to try to outrun it. So we stopped in a tiny town and hunkered down in a hotel room for two days while the ice coated what seemed like the entire route and then melted away enough for us to venture out again. In the meantime, my other sister, Anna, and her family beat the ice but did not beat the stomach flu that they passed around one by one - save my sister Anna, who boasts that she washes her hands religiously. They also spent a couple days and countless stops finding their way to our hometown. Thankfully though, we all arrived, haggard and beat down, in Iowa but quickly collected our spirits enough to enjoy the holiday safe and sound.
On the way home - two things marked the trip. First: my post partum sister was questioning her cycle, or lack there of, which, while completely normal for a new mom, still very unnerving. The second: that nasty stomach flu caught up to me and reared it’s ugly head 30 minutes into our drive causing us to pull over countless, I repeat, countless times. Thankfully, my brother in law is a doctor and was able to call in an anti nausea medication for me so we stopped at a CVS on the route. While I was waiting for my prescription I saw my brother in-law wandering through the family planning aisle. I walked over to him and we both laughed. He said, he may as well get Katie a test, since it’s all she could think about. We both headed back to the car, meds and pregnancy test in hands and sent Katie back into the store to either calm her nerves or turn her world upside down. I remember sitting there with Daren, staring towards the doors, waiting to analyze Katie’s face when she emerged. She came out shaking her head and uncomfortably laughing…a sure sign the test read positive.
We were all in a bit of shock. Their three month old, still cooing, in the back seat reminded us how unbelievably unready they were to add another member to the family. Daren's shock took the form of laughter and shaking and rubbing his head, repeating over and over again, I just can’t believe this. Katie’s shock took the form of denial and panic - maybe it was a false positive. And mine took the form of the silver lining - All the siblings I know who are that close in age are always the best of friends. Throw the stomach flu and the ice storm out the window…this plot twist was by far the most life changing. While I completely understood why my sister was losing her mind in the back seat, it was easy for me to be excited - aunt life is the absolute best.
The second memory found me in the car once again, driving home from work a few weeks later. My sister Anna called. We’re a texting family, so you always answer a phone call. “Laura, I have bad news about Katie’s baby…” it still echos in my ears. The rest of my drive was a complete blur as she spilled out information that I was trying so hard to hear and understand...Katie had a sonogram, it showed the baby’s skull and brain weren’t developing, this was a terminal situation, pray for mercy, Katie can’t talk about it yet, you can text her that you love her...we both lingered on the phone sniffling and gulping down sobs. How quickly something so joyful can turn completely and utterly upside down.
When I think back on those six months, it’s prayer that marks them, unrelenting prayer of all sorts: prayers of questions, doubt, pain, hope, pleading, miracles, life, mercy, healing, grief, love…. What else could we do? We believed that this baby was given to Katie and Daren for a purpose and we saw the importance of walking through every moment of that life that was given to him no matter what marked the end.
We knew the medical reality of the situation. We knew Katie and Daren were having a boy. They named him Silas Lee Jones. We knew that Silas had been diagnosed with acrania. He would not fully develop a brain or a skull. Miraculously, he could live and develop everything else normally, for as long as Katie could carry him. He would kick and wiggle and develop organs just like any other baby. However, short of a miracle, he would not survive outside of the womb.
Our prayers as family and friends took many different forms over the next six months. I’ll let Katie and Daren speak separately to theirs - but knowing how uniquely the Lord led us all is still a beautiful wonder to me.
I believe in a Lord who is working inside and throughout every situation.
I believe in a Lord who is working inside and throughout every situation. I knew that He was weaving his story into Silas’ life, just as he does with everyone and everything. I had no idea how it would play out...and, even to this day, I don’t know the depths of the Lord’s purpose for Silas. I asked God what to pray for and felt led to pray for a miracle, to put my complete trust in Him, to believe that He was in fact working and purposeful in this plan. I would be amiss to not confess that those prayers led me to hope and believe that Silas would be healed, that a miracle would heal his brain and his skull. What a testimony, what an amazing act of God’s power. How undeniable to know His hand was at work. I knew it made absolutely no sense...but I prayed and hoped regardless.
Sometimes God tells us to pray a certain way, and we are quick to define what that “way” means even further than he asks us to. Why wouldn’t we? We often can’t handle that we only see a small portion of what He sees and it’s our nature to want to make sense of the chaos. We need to understand. We need to know how things will be redeemed. What I know now (and have to remind myself of daily) is that we love a Lord that reserves the right to retain His mystery. Our unmet expectations don’t equal unmet prayers. I remember reading John 16:24 where scripture says: “Ask,” “whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.” I’m sure I’m like you in questioning that verse deeply. Really God? “Whatever” I ask? Really?
I felt overwhelmed with a mixture of hope and confusion. I prayed earnestly for healing, but couldn’t help wondering...how? How often do we hear of miracles like this? Was I crazy? Would I be disappointed if Silas wasn’t healed? Was it unfaithful of me to doubt that Silas would be healed? Was I missing something all together?
John 16:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
During this time I had countless friends shared the same experience...it didn’t make any sense that Silas WOULD be healed - but God asked for them to pray it anyways. I was encouraged that our prayers were aligned, but I still continued to wonder every day what would happen.
Looking back, I have to remember that God never revealed “healing” to me specifically, while I can say that’s exactly the word that He revealed to a number of my friends - for me, that’s really just how my prayer for “asking” manifested. Why not? Why not ask for the absolute best and most impactful outcome (as far as my mind could imagine)? I don’t regret that my prayers manifested this way. “Crazy” prayers remind and encourage us that we pray to a powerful and mighty God. Every time I prayed for a miracle, I had to admit that I believed in a God that could and would perform a miracle for His glory. That’s faith building right there whether the miracle comes to fruition or not. Every time I prayed for Silas, I experienced growth in my faith, trust and hope in a God who had wrapped his hands around this painful and confusing season of our lives.
On a Thursday night I laid in my bed aimlessly watching TV, too lazy to get up and brush my teeth, take my contacts out, turn off the lights and go to bed. I ended up falling asleep, only to wake up, a few hours later, annoyed that I hadn’t followed a normal routine and now had dry eyes and even less ambition to get up and brush my teeth. I rolled over and grabbed my phone to check the time and saw countless calls and texts from my family. My heart sank. Katie was in labor and it was early...much earlier than any of us anticipated. Even if his sonograms had revealed any progress in his skull and brain development, which they hadn’t, he was still coming into this world far too early to have a fighting chance. I abruptly rolled out of bed and threw who knows what into an overnight bag, and headed to Fort Worth (about an hour away from my home in Dallas).
I have to pause and point out God’s absolute goodness in this small detail. Had I followed my normal routine, I would have brushed my teeth, turned off the lights and slept deeply (as I’m always blessed to do) until my alarm went off at 6am. I would have woken up well past Silas’ birth and well past my chance to be by my sister’s side while she and Daren still had Silas in their arms. I am so grateful for a God that works in these seemingly insignificant ways.
I spent the drive praying and crying and figuring out where I needed to go. By the time I would get there Katie would be headed into delivery - so I went straight to the hospital. Anna met me there with a sleepy and now 9 month old Ruby. It was at this point we knew, with certainty, we would be losing Silas. We waited in the same waiting room that we waited on my nieces Georgia and Ruby in with a completely different sense of anticipation. When Daren finally came out to get us, he had a sense of peace about him, but one of exhaustion and grief as well.
Silas was born on June 6th, 2014. Silas’ brain and skull were not healed by a miracle. Silas lived for 6 minutes outside of Katie’s womb and then passed away and into our loving Father’s arms in Heaven. While Silas experienced healing, it was not on this side of Heaven. It is absolutely ok to take a moment (or many moments) to pause and grieve this. Silas was my first nephew. I held him, but not before he passed away. He was so tiny. He looked like Daren. I cried as I stared down at him and stroked his tiny hands. I was absolutely heartbroken that he was gone, so quickly, too quickly.
While I think anger, frustration and bitterness are completely understandable and merited responses to circumstances like this, I thankfully escaped them - by God’s mercy alone. That night...that early morning was miraculously* marked by peace and comfort. Had any of our expectations been met? No. Not a single one. We had hoped for a number of things along the way in efforts to see redemption in an unbearably painful experience. We had hoped for healing: no. We had hoped that his organs could be donated: no. We had hoped to understand immediately what God’s plan was in this: no. There was no room for sense or understanding. There was only room….a room with 8 people in it that had spent 6 months loving a boy that was in our arms but was no longer with us. I cried a great deal, I asked why, but I also knew I might never have an answer and I was ok with that.
I knew this wasn’t the end. I knew we had walked through a great deal and would continue to. I also knew we weren’t alone. During those six months two of my close friends lost their sweet baby girls late in their pregnancy as well - one to a chromosomal disorder, and another to complications with lung development. This was a season of my life that was thick with grief, pain, and loss, but also growth and learning.
I came to realize my own lack of empathy and understanding for others that walk through this kind of loss. In all fairness, by no fault of my own. Sometimes you HAVE to experience something in a personal way for the Lord to shed light on it’s realness. How often had I not seen my friends lost children as real? Forgive me God, that sounds awful - but there is tragic truth in it. When someone is real and then lost, it’s so much more painful - so of course we put up walls and talk ourselves out of feeling when our friends and family members walk through loss. We stay disconnected to protect ourselves. We tell ourselves to be strong and say positive and hopeful things. Oh Lord, forgive me for how off base that is.
Silas was not my child but he was and is my family. My sister’s grief was and is my grief. When a child comes into this world, he or she has parents. Forgetting them does not help us heal from losing them. Avoiding my sister and Daren’s want and need to talk about their son does not show love, care, and support for the grief they are walking in. A child makes parents whether that child lives for 6 minutes or 60 years. A child makes grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings. That is a life that is worth honoring, cherishing, and remembering.
I heard once, “What we forget is that a forest is made of individual trees.” Silas is our little tree, and he is one of many.
We looked up the meaning of Silas (a family name) early into Katie’s pregnancy. His name means forest. I heard once, “What we forget is that a forest is made of individual trees.” Silas is our little tree, and he is one of many. How many more little trees make up that forest - and are their families being nurtured? We live in a world of hurt and pain, and sadly it goes unattended too often. I dreamed up Silas Project because I see a deep need for parents, families, and friends to connect on this issue. There are questions and expectations and experiences that can and should be shared to foster growth and healing and understanding. It hurts my heart to think of any parent who walks through this alone. There is a forest whether we have chosen to see it or not, and my hope is to look to that forest with eyes of honor, connection, healing and growth.