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Leo, or the joy before us

 

I'm Jacqueline, this is my husband Jaime, and our three children, Elias, Eliana and Joel. Our son in Heaven is Leo. He was born full term on April 29 and passed away during his birth. He had anencephaly, a neural tube defect affecting the development of his brain and skull.

As the invitation to tonight's event tells us, this is a service for our beloved children who have been lost through miscarriage, stillbirth and infant death. I bring this up because my husband and I have lost four children to miscarriage. Leo, we prayed, would be our fourth child on earth. Instead, at 19 weeks of pregnancy, we learned that he would be joining his brothers and sisters in Heaven upon his birth.

There is nothing we can say tonight that you have not endured yourselves. You know the pain of losing a child, whether born or unborn. Therefore, let us share with you our journey of joyful pain.

We went from praying for a miracle, to negotiating with God, telling him that we could take care of a severely disabled child if He would just leave Leo here on Earth with us. This process brought us to our knees, looking up to the cross, feeling broken and betrayed. Then, we saw Jesus on the cross, broken and betrayed, and it finally made sense.

Hebrews Chapter 12 tells us that for the joy set before him, he endured the pain of the cross. For enduring the heartache of the death of your child, you realize that you are courageous, that you can and will persevere, and most importantly, it seals your hope and faith forever. The answer to our prayer was on the cross - total surrender to God's will. This is how our suffering became joyful suffering.

Our three children were also blessed by such experience. After we learned of Leo's fatal condition, we found the words to speak to our children about the likelihood that Leo would go to Heaven at birth. One day Elias, who is seven, asked why Leo would be dying after his birth. I explained that he was missing part of his head. Elias said, "You never know mom, God could just heal him or the doctors could be wrong." From that day forward, I resolved to have the hope and faith of a child, my child, because after all, that is what God wants us to have: the faith of a child.

Leo deeply touched his six year-old sister Eliana. She frequently fantasized about teaching her brother to walk and feeding him. Then, she would pause and say something like, "Oh, wait, he's not coming home. He is going to Heaven." The day after Leo was born into Heaven, she went to school, and her teacher's aide asked her how she was doing. Eliana answered with, "My brother is in Heaven." The teacher's aide immediately comforted her and told her that she would see Leo again. Eliana asked how she would recognize him in Heaven. "Jesus," she answered, "He will help you find your brother."

Finally, there is little three year-old Joel, who swears that Leo is in his tummy every time he has a tummy ache. Often he will ask me, "Mommy, where's Leo?" I tell him in Heaven. He points up to the ceiling and says in a pouty way, "I want him here, in my house." On those days, I pull down Leo's picture from the shelf so that he can take a close look. He will sit and stare at the picture for a few minutes and then return it to me when he is done to put back on the shelf.

A few weeks ago, Joel was in one of those moods, wanting to see his brother Leo. I pulled down the picture for him. Before I knew it, Eliana had joined him playing with their toys in front of the picture for Leo to see. Then they started running through the kitchen and living room pretending to be racing cars. Before I could tell them to cut it out, I heard Elias shout, "Leo won the race!" Indeed Leo won the race. Not only did he beat us in this race, but he also left his mark so that we, too, can win the race, and see him once again.

The children's race with Leo reminded me of what is written in Hebrews Chapters 11 and 12, and brought me back to our joyful suffering. In Hebrews we are reminded of the people who accomplished great feats and who endured great suffering in the name of God and the faith in His promise. These people, we are told, form a great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us. I imagine our babies are a part of this cloud of witnesses as well. Hebrews tells us that we must do as they did and rid ourselves of every burden that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross.

Jacqueline Soto

 

Last updated October 31, 2014