Places, sounds, smells, and people can thrust you into a torrent of emotions that just a split second earlier weren’t there. Grief from loss is often a sniper.
Earlier this year, I was driving back to Nashville from Mississippi and my route took me through Alabama. I needed both gas and coffee, so I kept my eyes peeled on the interstate signs to determine which exit provided the best options. The approaching exit looked promising. Lots of restaurants and gas stations populated the interstate sign, including a Starbucks. I made my way towards the two-tailed, green and white mermaid logo to get caffeinated.
As I approached the Starbucks parking lot, my heart sunk. This was the Starbucks we stopped at the previous summer on our way to the beach as a family. It was our last vacation with Kaleb. He died five months later.
When we stopped on our way to Florida, I never went in. Katrina and the girls used the restroom. They bought snacks and drinks, grabbing my order too. I stayed outside with Kaleb. He needed his scheduled feeding, so I got out and did that. It was gently sprinkling that day, so I stood outside the van on his side and gave him his feeding. The girls took forever, so it was a chance to hang out with him and make jokes. I can’t remember what it was — I probably farted — but something got him tickled. Making vocal sounds was rare and difficult for him, so when he laughed out loud it was something hilarious to him. Whenever it happened, I turned it up ten notches to keep him going. I loved hearing him laugh.
There was nothing special about our stop at the Starbucks in Alabama. We stayed twenty minutes. But when I pulled back into the parking lot nine months later, a flood of emotions came over me as the memories of that rainy afternoon rushed in. Until that moment, I had forgotten we even stopped there.
I pulled into the same parking spot the van had sat months before. Tears fell down my face. Life had changed so much since the last time I was in this place. Kaleb’s smile and laugh were no longer a present reality with us. Now just a memory.
Any day can bring that kind of unexpected grief when you’ve lost someone you love, especially a child.
I could share multiple examples and stories like this, and Katrina could too. The last year without Kaleb in our lives has been hard. I was 23-years-old the last time there was a year in my life without him in it. That’s nearly half my life. We miss him. Pictures and videos pop up on Facebook each day from throughout the years. They provoke both smiles and tears. Watching his friends play sports, drive, and grow up reminds us that Kaleb is in some ways frozen in time to us. We’ll always think of him as 15-years-old, while watching his friends grow older. A few weeks ago, we ran into his classmates at a restaurant having a “Friendsgiving” meal together. Katrina and I laughed about how much he would have loved being there with his friends, acting so grown up, while not eating a thing.
We also cried.
The last year has been painful, I don’t know how it could be anything else. But despite the difficulties, we’ve been kept and held in the Everlasting Arms. Jesus has sustained our faith. I praise God for His provisions and help. He has spared us many things that could have engulfed us: marriage strife, personal depression and despair, crippling sorrow that rendered us incapable of functioning day-to-day, and much more. We see the things that God has kept us from as grace.
Our longing for Christ’s return has grown. Loss has a profound effect in loosening your attachment to the world. This desire doesn’t make us passive about this life. Just the opposite. Because time is short, and life is fleeting, there’s work to do. People need to know Jesus and place their trust in him. This urgency has led to the start of a new ministry called Knowing Jesus Ministries. Many people are not prepared for the season my family has walked through over the last year, and yet we know these seasons will come for all of us. Our country is filled with people that have inaccurate views of Jesus, shallow and unbiblical theology, who struggle with conforming to the culture, and are not prepared for the suffering and afflictions that come in life. Our mission is to make the real Jesus known.
Knowing Jesus Ministries is a separate 501c3, and has the full support of The Journey Church, where I will remain anchored as the Lead Pastor. Knowing Jesus Ministries will have a heavy digital presence as well as engagement in traditional media outlets like radio and television. We’ll publish books, launch conferences, and coach local churches on leading more effective ministries.
A part of Knowing Jesus Ministries will be The Kaleb Reed Foundation. This arm of the ministry will host retreats for parents who have lost children, and minister in children’s hospitals to doctors, nurses, and families. If you’d like to support this ministry, you can donate here*. Your support will make the above initiatives reality.
Our family cannot thank you enough for your prayers, encouragement, and support over the last year. They have been a means of grace to help and sustain us. Please continue praying for us as you remember us. Pray for God’s grace over our marriage, our girls, Kaleigh and Kyra, and our faith. Pray for God’s favor and blessing over our new ministry as we strive to make Jesus known far and wide, and as we minister to families like ours who may not have the theological tools, grounding, and support we’ve had. We appreciate you so much.
*Knowing Jesus Ministries is in the process of obtaining 501(c)(3) status from the Internal Revenue Service. IRS Pub 557 indicates that the effective date of our exemption will be retroactive to our date of incorporation which is October 16, 2020. All donations are tax exempt.