Today is Kaleb’s birthday. He would be 17-years-old. This is his second birthday we celebrate here on earth while he is in Heaven. Last year we had family and friends gather at a restaurant a week before COVID shut everything down. This year we’ll all go eat at our favorite Mexican restaurant in honor of that special boy.
When I talk about Kaleb, I don’t know if I should say “I have a 17-year-old son in Heaven” or “I have a son who died over a year ago when he was 15-years old.” I assume this question will resurface many times in the years ahead. It may sound strange, but it’s one of the many little things that becomes a part of your life when you lose a child.
He’s never far from my mind. His pictures hang all over my office. It’s hockey season, so every time the Nashville Predators surface, Kaleb surfaces with them. Hockey was our thing together. We played video games, and liked watching all sports, but hockey was something we bonded over. Every time his favorite player is mentioned, I think about Kaleb’s smile, fist-pump, and “let’s go!”
Katrina and the girls have been incredible since his passing. It’s hard, there’s no getting around that, but they are stronger than I ever imagined they could be. It’s obvious God’s grace is on our family, sustaining and keeping us close to Him. Katrina looks at Facebook every morning, and it provides us a video or picture from the past that creates laughs or tears—sometimes both. And that’s okay.
I struggle with talking a lot about Kaleb. Not because I can’t, but several issues (legit or imagined) pervade my mind. First, I don’t want to upset Katrina and the girls. Their hearts are super tender. And it doesn’t require considerable thought or discussion of Kaleb to provoke that grief. As a husband and dad, I hate causing those things. So if they bring up Kaleb or a story, I’ll piggyback onto the conversation, but I struggle with initiating conversations about him, even though I often want to. Second, I don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable when I bring him up. Some folks don’t know how to react when I talk about Kaleb. Do they join in the conversation, do they ask questions, can they go there with me without it upsetting me? It can put people in awkward situations they’re not used to being in. Third, I don’t want to be known as “that guy whose son died.” This may sound weird, but I don’t want pity. I’m fine with people knowing our story, and I’m not ashamed of it or hiding it, but it’s not the only thing about my life. I have a fantastic wife, two wonderful daughters, an amazing church I pastor, and a new ministry I’m launching. Yes, I’m the guy whose son died, but that’s not all. However, not wanting to appear as beating that drum too often, I perhaps swing too far the other way and fail to talk through all we’ve learned, and are still learning, through our circumstance.
Why am I sharing all this? Because on Kaleb’s 17th birthday, it’s another checkpoint on the road of life, where the reality of our loss is front and center. And as life continues forward, God continues teaching us new things.
One of those things is helping our children wrestle with questions. Kyra, our youngest daughter, had just turned 6 years old when Kaleb died. She’ll turn 8 years old in November. She travelled with me a few weeks ago to an event I spoke at in Melbourne, Florida. We enjoyed the time together, only the two of us. We spent time on the beach in February, ate ice-cream, and snuggled close in the hotel bed at night.
But during the first session of the event, I brought up Kaleb’s death. And as I spoke, I saw Kyra in the crowd crying. It broke my heart. A sweet lady saw her and sat beside her to console her while I finished.
We left the church, and she was still sad. We hadn’t eaten dinner, so we made our way to a restaurant.
I put my hand on her lap as we drove, “Are you okay, sweetie?”
“I miss Kaleb.”
“I know, sweetheart, I do too.”
“I don’t understand,” as tears trickled down her cheek, “why doesn’t God just make it all better?”
The complexity of the question stunned me. It showed me her little 7-year-old heart understood the implications of God’s sovereign power and control, and a world where her brother dies. But her question wasn’t over.
“Why didn’t God create the world the way Heaven will be, where no sin and bad stuff happen?”
She cried as she asked this question. My daughter was asking what consumed philosophers and theologians for thousands of years. It’s an important question, one every Christian should ask. And yet it terrified me. “Oh God, don’t let her little heart get hard toward you,” I prayed.
I tried to explain my answer as best as I could for a 7-year-old to understand.
“I understand your question, and it is a great question, sweetheart. God could have created the world different from the beginning, to be like it will be when Jesus comes back, but He didn’t. That means there’s something about the way God created this world, where sin, pain, and even death, show how wonderful He is in a way that without them wouldn’t.”
That’s all I know. I believe my answer is 100% true. And I reminded her as we drove of our need to always seek Jesus for our help and comfort, and that His promise is one day that kind of world will be ours. One day we will hug Kaleb again. All because of Jesus.
So on this day, March 8th, 2021, I celebrate my son’s 17th birthday. My life forever changed because of his. His fifteen years of life had the impact of fifteen lifetimes. His legacy continues through our family, the stories we hear from people affected by him, and the lessons God is still teaching us through his life and his death. God purposed his life, like all of ours, to showcase His glory. And boy, did Kaleb do that.
Happy birthday, sweet boy! See you again soon enough.