This is a collection of works and writings inspired by the life of our second baby, who we named Emilia. I hope her gifts bring beauty to your soul as they have mine.
When I was 6 weeks pregnant with our second baby, Derrick and I were praying together in Mexico City, where we were living at the time. Our prayers were focused on Derrick and his heart’s growing freedom to express emotion and for healing from old broken places. While we prayed, God gave me this image of wild lilies, along with the name “Emilia.” It felt abrupt because we weren’t even thinking about our baby, but it was as though part of her little purpose was tied to Derrick’s ongoing healing. We thanked God for naming our daughter, rejoiced in the prospect of having a little girl, and daydreamed about all that she might accomplish in the world.
"Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die.
like wildflowers, we bloom and die.
The wind blows, and we are gone—
as though we had never been here.
But the love of the Lord remains forever
for those who fear him."
— Psalm 103:15-17
After a week of spotting that turned to heavy bleeding, around 2 am, the pain was so intense we finally made our way to a hospital in Mexico City. On our way there, Derrick pulled up the playlist of instrumental hymns I had been listening to all week while I focused on breathing. Every breath left me with a new desperate plea to God: “Spare her life. Hold her in. Let her know this world. Let her know your goodness.” The response I got was a picture of Aslan singing creation into existence. It wasn’t something that made me feel much better in the moment, but it would be something I would look back on and cry over, to realize that no matter what happened, Emilia was still a part of that song. She existed. I think in hindsight it definitely covered my spirit with a peace even as I stepped out of the car to endure what would amount to the most heartbreaking experience of my life.
“In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming. Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it…Then there came a swift flash like fire (but it burnt nobody) either from the sky or from the Lion itself, and every drop of blood tingled in the children's bodies, and the deepest, wildest voice they had ever heard was saying: ‘Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.’"
— C.S. Lewis | The Magician's Nephew
A few days after getting through the horrors of miscarriage in a foreign hospital and stomaching the medicine that forced my body to finish the work of clearing out my womb, I was blindsided by a question that flooded my heart with black. It wasn’t “Why did this happen?” or “How could you allow this, God?” What I most needed to know was, “When did she die?” Because we never got to actually see her, we didn’t have an idea of the timeline. My stomach lurched with nausea to consider the worst case scenario, that I had been carrying around a dead baby for weeks without realizing it. The thought alone pummeled me over. The knowledge of Emilia with Jesus only seemed to mock me. I pictured her with him way up in colorful clouds while Derrick and I were trapped in a tiny boat which was being tossed around by the mammoth ocean— a billowing storm filling the sky that divided us. For 24 hours, whether I was preparing food or holding our son, that imagery flooded my moving and being. My faith was literally hanging on his answer.
There were a few images that Derrick had taken of the ultrasound screen during one of my visits to the E.R. (Yes, they did try to do an ultrasound but never pointed out the baby because the operator wasn’t a technician.) I sent the images to my friend who was an ultrasound technician back in the states. I knew it was basically impossible that she would actually see something measurable within the blurs of blueish gray shapes, especially since I remember the operator pointing at my intestines more than my womb, and he never saw anything. When I got her reply with a thin pink circle drawn around what she recognized as Emilia’s little body, something like a dam broke inside of me. She was about 8 weeks gestation when her spirit left us. It was what I needed to know. I thought of that stormy ocean scene, and what replaced it was something like this painting— a still ocean sitting beneath the glory of an opening heaven, wearing the same colors within its dim reflection.
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
—1 Corinthians 13:12
While we were in India, I would often find refuge in the airy, sunlit art space on the second floor. Still reeling with grief, I felt inspired to recreate a series I had made for Advent the year before— a set of paintings that wondered over the gift of eternity entering our world through the light of Christ. I include this in Emilia’s story because it is all of our stories. And because of her life, I created these paintings from a new and raw understanding of what is the love of God. It is humble, as it exists in the form of fetal Jesus, growing tenderly in Mary’s womb. It is patient, as it exists in the form of boyhood Jesus, quietly feeding the chickens even while the whole world cries out for deliverance. It is selfless, as it exists within the battered, tired body of a dying Jesus, hanging on a cross. It is relentless, as it exists within the pulsating growth of a sprawling tree, birthed from one crushed seed. Kingdom come is the dawn of the galaxies entering our humanity through the life, death and resurrection of King Jesus, the Christ. And oh, how the hope of the resurrection means everything to me now.
“The people who walked in darkness
Have seen a great light;
Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,
Upon them a light has shined.”
On my 29th birthday, while I was journaling on the top porch of a Sri Lankan beach house, God gave me a new image of my body. All throughout my youth, I struggled to love my body. I had since experienced a lot of healing and renewed consideration of myself, but suffering the loss of Emilia stirred up a lot of those old wounds. I was haunted by quiet accusation towards the failure of my body contributing to her death. Things like choosing to continue to breastfeed River or living in foreign countries or the stress of travel, among other factors, all rose up together to deem my body a harmful environment, unfit for harboring new life. On my birthday, though, Jesus reminded me of the reason that I became open to getting pregnant with Emilia in the first place, by giving me this picture of a garden. In this garden, my body is given over to God’s desire to create new life within me. It goes through the waiting, the growing, the birthing, the nurturing, and in every phase of the cycle, the offering of myself, and the lives placed in my care, back up to our Maker. And within this rhythm of the womb garden, He calls me beautiful.
(This painting was based off of a photo taken from maternity photos of our third baby, who we affectionately call our comfort baby.)
“For the Lord comforts Zion;
he comforts all her wasted places
and makes her wilderness like Eden,
her desert like the garden of the Lord;
joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the voice of song.”
A month or two after we moved into the house we rent in the East End of Richmond, we realized that our backyard hosts a large mulberry tree. For a while, I was a little obsessed with researching how to harvest the fruit and then quickly became nervous about the mess when I read how staining from the fruit that tracks from shoes into your home is incessant, not to mention the mess that the neighborhood crew of fowl and beast leave behind them once they’ve had their fill. During this season, we were at church on a Sunday evening worshipping. In my heart I was still wrestling with grief over losing Emilia, and the specific cutting pain of guilt over anything I might have done to cause her death. I don’t remember the song, but while we were singing, I was given the vision of Emilia in the garden of heaven, playing under the shelter of a huge mulberry tree. In my vision, she saw tears streaming down my cheeks, and with her chubby little hands stained by the mulberry fruit, she cupped my face, staining me too. I don’t believe any of this actually happened. But I do believe it was a vision gifted by God, his creative and stunning way of reminding me that his blood covers me. It covers my guilt, it covers my grief and it covers the life of Emilia.
“They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
‘Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
This painting was inspired Yvrose, a woman we encountered in Haiti. She is the most ardent worshipper I have ever known. The whole rhythm of her life is worship, no matter the circumstance. The people in this painting represent the 12 children that knew their existence in their womb, but whose lives on earth ended before they were ever born. When we experienced our own miscarriage, I wrote a letter to Yvrose. Here are some of the words within that letter:
“I think especially of you because I know you have been through this 12 times. I can’t imagine the deep pain you have experienced. Thank you Yvrose for teaching us that worship is essential, especially in the midst of darkness and suffering. You are a mother who not only teaches the physical children you’ve been given on earth the importance of worship, but you are a mother of 12 beautiful worshippers who are constantly dancing and singing before the King, a whole crowd of beautiful children completely and perfectly alive in the love light of Christ, teaching us to be like them. “
“Let this be recorded for future generations,
so that a people not yet born will praise the Lord.
‘God looked out from his high holy place;
from heaven he surveyed the earth.
He listened to the groans of the doomed,
he opened the doors of their death cells.
Write it so the story can be told in Zion,
so God’s praise will be sung in Jerusalem’s streets
And wherever people gather together,
along with their rulers to worship him.”