We keep the tiny dinosaurs in a plastic bag, tucked inside the pocket of my backpack to keep the kiddos happy at restaurants. These little dinos have endured many ketchup plunges, galloped across many drink lids, and enacted countless imaginative scenarios. Adelaide likes to name them, and the names reveal the hilarious inner-workings of the preschool mind: Cinderelly, Jamison, Daddy Shark, Mr. Matt, Pinkalicious, Peter Parker, Aurora, Baby Tatum. It’s a perfect curation of favorite characters and beloved friends, and really, in a toddler’s mind, is there any difference? My husband and I snicker and exchange glances as she informs us of each name. Adelaide has a knack for being completely serious about absurd things, and we love it.
But one of the names stopped me in my tracks. She’d just declared one “Officer Judy Hopps” after the bunny cop in Zootopia (which seemed especially hilarious for a tiny pink dinosaur), when she grabbed the orange dino and said it: “Kara.”
Oh, Kara. My throat tightened.
Kara, our beloved babysitter, watched Adelaide and Greer one Friday night, and the next Monday she took her own life. On Tuesday, I could barely breathe, but I made cookies, and Greer asked, “Kara made these?” Sometimes she would bring cookies with her, and they had come to associate her with them. “No, buddy.” When Adelaide had a tummy ache recently, she said, “My tummy hurts like Kara.” Kara had mentioned that her stomach hurt once. Funny how toddlers remember everything yet understand so little. I wonder if I’m the same way.
To my toddlers, Kara’s story is a story of cookies and orange dinosaurs, of laughing and fun and tummy-ache commiserating.
But there’s so much more to say.
This is not the first suicide or death we’ve mourned as our kids continued to play and pretend. This is not the first person we’ve loved having in our home but will not be coming back to visit. As the mama and a human being, I sometimes feel that I’m straddling two realities: the cheery world my kids create, and the dark, fallen world and all its pain.
I find myself wanting to protect the one world from the other. I want to scream at the darkness outside, “You are not allowed in here!” so that the kids can continue to ask if Kara made the cookies and give her name to the orange dinosaur without a lump in their throats. I plead, “Dear God, let it stay light in here!”
But more and more, He is revealing to me that these realities are not in opposition but parallel tracks. The children play and people die; the children imagine and people despair. One never makes the other less true.
But how can I navigate the parallel tracks as a mother and as a human being? How can I drink in the goodness of life without drowning in its tragedy, and how can I help my kids do the same?
The answer, I am learning, is always the same: the gospel. The gospel story carries both death and life, both wounding and wonder, and it holds the keys for how we can navigate the full dynamics of our lives.
You see, the horror and the hallelujah travel side-by-side, but the destination is redemption. Because Jesus died, my sins are forgiven, and I don’t have to live under shame. Because Jesus lives, I do not have to fear death. Because Kara died, I cherish life more dearly and check on my people more fervently. We miss you, Kara!
We belong to a God who specializes in bringing life from death, in making beauty from ashes, in working all things together for good — even the horrible things that make our breath catch in our throats. In every way, He is unlike all others and so very worthy of honor, praise, and awe.
I can teach my children (and remind myself) of the full gospel that begins with death and ends with life and of the God who is at work to retell that same story in a million little ways in our lives. When we experience the beautiful things, we will say, “Wow! How does God think of such things?” and when we experience the horrible things, we will mourn with hope and say, “Watch! This, too, will be redeemed.”