04/18/2013 12:00 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Happiest Day of My Life: Tragedy and Triumph

2013-04-17-GRACE.jpg Today marks the 20th anniversary of the happiest day of my life. My eldest son, Clark, is 20 years old today.

He is the man who never should have lived. Here's why:

The year before Clark was born, I was in a different hospital giving birth to a different baby. Our daughter, Grace, was born prematurely that day, and died in our arms just 32-minutes later.

I bring this up because, at this moment, so many people are suffering due to the darkness, hatred, and evil that exists in this world. For those people, the idea that there can ever be beauty again seems impossible.

But I can share that, as the mother of a dead child, every season of deep suffering has the seeds of grace within it. There are seeds of bitterness there as well, and, as survivors of tragedy, we must eventually choose which story we choose to water.

Not at first, though. At first, there are hospitals and quiet desperation. There is physical suffering and then the morgue and then funerals and death certificates. Others sing Amazing Grace drop off a casserole and then go back to work.

But not you. Just as the shock of what has happened to you begins to fade, the real work begins and there are very few people around who can and will walk with you through that shadow of the valley of death.

After the tragedy comes the ironic part where you get to minister to those who are trying to minister to you. Everyone wants to feel better because you feel so terrible. They need reassurance. They say well-meaning, but often ignorant things like, "You can always have another baby... God must think you're really strong... Oh, dear, was there something wrong with her?" etc.)

In Grace's case, the only thing wrong with her was that her lungs didn't work yet. For years afterwards, I marveled at the memory of Grace's most adorable little yawn. She yawned three times, I still remember it. It was so adorable.

She had my mouth.

Years later I realized she wasn't yawning. She was trying to breathe.

Pretty horrid, right? But nature protects you that way. Your beautiful denial softens the edges a bit.

I imagine that those whose lives have been torn asunder by the hatred, evil, and madness of Boston, Newtown and other epicenters of devastation around the globe, also review their memories at this horrific level of detail. Time slows down and you are so exquisitely present for it all.

But I have survived all of that and what I want to say to those who suffer today is this: Please leave space for grace. Please leave a placeholder for hope, because, if you do, hope will find you again.

But, probably not today. For today, you simply slog.

In our case, Grace died, and three months later, her younger brother Clark began his entrance to the world. If you do the gestational math, you get that, had Grace not been born too soon and died, her brother Clark never could have lived.

My daughter made my son possible.

And, though I never speak to him of these things because it is NOT his job to make up for my tragedy with her, every single aspect of his life is a manifestation of Grace.

Today my son Clark is 20 glorious years old. He is an absolute gift to me. Two other sons came along afterwards, but there has NEVER been a day as joyful as that day, 20 years ago today. And, as we left the hospital, THIS time we didn't have to leave our newborn behind.

I'll never forget that moment as Clark's father wheeled me to the hospital entrance when it was time to leave. The doctor who delivered our baby was just arriving for rounds. I looked up at him, with tears in my eyes and said,

"We get to take THIS baby home!!!!!"

And he replied, "We have a no return, no refund policy."

Happy birthday, dearest Clark. And, to all who suffer today, I'll keep a placeholder for grace on your behalf until you are ready.

Note: If you are stuck in sorrow, I have written a free book that I hope will help. It is called Breakthrough and you can download your copy here.

photo: flickr, digitized chaos