Too often I think I have lived my life with eyes fixed firmly on the rear view mirror; my mind locked on to the idea of what may have been if I knew now what I did not know then, or if things had worked out differently. We all have these days from time to time, days when we are lost in what could have been. Today is one of those days for me. It is May 21st and the day this feeling hits me the most every year.
You see, twelve years ago on May 21 my beautiful wife Anna gave birth to our second son, Caleb Joshua Freedom Sklar. We had been waiting excitedly for this moment, that is up until the day before when we found out we would be having a stillbirth — he had died in vitro. Rather than celebration, excitement, and all the wonders that come with childbirth, we were left to wonder, “What if?” I found with no answers for why (there was no medical reason for him to die), I could only think about all the “whats” that could have been.
What would it have been like to have him with us? What would his favorite color be? What activities would he enjoy the most? What is my family going to look like now and how will they deal with it? All the ‘what if’ questions piled up. What if we had moved somewhere else? What if we had done something different? What if there was something we should have done that we missed that made this happen? What? What? What?
The next few days passed in a dizzying blur for us. Hospital, funeral home, church, cemetery — on and on the list went. There were places and events that demanded our attention. Decisions that needed to be made. But, in the back of our minds, all the what questions went unanswered.
A few days later, I remember climbing in the car and going for a drive. It was just me and God in that car and I let Him have it — both barrels. I laid out all the anger, the sense of abandonment I felt, and the pain that was tearing me apart. In Old Testament terms, I lamented. And when I had spewed up all that was inside me, all I could do was sit and weep. But, just like in the Old Testament when one would lament, God came to me and brought peace. There in the car I realized a simple truth that was enough for me at that moment. It was simply one of the many names for God: “I Am.”
When God told Moses to lead the people out of Israel in Exodus chapter 2, He instructed Moses to say to the people of Israel, “I Am who I Am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites. I Am has sent me to you.” This truth was enough to help to carry me and my family through a terrible time – the truth that God was with us and His name is, “I Am” — a name in the present tense. The name He gave for Himself to Moses was not, “I Was” — a name stuck in the past with all the hurts and what if’s. It was not, “I Will Be” — a name for the future with all its uncertainties and questions. It was “I Am” — a name that shows He is with you right now.
Somewhere in this process the realization came to me that I could not live a “what if” existence. I could not torment myself by coming up with different scenarios, or think about having a hand other than the one I had been dealt. I had a choice to make: move on with what I had, or be stuck because of what I had lost. But what I did know is that I had a God who was there, who would be with me in the valley of the shadow of death and would comfort us who mourn.
Twelve years have passed since that day. May 21st is always a different day for us now. It feels somber, quiet, and the sense of what could have been, should have been, is often times powerful. But while I used to look back and see what was gone, I now choose to try to look around and see what is here, what is now, and to dwell with the God who is “I Am.”