I meant to write here on Joel’s birthday, and then I didn’t, so i meant to write something right after it, and I still didn’t. It’s been so long now that I will just sum it up simply to say that the day started out rough and then it was as if the whole day just re-set and it ended up being a really beautiful day of remembering him. I have credited all your prayers for our family for the re-set. So thank you to everyone who prayed for us on Joel’s birthday, we needed it, and I covet your prayers tomorrow, on the anniversary of Joel’s death. On Joel’s birthday we pulled the kids from school, we made colored ice orbs and put them on Joel’s grave, six of them because he was turning sis. Then we drove to a really cool carousel that we rode twice because Joel really, really loved carousels. The canyon we drove through to get to the mountain town with the carousel had the most amazing snow crystals on the trees, so we took a photo of them. When we got back to town we had McDonald’s and frozen yogurt. It was a wonderful day, full of tears and memories and joy. I can’t wait until Joel’s next birthday, it is a great day to celebrate him. Here are a few photos from that day:

So, now I feel like I have finally caught up what I should have posted, except for the family photos I wrote about and said I would post more of, but I’ll catch up on that in a new post. I wanted to write very briefly about tomorrow.
A few months after Joel died I decided that I had no interest in celebrating the anniversary of his death. I did not understand why so many people focused on such a terrible day. I had no interest in remembering the day he died. If I had my way, we would let it slip by unacknowledged, forgetting the exact date all together if we could. However, as I was thinking these things a new thought slipped into my spirit, God’s answer to my resistance. “It’s not just the anniversary of the day Joel died, it is also the anniversary of the day Joel entered Heaven, and that is worth celebrating.” It stuck.
I realized that I had an opportunity to teach my children something valuable about anticipating the fullness of life we gain in Heaven. So, tomorrow morning we are celebrating Joel’s heaven birthday. I talked to them about Zoe, and how, before she was born she was alive, and she liked her little life in my womb, it was dark and she could hear some sounds, she had what she needed and every day was a lot like the day before. Until the day when she was born, then her whole world started to shake, and there was pressure and the warm buoyant sack of fluid that kept her safe burst, and she was probably pretty sure that it was the end. However, on this side of things, we all knew that it wasn’t the end, it was just the beginning. Sure enough, she was born and there were colors, and the mommy voice she had heard was a whole person, and she got to taste things and experience a much fuller life than she had before. She was alive before she was born, but we celebrate her birthday because that was when her life became fuller.
I asked them how often they had heard people refer to death as “the end.” I told them that just like Zoe, we may think of death as the end, but it really is just the beginning of a new and fuller life. Joel was alive before his heaven birthday, but when he died here he gained a fuller life, and he is experiencing things now that we can’t even understand here. We laughed a little, and talked a little, and there was genuine joy. So tomorrow, we are getting balloons and releasing them into the air, since we really don’t know where heaven is anyway, but if we could we would give Joel balloons for his heaven birthday. I don’t plan on re-living the hard moments from a year ago, at least not any more than I already have. I plan on making tomorrow a celebration of something that is really worth celebrating instead, and I hope that as we do this year after year my children can learn to live for eternity, to look forward to heaven. I believe that is a lesson worth teaching.


There are 5 comments for this post.

  1. Julie on March 13, 2015 12:33 am

    I have only posted once before, and I don’t even know you, but I wanted to thank you for this post. Our son, Noah, died over 11 years ago, and I hate the anniversary of his death. I think I hate it more with every passing year. I have never considered thinking about what he gained; I just focus on what I lost. Thanks!

    I will be praying for you tomorrow. May God direct your thoughts to Him and to the grace He gives. May He work in all of your sweet kiddos to help them see His holiness, goodness, and wisdom so that they trust in Him completely. May He continue to hold you together as a family, and grow you in His word.

  2. Maree orr on March 17, 2015 12:09 pm

    I was so blessed to see this blog. I love how your celebrating Joel ‘ s heaven birthday. I think it’s an amazing thought. Prayers going out to your family.

  3. Janice on March 21, 2015 8:36 pm

    I have followed your posts since the last few months of Joel’s illness and pray for all of you. Your explanation to the boys of Zoe being born and Joel going to Heaven is beautiful and I’m sure it helped them understand. I hope you do repeat it to them each year so they don’t forget how precious life and Heaven are. God bless all of you.

  4. Lacey Ballard on March 27, 2015 7:52 am

    i just wanted to let you know that, on Wednesday night, all the grade school kiddos at my church watched the video y’all made with Groups Publishing about Joel, and praying without ceasing. While many did not know the story, i brushed back tears, and then shared with my kiddos about how Joel received his ultimate healing. Your story is still powerful. Joel is still changing lives. i cannot imagine your heartache for losing a child, but what the world has gained through his short life story is nothing short of a gift from God. You are loved, and i still pray for your family daily.

  5. Lori A Appelhans on October 31, 2016 12:46 pm


    I just had the privilage to watch your documentary.

    I was 48 when I was diagnosed with stage 3 BRAC1 breast and ovarian cancer – given 4-6 months to live. My son was only 7. Your documentary, which I just saw on PBS with my son, helped him understand his anger of how I changed, although I did live, and am now hitting my 5 year mark. The biggest issues for those not understanding cancer, is how one is viewed during cancer. I worked during all my chemo, 5 surgeries, as I supported my family, until I had a stroke at work. People believe I lost what used to make me me!
    I had lost 50 lbs, down from 140 to 90 lbs, at 5’8″. I went through the loss of my older sister, my monther, grandmother, cousin, and every other female relative. Yet, after watching your documentary, I praise the Lord, it was me, and not my son! God blessed you with a lovely beautiful boy, as even a short amount of time is better than no time.

    I was quite out-spoken about my cancer, and since I worked at the time for a famous Bra company, I was able to have $20,000 in bandeau’s donated as these types did not irritate the ports inserted for Chemo. This 11/13/2016 will be my 5 year mark. I thank God first, and my family, and the incredible medical team that took care of me.

    My cancer, changed my life, and my families, as your son’s changed yours. Yet Joel is in Heaven, pain free, loved and always looking over you.

    Thank you for your film, it both filled my heart with sorrow, yet JOY. Thank you!

    Love in Christ,
    Lori Appelhans
    Bentonville, AR

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