I try to keep this blog more focused on health, fitness, and nutrition, but that is only a small sliver of my life. If you are friends with me on Facebook, you probably saw my posts this week about Noah Israel Chamberlin. Today, his mama is doing the hardest thing a mother can do–laying her little son to rest. It’s what we all never even want to think about having to do. His story has been so heavy on my heart and I can only pray for her from a distance, but I had to put down into words some of what the last two weeks have taught me. This topic is heavy. It’s heartbreaking. It’s real life. His life has had an indelible impact on my own, and I wanted to give voice to the faithfulness of God in the most awful scenario.
I’ve shared with close friends how becoming a mom has broken my heart in so many ways–when you become a mom, your heart is suddenly opened up into depths you didn’t know you had and the news hits a little harder and you can’t help but go to the worst-case scenarios with your own child. Every commercial makes me cry and I can’t handle movies the ways I used to. It’s easier to not even go there. To avoid pain. To keep cocooned in a happy bubble because the alternative is so so sad. I have been moved by many stories, but no story has grabbed a hold of my heart and made me weep and pray as hard as Noah’s has. He became a part of my family.
Thursday, January 14th, Noah was walking in the woods with his little sister and grandmother. She turned around for a moment, and he was gone. His face flashed across my screen in a news update and I did a triple-take because he looks SO much like my own two-year old blond-haired, blue-eyed son who is full of curiosity, is so fast and also loves Thomas the Train. Maybe that’s why his story hits home. Maybe it’s because it was something that could have happened to anyone– especially with a fast little guy. Maybe it’s because it’s so innocent. Maybe it’s that the thought of a toddler wandering alone in the woods is too heartbreaking to even imagine.
From that moment on, his story was one I couldn’t get out of my mind and heart– the updates on the search for him would be the first thing I would check in the morning and the last thing at night. I found myself waking up in the middle of the night praying. I prayed harder than I have in years for this little boy, his mom, his family, and the thousands searching night and day for him–pleading that God would work a miracle. It was amazing to check the search update sites and see posts from thousands of people praying the same things for him that I was– to see a community rally around a family and drop everything to find this lost little boy–to see thousands of people searching through horrible conditions 24/7.
Thursday, January 21st, exactly one week almost to the hour that he was lost, Noah’s little body was found– lying peacefully in a clearing 1.5 miles from where his family had last seen him– just outside of the search grid. No foul play, just the most tragic accident. I honestly can’t even type that sentence without crying, and watching the press conference that afternoon and seeing the weary and broken law enforcement officers choke out that sentence made me literally weep. Deep gut-wrenching sobs for a little boy I never knew, for a mama I’ll probably never meet, from a town I may never go to. I can’t remember a time I’ve cried so hard and honestly questioned God.
Why? Why couldn’t thousands of searchers, high-tech equipment and well-trained dogs find him? How did he make it so far? Why God couldn’t you have shown them where he was?
It’s something I’m sure his family will ask forever. BUT they have shown an incredible faith despite heartbreak and shared how grateful they are that Noah was found. That there was no foul play and he looked peaceful. That he was next to a big bulldozer and probably got to play. They prayed he would be home, and that is truly where he is now– home where there is no darkness, or sadness, or cold. There has been story after story shared of people who have returned to their faith or found it thanks to Noah. The stories of the beauty of community gathering around a broken and hurting family, to see people giving of themselves and spend days searching through the woods, to see the best in people come out in the saddest times. Noah’s little life had a great purpose. Just as countless volunteers, fire departments, and law enforcement spent a week searching through the woods, streams, briars, sink holes, and valleys for him, I and countless others have now spent that same time searching our hearts– searching those valleys and holes within to see what isn’t reflecting Christ in our own lives. To see what truly matters and what doesn’t. To be reminded of the preciousness of life and what selfless sacrifice looks like. We were moved beyond our comfort zones and self-imposed blinders of comfort to dig deep into our faith, ask the hard questions, and to open our hearts–even to pain, and to love our neighbors, family, and God even more.
It’s hard as a parent to go that deep and feel so much. It’s easier to forget that your heart is outside your body and running around in the form of a little person and easier to protect yourself from the thought that something like this could ever happen. It is a hard reminder that a family of deep faith who love and care for their kids are not spared from tragedy. It’s a harsh and heartbreaking wake-up call to hug your children harder, to be a little more patient, to not take any moment for granted.
Personally, I have spent the last few nights soaking in bath-time and bed-time with Caleb, knowing that Noah’s mom would give anything to trade places with me. It’s made the long days and this busy season seem so beautiful and has made me more grateful for all that I have because I’m not guaranteed tomorrow. I have dug into my faith and questioned more than I have in a long time– not in doubt but trying to understand what God is doing and even though I know He is faithful and good, questioning how He could allow this to happen. Those are good things. My faith is not complacent, my prayer life is renewed. My trust in His goodness is deepened, even though I haven’t had a day yet where I haven’t shed tears for this family.
I have prayed that God will use Caleb for His kingdom, and as a mom, Noah’s story has made me stand back and honestly question if I mean that from the bottom of my heart. Am I willing to surrender to what that really could mean? Am I able to realize that Caleb isn’t mine and that God has plans that I can’t even imagine? After seeing the work of God in Noah’s short life, I have to say yes– even if it means pain. I trust that Jesus loves my son more than I can and know that His call on Caleb’s life is only good. As a parent, questions like these are hard, but oh so good and oh so important.
We think of life being a certain number of years and that Noah’s time was cut short. I believe deep in my soul that God has a plan for each of us (Jeremiah 29:11), and that Noah’s life was complete in God’s plan. He did more as a toddler to bring people to their knees than most of us will ever do. All week, Psalm 91 was put on my heart and I prayed that Noah would be covered and find refuge– that his foot wouldn’t slip, that God would sustain him. I firmly believe that prayer was answered. I believe deeply that God was holding little Noah’s hand and that He guided him home. That there was not fear or cold or darkness, and that Jesus let him have fun in the woods and then rest and come home to him. The name Noah means “rest, comfort” and the name Israel means “may God prevail.” How fitting for his story.
There is no way to take away the pain or the tragedy that Noah’s family is feeling, but I had to honor his little life in the only way that I know how- by sharing his name and his story and reminding myself how even in the midst of everyday life and its challenges, we are still capable of loving our neighbor so much more than we can imagine, that each breath we take is a gift, and that God is good. All the time.
If you’re able to, I would love if you could watch his memorial service. It was one of the most powerful and beautiful testimonies I’ve ever seen and his parents both spoke with such faith through tears: http://livestream.com/fellowshipjackson/noah
Rest in peace, little Noah. I can’t wait to meet you in heaven someday. I pray that every time your family sees a rainbow they are reminded of God’s deep love for them and feel your presence too.
To read more about the faith of his family and his impact: http://www.jacksonsun.com/story/news/local/2016/01/24/family-noah-touched-lives/79278046/
To read more about his impact in his community: http://www.jacksonsun.com/story/news/local/2016/01/23/noah-chamberlin-legacy/79243996/
If you want to donate to this family, this is their Go-Fund me account: https://www.gofundme.com/noahchamberlin
If you want to hear more about the impact of Noah’s life, this is the page set up by the family: https://www.facebook.com/In-Memory-of-Noah-Israel-Chamberlin-552142091618396/?fref=ts
To read more about the Search for Noah: https://www.facebook.com/Search-for-NoahVolunteers-and-Donations-932519820173304/?fref=ts