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Ellie’s Song

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[This article was written by Hayden Hefner, Pastor of Student Ministries here at Bridgeway Church. I trust that you will find it as moving and encouraging as I have. Be blessed!]

Memory is so odd and so wonderful. Like musical notes on lines of treble and bass, life’s moments are permanently imprinted onto the parchment of our hearts. Played in sequence, these notes create a memorable melody and tell the story of our lives.

This last year was filled with many such notes. These notes, the majority of them in a minor key, compose a song that I will sing as long as I live.

I love sharing new music with friends and family (often to the annoyance of my wife, Brit, who has grown weary of the constant “Hey, would you look up…” coming from my side of the car). The drive to my family’s Thanksgiving in November of 2018 was no exception to this pattern. Somewhere between Newcastle and Fletcher, Oklahoma, I asked Brit to play a new song that I had just heard. The song was titled “Do Not Worry” and was a part of Ellie Holcomb’s new children’s album.

I had been listening to this album because Brit and I had just found out a couple months earlier that we were expecting our first child, a daughter. Her name was going to be Ellie.

Being the kind wife that she is, Brit graciously looked up this newest request and hit play. Soon, the song’s gentle guitar intro filled the car. After a few measures of this intro, the lyrics began:

See the birds who are singing in the spring air
They're given everything they need
They don't worry where their next meal will come from
They don't worry ‘bout a thing

So just look around you
And try to listen to the song creation sings
And don't you worry cause you're in the hands
Of the God who made everything

See the flowers in their colorful beauty
They're dressed better than a king
They don't worry about what they should wear, no
They don't worry ‘bout a thing

So just look around you
And try to listen to the song creation sings
And don't you worry cause you're in the hands
Of the God who made everything

Because you're not a bird and you're not a flower
You don't have petals or wings
But there's good news
You're worth so much more
To the God who made everything

So when you worry ‘bout today or tomorrow
And the storms that they might bring
Try to remember that you're in the hands
Of the God who made every single thing

As I listened to this song, tears filled my eyes. I thought of how faithful God had been to me over the last two decades of my life. In that moment, I imagined the joy of sharing this song with Ellie. I imagined playing this song in her nursery at night as she slept. I pictured myself singing this song to her on the nights that she would not sleep or when she was scared because of a bad dream.

In this moment - this wonderfully sweet moment - I never would have imagined that I would have to sing this song to myself on the nights when my arms were so achingly empty and when my life felt like a never-ending bad dream.

The next moment that is forever imprinted on my mind occurred several weeks later. My wife and I had just received the worst news of our lives. During a routine 3-D ultrasound, it was discovered that our Ellie had some serious birth defects. Still reeling from the shock, we were told that Ellie would either be born with profound disabilities or that she would pass away in utero. Several days later, I found myself sitting in our frigid garage - my mind still swirling and my body exhausted from sleepless nights. I needed a place to pray. But, more importantly, I needed a place to weep before God.

In this moment, my mind remembered Ellie’s song. I reached into my pocket and hit play. I still remember the way the tears poured down my face as I listened and wept. I slumped to the ground, my body heaving with sobs. I had never known sorrow and grief like this. As I listened to the song, I thought of all the dreams I had for the future - for Ellie’s future. As the words of the song rolled over me, I mourned and wept over the death of these dreams. When I could muster the words, I began to sing these lyrics to my Ellie. I am unable to adequately describe the profound bitter-sweetness of this moment. As I sang, I was simultaneously filled with the deepest sorrow and the greatest love that I have ever felt.

The next moment I will never forget happened three weeks later. Brit and I had just returned home empty-handed from the hospital. The latter of the two possibilities had become a reality. A little over two weeks after her diagnosis, our sweet Ellie passed away. All the fear of an unknown future was gone. Now, all we were left with was the sorrow of finality. Ellie was gone before she ever arrived. Now, all my former dreams for Ellie’s future seemed to mock me. Almost every glance around our home was a reminder of a future that never was to be - a room filled with toys that she would never play with and a closet full of clothes that she would never wear. There were Christmas ornaments with her tiny footprints on them, a signed birth certificate, pictures of my wife in a hospital bed, and a counter full of hospital bills - but there was no baby in our home this evening. The only cries that could be heard in our house at night were our own.

It was in this moment, that I returned to the frigid garage. I reached into my pocket and hit play. It was the same gentle guitar that filled the room and the same sweet lyrics the rang in my soul - but it was a different type of tears that ran down my face that evening. I was no longer singing this song into the great unknown of the future. I was singing into the great finality of the present. Again, I can never adequately describe the emotions of this moment. As I sang, my heart was simultaneously filled with heart-wrenching sorrow over a life that never was and with an overwhelming joy that my daughter was finally and fully in the presence of Jesus. I wept over an earthly life that never was - and rejoiced in an eternal life that will never end.

The next moment that will forever be etched into my mind occurred a few months later. For the entire twenty-five years of my life, I had attended one church, and for the last three-and-a-half years, I had been on staff as the youth pastor. This was the only spiritual family I had ever known. These were the people who had loved me and discipled me for as long as I could remember. Now, I found myself sitting alone in a hot storage room preparing to tell our students that Brit and I would be leaving the church. With tears rolling down my face yet again, I thought back on all the wonderful memories and rich relationships that only two decades of living in community together can bring. I mourned over how it all had ended. I mourned over the brokenness that always accompanies unrepentant sin and deceit - especially from church leaders. But, more than anything, I mourned over the death of another dream.

My church would have been Ellie’s church. She would have played in the same nursery I played in. She would have walked into the same Sunday school classrooms that I walked into. She would have been held by the same wonderful saints that held me as a baby. Now, not only was my daughter gone, but so was the church that I loved so much. In this moment, I was tempted to be both hopeless and bitter. However, as I called out to God and rehearsed my words to our students, I was reminded of a song - Ellie’s song.

In that sweltering storage area, I pulled out my phone and hit play. As the words rang out, I sat and rested in the goodness of God. I preached Ellie’s song to the tightness in my chest and the bitter tears in my eyes. And, in the dim light of that musty room, God did a miracle. He protected me. He protected my faith from the awful sin of bitterness and he protected my joy from the sinister lies of hopelessness.

In six months, I lost both my daughter and my spiritual family. But, I gained a song.

This song was a song of trust in the middle of a storm. This song was a song of hope in a moment of despair. This song was a song of life in the valley cast by death’s shadow. This song was a song of courage in the middle of fear, exhaustion, and debilitating disappointment. This song was more than a well-played guitar and a few verses. This song was my song, and it was written on my heart by the One who holds it.

In fact, it is right to say that this song was never truly Ellie’s song. This is merely the song sung by her dad on this side of the grave.

You see, Ellie has her own song, and it is a better song. The reality of this song brings more joy to my heart than any song written by mortal man. The song that I wept to and sang over Ellie merely points towards Ellie’s real song.

Ellie has her own song, and she is singing it right now. This song far surpasses any song ever sung on this side of eternity - for it is the song of a girl who has been made perfect and whole in the presence of her Savior. Unlike my song, Ellie’s song has no end - for it is sung in the presence of the everlasting God. Unlike my song, Ellie’s song will never be sung with tears of sorrow - for it is sung in the presence of the Great Comforter. Unlike my song, Ellie’s song will never be sung with anxiety or disillusionment - for it is sung in the very presence of the Prince of Peace and in the presence of an ever-faithful friend.

And, one day, along with all the saints, Brit and I will join in Ellie’s song.

Until that day, I will keep on singing.

7 Comments

Hey brother- He is faithful- just to share a small testimony of our Fathers sustaining Grace. My wife and I have come way to close to losing 2 of our children. So much more could be said but would need to be said in a different context, so I am being light on the details and the heart ache experienced.   Our child whom we affectionately call Zeppy, he was born prematurely and he spent about 1 month in our local NICU and was touch and go for a while. Also our son  whom we affectionately call Mateo, at about 18 months he kept being mis-diagnosed by local Dr’s and with that we ended up in our local ER who did an Emergency transport of him to a Children’s hospital in another City/State and that was touch and go as well.  Hard to write this and not tear up, but the Lord seemed so near in those times, even in the heart ache and being surrounded by so many un-knowns that were taking place.
   And to mention my own sin as a husband and father in those very trying times, and how it was shameful to add that to our family trial in that the already tough season, with lack of sleep,missing so much work causing financial issues and so many other things. Yet the Lord saw us through, in repentance, financial issues, coming back together as a family with so much time apart from everyday life together and how His promises came alive!!    
  I think this is an encouraging thing to say, but possibly kind of and odd way to think about Jesus and His sustaining power but while going through those trying seasons, I would imagine/think what it would be like to go through all of this and not be a Child of the King, to not have the Holy Spirit as Comforter, to not Know Jesus, to have an affectionate relationship with the Scriptures and all I can say is that would make me cry at the utter despair I would have experienced if I didn’t know/have Jesus or rather that Jesus didn’t know and had us in His hands and tender care.
I saw many sad things while at the hospital and saw children much worse off than our own. I still remember the stressed out face and utter sadness of a mother who had a child there with a very serious bone disease, I didn’t really know what to say to her, and I didn’t want to just say I will pray for you, so I cried out to the Lord in secret for her and her child.  
One day He will wipe away every tear and every evil cause that we experience on this side of Heaven. Hey man , may the Lord use you in mighty ways to comfort others with the same comfort you have received from Him and may His peace fill you with hope and joy that will spill over to others and be a means of Grace to bring them joy and peace in Him.  
I love to hear the songs of faith...
In the God who made everything... and every one.

We believe in the resurrection.

Hayden you and Brittney have an amazing testimony of Gods grace. What a testimony. Thank you for sharing your story. Love you guys!
Hayden, I wept as I read this. I remember the day your mom called to give me the news of Ellie's diagnosis and we cried together on the phone. Thank you for being open and willing to share what you have gone through. You and Brit have been such a godly example of how to trust God even in the very hardest moments of life. Ellie's short life in her mommy's womb had great purpose! She has impacted so many people and even though you didn't get the time with her that you so longed for, she has greatly impacted your ministry. I want to thank you for your honesty concerning the hurt you experienced in your last church and the need to forgive. Those of us who know you well know the truth. Bridgeway Church is so blessed to have you and Brit! Love you both!
Thank you for bearing the soul of one in grieving joy, if that makes sense. Earth will never have a stronghold on you as you wait and serve here till you can indeed be with sweet Ellie forever.
Wow! What a powerful testimony. Thank you so much for sharing.
Hayden this is a true fathers love & a true Christian love. I love you & Brit so much & my heart has ack so much for you two as I was looking so forward as being a great grandmother for the first time but God had greater plans for our little Ellie. Love you.

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