Who is the person who has most influenced your life? When you trace back the ribbon of the days you’ve lived, who has made significant impact in the direction of that ribbon? A mentor? A teacher? A friend?
I am blessed to say many people have shaped who I am, and for all of them I am grateful. But today I want to remember and celebrate an individual who has influenced my life profoundly though I never met him and though he lived just two and a half months in this world. This is a letter I’ve written to this little hero for today, his 4th birthday. Join me in celebrating him! I am better because of his influence on my life.
March 23, 2021
Dear Joshua Toby,
Happy 4th birthday, you little warrior! You are surely celebrating big in heaven today. I bet you are playing tag with Jesus and that your best buddy Elliot is right alongside you. Today, on the day we celebrate your birth, I want to tell you how you have changed my life.
When I lost my own sweet son, I felt very, very alone. It felt like no one in the world could understand the pain I was going through. In my hurt, I felt that people didn’t want to hear about the gaping hole in my heart. My spirit was diminished, invisible, and left to grieve my irreplaceable Elliot alone.
I felt that way, that is, until your mommy came into my life. In her eyes I saw reflected the love she has for you mirroring the love I have for Elliot. Sometimes your mommy and I matched words, thoughts, feelings. She understood what it was like to worry through a pregnancy, to have a long hospital wait filled with scares and hope, to feel like everything was going to be okay, then to lose a precious child suddenly and traumatically. She understood what it was like to miss and long for and love a unique human being few people got to meet or know. I was no longer alone.
And as I got to know your mommy, Josh, I got to know you. I got to know how you fought beyond all odds. Though you were born with just one eye, one kidney, and one arm, you came into this world determined to change it. Your warrior spirit confounded doctors as you persisted through the discovery of your incredibly narrow trachea. You underwent surgeries and procedures that were hard for your little body, but which proved how very strong you were. You did not quit fighting during your 2 ½ months in the NICU. As I learned more about you, I thought about what it would be like to parent a child with medical challenges and physiological differences. As I listened to your mommy, I realized it would be like parenting any child. It would be a labor of love, filled with ups and downs. I understood that your parents were there to meet your needs, whatever those needs would be throughout your life. As I got to know you, I was changed by you, Joshua Toby. Besides the fact I fell in love with you because you are so stinkin’ handsome, I became inspired by your will to persist through challenges. My mama heart was opened to the realities and possibilities of parenting a child with amazing, unique qualities like yours.
In November 2019 when I read the file of a little boy in Colombia who was born with differences in his limbs (missing radius bones in both arms and missing thumbs on both hands) and differences with his kidneys, I immediately thought of you. When I told your mommy about this little boy and that he was diagnosed with VACTERL association, your mommy told me that though doctors could not diagnose your unique birth defects, VACTERL was the closest they could relate it to. Looking up VACTERL and how rare it is, it seemed one in a million that this little boy in Colombia shared such similarities to you. Josh, I want you to know how significant this is to me. If not for you, I really think I would have passed over this little boy’s file, seeing the long list of his birth defects as overwhelming. I may have thought all his differences made his medical needs too intense for a “normal” mom like me.
But because of YOU, Joshua Toby Glader, I did NOT pass over his file. In fact, because of you, I became more interested in learning, researching, understanding. The thought that he shared commonalities with you excited me instead of scared me. I knew your mommy so well at that point, and I knew that she would have loved to meet your unique needs if death had not taken you too soon. Being your parent was her privilege, not her burden, and because of you I realized I would be so incredibly honored to be mommy to this little boy in Colombia.
And now that is exactly what is going to happen, Josh. Barring more crazy delays than have already occurred, we hope we will travel to pick up our sweet son in a couple of months. Truly, his unique differences in his arms and hands, kidneys, and vertebrae are kind of background thoughts to me now. I already love his perfectly formed little body, and I can’t wait to meet his needs and ride the up and down waves of being his mommy.
You have made an impact on my life, Joshua. If I think about it, you’ve been more influential to me than famous authors, erudite teachers, inspirational pastors. You’ve shaped my thinking and enlarged my heart more than most adults with whom I’ve crossed paths. Isn’t it just like God to use a baby to change the world?
Thank you for fighting to show the world how significant each and every life truly is. You are the most amazing warrior I know. I love you and I miss you. Happy Birthday!