A Manger Without a Baby

 I equipped the big walk-in closet in the living room of our tiny duplex with a green second-hand crib and stocked the built-in drawers with soft little layette items.  Long, wispy, white curtains tied back with yellow ribbon made an inviting entrance to a close room.  Everyday, my tummy grew larger.  Every day, I fingered and rearranged clothes, blankets, and toys.  I felt happy and excited, despite the christening I gave many toilets and gutters.  Even with the little white pills, I threw up several times a day for nine months.

The baby squirmed and punched, kicked, and danced.  I massaged hands and feet that fluidly traveled across my abdomen, pressing tight under ribs, giving me indigestion.  The mountain of head and back rose, fell, and shifted.  I had always wanted to be a mother, and now I was.

November’s sun began dipping to the south.  The air held a slight chill, even for California. I counted the days—expectation high.  With my friend’s stethoscope, I listened to the music—the strong, steady rhythm of life. But two weeks overdue, the rhythm stopped.

Kelly and I met in mid-August 1973.   We worked with an over-zealous ministry that concentrated so much on Christ’s soon return that we made many decisions abruptly and unwisely.  One of those was to marry quickly with little preparation or counsel.  I guess we feared the Lord might come back before we had a chance to have sex. The night Kelly introduced me to his parents for the first time, we calmly announced our engagement.  For all they knew, I could have been an axe murderer.  Actually, for all I knew, Kelly could have been an axe murderer.  After we left, his folks “discussed” our decision long into the night and woke with hangovers in the morning.  But they bravely came alongside, and we did marry.  In this time of “Maranatha madness,” we were encouraged by our pastor not to have children, but to totally commit to the “work of the Lord.”   We married in October, and by February, I was violently throwing up—a sure sign I was to be a mother.  We figured my pregnancy just had be a miraculous work of God.  Of course, as our friend Joe put it, “Those who use faith as birth control are called parents!”  And so we were to be.

By the time I was six months pregnant, we moved from the ministry’s communal quarters to a small duplex down the street.  For the first time, Kelly and I lived alone.  It was a precious and necessary time to actually get to know one another after several months of marriage.

Then the baby died.  November was a blur of death, tears, comfort, cremation, and far flung ashes.  Thanksgiving came and went.  It was hard to feel thankful when my arms ached to hold my little one.  As cheery Christmas songs began to filter through radio speakers and shopping mall sound systems, my ache grew to intense pain. One part of my heart leaned in to the Savior, understanding that He too felt pain and loss.  I wanted to trust that I was safe in His love and care.  Another part of my heart felt cold and brittle, betrayed by life and Lord.  A battle raged.  Tears seemed never-ending, dreams dashed.  Questions went unanswered.  Joyful Mary knelt by her beautiful baby Jesus in nativity scenes all over town, but my manger was empty.

Years have added layers of depth and understanding to my loss, but even today there is a raw place—a place of longing for our baby girl Noelle.  With a new Christmas season right around the corner, I have been reflecting once again on the incarnation.  What does Christ’s birth really mean to me?  My thoughts, as they often do at this time of year, are interwoven with thoughts of the death of our first child. Noelle was named for Christmas—a reminder of the miraculous event when God came to earth as a baby–the God-man.  It has crossed my mind, “What would our lives be like if Mary’s manger had been empty.  What if Jesus had never come?”  My sense of loss is great, but the devastating loss of Christ as God’s gift to the world would be unfathomable.  No high priest to intercede for me, no forgiveness, no fellowship, no whispers of comfort in the night, no eternal promise of heaven.

After the funeral home cremated Noelle’s remains, Kelly and I drove to a secluded wooded area near his grandfather’s cabin to spread the ashes.  The tiny white box fit in the breast pocket of Kelly’s plaid shirt.  He held my hand tightly as he led the way uphill, brushing by scratchy shrubs and tree branches.  Weak in body and spirit, I struggled to fix my steps on the narrow rugged path.  Tears fell and feet fell.  When finally we reached the top, we prayed.  We held one another and the remains of a life so little known, then threw her ashes to the wind to become a part of the trees and bushes in that special place.

Christ carries my death next to his heart.  He came to set me free from the spiritual consequences of my sin.  I am free, but the way is often rugged; and through my tears, I don’t always see too clearly.  I have no idea what’s up ahead. But He is in the lead.  He holds my hand, and all I need do is stick to the path and match Him step for step.

I met that tearful Christmas many years ago with empty arms, but because of the babe in Mary’s manger, because her manger was not empty, I continue to have hope.

About apronheadlilly

wife and mother, musician, composer / poet, teacher, and observer of the world, flawed Christ-follower
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32 Responses to A Manger Without a Baby

  1. Susan Gaddis says:

    What a wonderful post, Lilly. I remember that time in your life very well, and I thought of you and your courage when I lost two of my children. I know it is not the same–no death is, but remembering how you processed your loss is part of the reason I can walk the path knowing I will see my children again. Thank you for reminding me once again that hope is birthed in a manger.

    • Thanks so much for your comment. Western culture has lost the importance of community. Isolation and lone ranger stuff compound our pain when we try to face suffering in isolation. Glad you are my friend!

  2. K. D. says:

    Dear Lilly,
    You really captured the feelings of a mother who anticipates, then loses, a precious child. My mom told me once that many women who have several pregnancies also have lost at least one. So there may be many out there who continue to suffer in isolation. My husband and I lost our firsborn at 26 weeks into the pregnancy. I never even got to hold her, because she died an hour after birth, and “they” thought it would be too difficult emotionally for me to hold my daughter. I wish they had let me say goodbye. We did not have the privilege of scattering her ashes as you & Kelly did. But we do have the comfort of knowing we will see Carol again someday. It’s not something that comes up often, but there is a bond that all mothers who’ve lost babies share. Thank you for sharing your story with all of us. You are a blessing to many with your tender words and the wisdom of years.

    • Thank you for your comments! I am so sorry for your loss.

      They did many things wrong when I had Noelle. They over-induced me so I started convulsing, then knocked me out when she came. They not only did not let me hold her, but the doctor would not even tell me the color of her hair.

      I so relate to the not saying goodbye part. It prolonged my suffering. In many hospitals today, demised babies are clothed in beautiful gowns, wrpped in little donated quilts, and pictures are taken. Babies are held and toes and fingers are counted, granted thorugh tears. It is important to say goodbye and to grieve fully. You don’t just forget a life by putting it out of your mind.

      Bless you guys!

  3. randallslack says:

    Your story gives others hope, Lilly. As painful as it was to go through, God is using you to speak to those who suffer, as Susan said.

  4. reinkat says:

    Thank you for a beautiful post, one that touched my heart so deeply.
    We lost our baby Eric November 21, 1981. Just a few days before Thanksgiving.
    I read your every word as if it were my own story, so closely did it echo my own loss. Thank you for your beautiful insights.

    • I am so sorry for your loss. One thing I have learned through it all, though, is what not to say to people. Those who experience loss need to grieve and to process and sometimes even get angry, but comforters so often say all the wrong things. Some of those who helped us the most were those to weep with us and not try to fix us or diminish our loss. Bless you!

  5. Debra says:

    Lilly, your post brings me right back to that time of loss. thank you for sharing so honestly from your heart. you have a real gift in expressing yourself. (((HUG)))

  6. SR says:


    How can I add anything to this. This is your moment. God Bless, SR

  7. The cold naked trees seem to cry out from the earth for the manger to be filled.

  8. Rachel says:

    oh lilly, what a beautiful post. thank you for sharing it. i wept with you as i read it. i am so thankful for Jesus and his never-ending comfort.

  9. I struggle with how to respond to this even though in a small way I can relate. We had a miscarriage in November 2003 and I remember being in Hallmark that December and seeing all those Baby’s 1st Christmas cards and wanting to cry in that place. What gave me joy then was the realization our baby was celebrating “her” (We didn’t know the gender for sure) first Christmas with Jesus.
    I appreciate your openess to share this. Even though we suffer loss, we still have hope because of the babe that was in the manger.

  10. Intense post. Many have experienced such sadness. All anyone can do is just to keep going and trust. There is a plan. Have faith. He will carry you when the trail is just overwhelming. There will be understanding and joy. Peace this Christmas for you.

  11. Angeline M says:

    Synchronicity. You “liked” my photo challenge entry, and so I found your blog….I think because I needed to read this post from you. I’m so sorry for your loss.
    Our daughter in law miscarried in her third month this last March; the baby would have been born in October. Our lovely daughter in law shut down, wanted to grieve alone, and even now does not want to talk about it. I so want to hold her an cry with her, but it’s not to be. We have to respect her choice and wishes to not discuss it. Grief has no time table, but I pray with time that she will feel better.
    Your photography is beautiful, and I’m so glad we’ve “met”.

    • Thank you for your comments. These things are hard. My experience was made so much harder because I was expected to be strong. If you are there for your daughter-in-law when she needs you, hopefully she will come to you. You may want to give her a special journal for her to write down her thoughts. A journal sometimes feels more safe than people because you can cry, rail, pray, and be completely honest! If it goes on too long and has become depression, then you may want to enourage professional help. Blesings.

  12. Reblogged this on Apronhead and commented:

    +++++++++++++++++ My newest grandbaby has been given Noelle’s name. Happy sad blessing.

  13. johncoyote says:

    A loss of a child leave a permanent sadness. My father talks of a loss baby into his old age. Thank you for sharing the story.

  14. Mona says:

    Lilly, this is touching, painful, poetic, and encouraging. Thank you for sharing your loss. Thank you for sharing your continual joyful posts and comments. You have helped me so much in the past six months when I’ve experienced my own losses … though nothing so great as the loss of a child. Thank you for you writing.

  15. melodylowes says:

    What a wonderful testament to the work of God’s miraculous healing in our own hearts – that we can walk away from these empty mangers of ours, knowing that this God who had to turn His back on His own Son loves us well enough to cover even our pain with His!

  16. Pingback: A Manger without a Baby – Apronhead

  17. Susan says:

    How beautiful and sad all at the same time. Thank you for sharing such a personal loss. Thank you for reminding us how precious Mary’s baby was, and how beautiful our Lord and Savior is now and forever.

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