I have this thing with names. The thought of giving a blessing or honoring someone or telling a story with your baby’s name is precious to me. Many names are on my Love-It List, but as long as I can remember, my favorite name of all has been Kate. Growing up, my most beautiful Barbie was Kate. My favorite paper doll—yes, I played with paper dolls—was Kate. Just last year, I asked on FaceBook what my pen-last-name should be if my pen-first-name was Kate. It’s the perfect name—simple, elegant, and timeless.
So when I got pregnant in July 2008, I was beside myself with excitement. I kept thinking, Kate’s here! She didn’t stay long enough for me to know by way of scientific confirmation that she was a girl, but I know anyway because moms just know. When I daydreamed about what the rest of her name could be, a Buechner quote kept resurfacing: “Grace is something you can never get but only be given. There’s no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about any more than you can deserve the taste of raspberries…or bring about your own birth.” Having for years worn that definition of grace like a pair of contact lenses, I knew my daughter could have no other name. She was something I could never deserve, something only God could give me. My then-husband let me take the reins with naming, so I chose Anna Catherine. Anna means “grace,” and Catherine means “pure,” so my baby girl would be named “pure grace.” Which is exactly what she was. But she’d go by “Kate,” of course.
Unfortunately, Kate faded from me on Sunday, 14 September. I cried steady, silent tears, sitting with my back against the tub. I was a heartbroken mother whose daughter had been taken in the night. I hadn’t protected her, hadn’t known how. I did the only thing I could: I crawled back into bed and prayed. At first, I heard nothing, but the tender presence of the Holy Spirit comforted my heart. Then I had a powerful, inexplicable urge to look up Isaiah 49:16, a verse I did not already know. Bewildered, I opened my Bible and read: “See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands…” My name. Kate’s name. The tears came again, but this time for an entirely different reason. The verse reminded me that I am so precious to God that when he looks down at his palms—or, perhaps, Jesus’s—he sees my name. And in a small way, I had the same thing going with my Kate. The veins in my right wrist, I had noticed as a child, form an unmistakable K. After that night, it became a sweet reminder. Kate was gone, but her name was written on my palm, so to speak, and God makes all things new. God restores.
Over time, he has restored my heart. Time, I believe, numbs pain, helps a wound scar over maybe, but God actually heals. Certainly, sadness hits me unexpectedly sometimes, or with unexpected force: it was the saddest and most unfair day of my life, being at once Mother and Not-mother. But God has guided me through the process of letting my daughter stay with him, of not begrudging the laws of nature that sent her his way. For too long, I carried her as a millstone around my neck. I feared that not thinking about her might mean she never existed. As her mother, it seemed to fall on my shoulders to acknowledge her fleeting presence. But God has taken my heart from that prison of grief into a position of grace. I do think about her occasionally, but in a peaceful, heavenly way. I imagine her spinning giddily in a white cotton dress in a field of lavender, so drunk with joy she dissolves into giggles. I imagine her sitting on Jesus’s lap, enamored with him, asking him questions with the ethereal wisdom that a heaven-born child must possess. I imagine her smiling when she sees me, if you do that sort of thing in heaven.
And tonight, when it was time for a little earth-born girl to fall asleep, she wriggled onto the couch next to me and settled into my arms. She looked into my eyes with a beautiful face lit by a grin and laced her fingers with mine. She and I do not share DNA. I do not have memories of her in the womb. She does not belong to me in the way she belongs to her mother. But she loves me, and I love her, and we both love her father more than we could tell you. She and her brother have become a part of my heart, and as I look forward to many years with the man I love, I feel doubly blessed to be their friend as well. I never knew life could be this good, this full. But when God restores life and fulfills promises, he doesn’t do a halfhearted job of it. Speaking of promises, those letters the veins in my wrists so clearly form happen to be their initials—hers and her brother’s. As someone who does not believe in coincidence, only divine winks, you can imagine how this hits me. Especially since her name is “pure grace,” too. And she goes by Kate.
If you ever wondered whether God listens when you cry out, whether he knows who you are…he does.