Join us for a conversation with Jonathan and Jackie Gibson about seeing God's goodness even when your baby has died. After their daughter was stillborn, Jonathan wrote a book called The Moon is Always Round.
The book is based on a catechism he taught his oldest living son about how God is always good even when we can't see it (just like how the moon is always round even when it's not fully visible).
Jonathan (Jonny) shares the inspiration for his book as well as his grieving journey alongside his wife, Jackie. They share practical wisdom and hope with couples grieving a baby in Heaven.
In this episode, we discussed:
Processing grief and explaining the loss of a baby to living children
Conversations with siblings of a baby born stillborn
The story behind the book, The Moon is Always Round
Why the Resurrection and New Creation Heaven brings us hope
Faith moving from theory to reality
Intimacy with Jesus in the loneliness of grief
Grieving differently than your spouse, but moving in the same direction
How to support bereaved dads
Reading the Bible systematically
About his new devotional book, Be Thou My Vision
Full transcript below.
Each episode has a special Hope Guide that you can download by clicking the button below. It is packed with hope-filled resources and extra information from the episode!
Discussion / Application Questions (leave your answers below in the comments!)
Jonathan and Jackie share about how they shared the news of their daughter's death with their three-year-old son. They talk about how they wanted him to be a part of his sister's life as much as possible to make memories and be able to talk about grief and death. If you have living children, what has been your experience with talking to them about their sibling(s) in Heaven? What has been challenging about it? Have there been unexpected blessings? Write about them here.
In this episode, Jonathan talks about the meaning of the catechism "The moon is always round" and how it is a reflection of God's goodness no matter our circumstances. Where have you seen God's goodness in the midst of your pain after losing your baby?
Jackie talks about the hope she finds in the Resurrection and New Creation Heaven when her daughter's body will rise from the grave and become immortal. How does this change your perspective and view of Heaven? Imagine the moment of the Resurrection and write about it below.
Graphics to share on social media or pin on Pinterest!
MEET OUR GUESTS
Jonathan Gibson (PhD, University of Cambridge) is an ordained minister in the International Presbyterian Church, United Kingdom, and associate professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.
He is the author of The Moon Is Always Round and Be Thou My Vision: A Liturgy for Daily Worship. Jonny and his wife, Jackie, have four children including a daughter, named Leila, in Heaven.
CRADLED IN HOPE PODCAST
New episodes will be shared on the 1st and 15th of every month. Don't miss a single episode...subscribe wherever you podcast!
Please also leave a review to help spread the message of hope with other grieving mommas!
MEET OUR HOST
Ashley Opliger is the Executive Director of Bridget's Cradles, a nonprofit organization based in Wichita, Kansas that donates cradles to over 1,300 hospitals in all 50 states and comforts over 26,000 bereaved families a year.
Ashley is married to Matt and they have three children: Bridget (in Heaven), and two sons. She is a follower of Christ who desires to share the hope of Heaven with families grieving the loss of a baby.
Connect with Ashley:
Follow Bridget’s Cradles:
Follow Cradled in Hope Podcast:
JOIN OUR CRADLED IN HOPE COMMUNITY FOR GRIEVING MOMS
Episode 32: The Moon is Always Round – Seeing God’s Goodness Even When Your Baby Has Died with Jonathan Gibson
Ashley Opliger: [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Cradled in Hope Podcast on the Edifi Podcast Network. I’m your host, Ashley Opliger. I’m a wife, mom, and follower of Christ who founded Bridget’s Cradles, a nonprofit ministry in memory of my daughter, Bridget, who was stillborn at 24 weeks.
Cradled in Hope is a Gospel-focused podcast for grieving moms to find comfort, hope, and healing after the loss of a baby. We want this to be a safe place for your broken heart to land.
Here, we are going to trust God’s promise to heal our hearts, restore our joy, and use our grief for good. With faith in Jesus and eyes fixed on Heaven, we do not have to grieve without hope. We believe that Jesus cradles us in hope while He cradles our babies in Heaven.
Welcome to the Cradled in Hope Podcast.
Ashley Opliger: [00:00:50] Welcome back for another episode of Cradled in Hope. This will be our last episode of 2022, and we wanted our final message of the year to be a reminder that God is good all the time, no matter our circumstances or whether or not we can feel it or see it. He is good.
I know this holiday season can be so heavy and the new year coming up can leave you feeling like the world is moving on from you and your baby. You may wonder what's next for you and your family, or how you can find hope for the future. My prayer for you is that you would know Who holds your future and fix your eyes on Him. He will be with you every step of the way.
As we focus on God's goodness, I am so honored to introduce our guests, Jonny and Jackie Gibson. Jonny's book, The Moon is Always Round, is a children's book about how God is always good, even when a baby is born stillborn. He and Jackie will share their daughter Leila's story and encourage listeners to hold fast to Jesus.
Let me share a little more about them before we have them come on. Jonathan Gibson or Jonny, as he likes to be called, is an ordained minister in the International Presbyterian Church of the United Kingdom and an Associate Professor of the Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.
He has his PhD from the University of Cambridge and he is the author of The Moon is Always Round and Be Thou My Vision, A Liturgy for Daily Worship. Jonny and his wife, Jackie, have four children, including a daughter named Leila, who was born into Heaven. I can't wait to share their testimony with you and more about their book, The Moon is Always Round, so let's welcome them now.
Ashley Opliger: [00:02:36] Welcome, Jonny and Jackie, to the Cradled in Hope Podcast. We're so grateful you're here. We're so excited to get to share with our audience your story and your beautiful book, The Moon is Always Round. So would you introduce yourselves and share your story with us?
Jonathan Gibson: [00:02:51] My name's Jonny Gibson, married to Jackie here. We have four children: Benjamin. Leila, Zachary, and Hannah. As you can hear from our accents, we're not from around here. I hail from Belfast, Northern Ireland originally, and I'll let Jackie tell you where she's from. We've been living in the States for six years. I teach at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.
Jackie Gibson: [00:03:14] And I'm Jackie, and I'm from Australia, so living far from home near Philadelphia now. And I spend Monday to Sunday with kids at home. So Ben is 10, he's at school, but Zach and Hannah, who are three and two, keep me busy at home.
Ashley Opliger: [00:03:33] So I have to ask, how did the two of you meet from Ireland to Australia?
Jonathan Gibson: [00:03:37] Yeah. I moved to Sydney, Australia to study for theology, to study to become a minister of the Word, Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia, and I was placed at a church as part of my degree program. And Jackie was a beautiful-looking blonde in the pew that caught my eye when I was preaching. So we met at church, dated in our second year, engaged third year, married at the end of third year.
And then we moved from Sydney, Australia to Cambridge, England, where I did a PhD in Hebrew studies, and we were there for seven-and-a-half years. And we still would refer to Cambridge as home in many ways, because Ben was born there where we spent most of our married lives together. And then Leila was also stillborn there and she's buried in Cambridge. So we feel bonded to Cambridge in many ways.
Ashley Opliger: [00:04:31] Yes. That must be hard to be away from her burial site. Do you want to share Leila's story with us now?
Jackie Gibson: [00:04:39] Yeah, sure. So in 2012, Ben was born, which was a great joy and excitement to us. And then after about a year, we thought, “Let's start trying for number two,” and I think naively presumed it would happen quickly because it did for Ben. But it took another two-and-a-half to three years to fall pregnant with Leila.
So what a joy when we got that positive pregnancy test! Finally after all our prayers and waiting, we were pregnant. We didn't know if it was a boy or a girl actually, at that stage. And then it felt like a fairly normal pregnancy all the way through.
I do remember once we got through those early scans feeling a sense of relief that things were looking good at that point, and I just very presumptuously assumed, therefore, it would be all the way. I didn't know otherwise.
And as her due date was nearing, this was the springtime, so it was March. Again, everything's progressing normally. I had normal midwife appointments, normal hospital appointments. And then there was a day where I woke up just anxious about reduced movement, so called the hospital that day, asked if I could come in.
And actually, they said, “We'd like you to stay home and monitor movements first. Drink something cold. Lie on your side and I'm sure things will be fine.” So I did that.
And retrospectively I look back and think, “Wow, it took a while for me to feel her move.” But I did eventually feel some movements, which felt reassuring at the time.
So when I gave that feedback to the hospital, they said, “Well, great. All is well,” And then the next day was a Monday and I woke up and I just had not felt any movement that morning. This was four days before her due date. So we went into the hospital that day with, I think, a sense of, “Something's definitely not right,” but you just hope for the best and can't imagine the worst.
And then as many of your listeners will know, sadly, those words in that hospital room, “I'm sorry, there's no heartbeat,” which was, I mean, your world comes crashing down. And we didn't know if it was a boy or a girl.
And so I asked straight away, “Is it a boy? Is it a girl?”
And they said, “We think it's a girl.” So that's the way we found out that our baby was a daughter.
And so she died on the 13th of March, 2016, and then it wasn't until four days later that she was actually born. So the 17th of March was her birthday when stillborn. So that is the story of our precious baby. She was beautiful and she had dark hair all over. That hair, she looked like her big brother. But as your listeners know, that hospital room was so quiet.
Ashley Opliger: [00:07:53] I’m so sorry. It's so heartbreaking and especially so close to your due date, and you had things set up and ready to bring your baby home, and so devastating.
And you were able to have Benjamin come up, right? And get to hold Leila and see her and spend that time with her as well, right?
Jonathan Gibson: [00:08:13] Yeah. Leila was born at 10:25 AM on a Thursday morning. And we'd asked a friend to pick up Ben from nursery school, so she brought Ben to the hospital and Leila was placed in a cold cot. And so Ben came into the room.
Jackie wasn't holding Leila at the time, but she was in the cot and he was quite intrigued by her, didn't want to hold her at first, but was peering into the cot and looking at her like a little sleeping beauty, still and eyes closed, but not making any sound and not breathing.
And later, time passed, he then was willing to hold her. So we have a very precious photo of him holding her, smiling, and we're beside him, smiling.
And for those three or four hours that afternoon, in that hospital room, there was obviously great grief and sadness, but there was also a great peace that we got to meet her. We got to be a family of four for just a brief moment. We each held her, obviously, and kissed her and had a really lovely time just playing together with Ben with her present.
So yeah, he came to see her in the hospital that afternoon. We wanted him to meet her. Families handle these things differently. There's not one right way to do it, but we wanted him to meet her. He was three-and-a-half at the time, and we wanted him to have as much tangible remembrance of her as possible so that in the future when we talk about Leila, as we do often, that he would recall this moment of meeting her.
Jackie Gibson: [00:09:48] We did have a few days to prepare him for that day as well, knowing she had died. So he knew that she had died and we told him that she had gone straight to Heaven. So his nursery school teacher, that we became close with, told us that very day when I was in hospital giving birth, Ben said in the playground, “My sister's being born today.” And he paused and said, “She's going straight to Heaven.” That's a sweet memory just to have something he said on the day.
Ashley Opliger: [00:10:22] And it's so hard for such little ones to process it. It's hard for us as adults to process it in the moment. It's such a traumatic experience and there's so much that you're trying to process, and so for a child to be processing it, but I do feel like children have that childlike faith, a true faith where it's much more concrete to them.
“My sibling is in Heaven. That's where they are.” I think there's some sweetness in the innocence of a child. So can you share about how you started processing your grief with Benjamin in that initial time at the hospital, but also in the weeks to come?
Because there are listeners here that have experienced loss and have older living children. And you're trying to navigate your own grief, but you're also trying to help them process their grief.
And like you said, there's not really a right way to do it, but I know some parents feel like they need to shield their grief from their kids. But then I know other parents who feel like, “I really want to let them in on it and see the emotion and talk about it.” And so would you share some advice from your own experience of what worked with your family?
Jonathan Gibson: [00:11:28] Yeah. We didn't really know what to do. First, we were still in shock that Leila died. And actually, at first we didn't tell Ben that day. We picked him up from nursery, we had went home. And then it was that night when he was in the bath, I think, it was that we just decided to tell him. And his first response, if I remember right, was, “But why is she not coming home?”
Like, “Mom will go into hospital. She will give birth to your little baby sister, but she's not going to come home.”
And he just couldn't work out, “Well, if she's going to give birth to her, why wouldn't she bring her home?”
And so he had a few questions at that point, but I think early on, not that we thought through it much, but we said, “We want him to be as much a part of this as possible so that he has as many memories of it as possible. We don't want her to be this mystery to him in the family that he never got to meet or talk about.” That was our general approach; not that we'd worked it out, but we were just making it up as we went along.
And looking back, we're very glad we did that. If couples ever ask us for counsel, that would be our counsel, is involve your children as much as possible. They may be more robust than you think actually dealing with something like this. But also, Ecclesiastes says that it's “better to go to a house of mourning,” than it is to go to a party, and this is a fallen world and people die at times they shouldn't die.
And children dying is really death doubly warped, in our view. And that's life. And actually exposing children to some of these things rather than hiding them from it, I think, can be helpful.
Jackie Gibson: [00:13:09] Yeah. As Jonny said, we were figuring it out as we went along. None of us expected this to happen, and there were times where it was appropriate to not grieve to our fullest extent in front of him. There were times where that would happen when he was in bed, not that we could always control it, but we also weren't afraid to show him our tears.
As hard as that can be for a child, to see your parents, who you think of as strong people in your life, to see them cry is difficult, I think, sometimes for children. But he just accepted the truth of the matter.
I think kids are amazing like that. They can handle it in one sense, but we are grateful that we were open with him from the beginning. And looking back, what gifts we had to share with him, the hope we have in Christ, that our home is in Heaven and we now have a family member who has gone there ahead of us.
We hadn't had conversations quite like that with Ben before this, but now we got to share with him this real and living hope we have in Jesus, and, “You have a sister who has gone to Heaven and is with Jesus.”
And so to be able to talk about those things, we can now look back and see, “Wow, what a gift to have those conversations with a three-year-old. We wouldn't have chosen for it to happen or to have those conversations so early, but we can see some of the good gifts he was given through that.
Ashley Opliger: [00:14:43] Amen. I think that's so beautiful. And her life is part of your testimony and also your living children's testimony. This will be a part of their story and of how they view God and talk about God and the hope of Heaven.
And for them to see you vulnerable, I think that's very healthy because it's also a chance for them to see that your faith is real. It's easy to say, “I believe in Jesus and I believe in Heaven,” but when your own child passes away, for them to see their parents standing strong and still seeing that God is good and that He's good all the time, no matter when our circumstances change, I think that is a gift, and I love that you shared that.
And I think it's a perfect segue to talk about your book. The Moon is Always Round because this is a catechism for displaying God's goodness and saying He's always good.
So Jonny, would you share how you were inspired to write this children's book in memory of Leila and to share this hope and how the idea came to be?
Jonathan Gibson: [00:15:46] Yeah. Just before Leila died, for the months beforehand, we'd started teaching Ben a little catechism. He liked to look up at the moon at night in Cambridge and find it and look at the shape of the moon. And so we started a little catechism. I would look up and say, Ben, what shape is the moon tonight?
And he would say, “It's a crescent moon,” or, “A half moon,” or, “A three-quarter moon.”
And then I'd say, “What shape is the moon always?
And I’d taught him to say, “The moon is always round.”
And then I would say, “What does that mean?”
And I’d taught him to say, “It means God is always good.”
And I knew what it meant, that God is always good even when you can't see all of it, just like the moon is always round when you can't see all of it. But little did I realize that would've become very significant for us months later when Leila died.
So he came to the hospital, as we mentioned, and I was driving him home that night and I was crying in the car. It was just silence and I was crying and he's sitting in the back seat and I just hear this little voice from the back say, “Daddy, will Mommy ever grow a baby that wakes up?”
And I said, “I don't know, Ben.” And I thought, “Wow, he's so perceptive.” He’s realized she's a real baby, but she never woke up. That was his way of describing her sleeping in death.
And I said, “Ben, I don't know, but maybe let's pray that one day we will have another baby and that she'll wake up.”
And then he said, “Why isn't Leila coming home?”
And I said, “Well, because Jesus called her name and she went to Him.”
And he said, “When she's been with Jesus a day in Heaven, will she come back to us?”
And I said, “No, Ben, when you go to be with Jesus, you don't want to go anywhere else.”
And he said, “Why is that?”
And I said, “Because Jesus is such a wonderful Person.”
He said, “Does Leila not like us?”
And I said, “No, Ben, she does like us. It's just that she likes Jesus more.”
And then he said, “But why isn't she coming home?”
And I said, “Ben, I don't actually know why she's not coming home,” I said, “but Ben, do you remember the catechism on the moon?”
And he said, “Yes.”
I said, “Do you remember what shape is the moon always?”
And he said, “The moon is always round.”
And I said, “What does that mean?”
And he said, “God is always good.”
And I said, “Tonight, Ben, it's hard to really see God's goodness because for some reason God has taken her to Heaven and she's not coming home ever. And it's going to be hard for us to see God's goodness in all of that, but we must trust that He is good, just like we know the moon is always round when you can't even see it all.”
And so that story, that catechism came very useful. And that night I took him home, and left him in the care of a close friend, tucked him into bed, and as I left the house that night to go back and spend the night with Jackie and Leila, I thought, “I wonder what shape the moon is tonight?”
And I looked up and there it was a lovely, bright, clear night. And there was the moon. It was the half moon. And I thought, “That really sums up today. We've had the joy of meeting Leila, naming her, spending time with her, but there's this half of the moon is missing and it's dark.” And I thought,” That captures exactly how we feel.”
The book has come about from that conversation in the car. I was so struck by what a profound conversation it was to have with a three-and-a-half-year-old. I wrote it down on my phone the next couple of days. I thought, “I don't want to forget those questions he asked me.”
But at the time, I didn't have in mind a book or anything. But then as I would reflect on those questions, I thought, “One day I’d quite like to write a book about the moon always being round.” And so when we got to America about a year later, I was procrastinating one night with a lecture to prepare the next day, and so I started writing the book. That's how it came.
Ashley Opliger: [00:19:52] Well, it is such a beautiful book and I have it here with me and we have it in our Hope Library at our headquarters for any mom. And I've shared with you earlier, it's blessed many of our families that have come in here. It was actually one family who shared this book with me and then we've been sharing it and it's really been blessing so many families.
One of the things that I find so moving about the book is how it goes through the progression of finding out you're pregnant and starting to make a nursery, finding out boy or girl, and then also the sadder moments of realizing that you're not coming home with a baby from the hospital. And it's sad and it definitely brings you back to those moments.
I also bought a [copy of the] book for my house to have for my boys. And my mom, Bridget's grandma, who made the cradle, she read this book and when she was reading it, tears just going down her face because it's so relatable. All the emotions and the feelings that bereaved parents go through on that drive home from the hospital with the empty car seat in the back. And the emotions and the illustrations as well are so beautiful.
For me, one of the pages that really hit home was the page at her funeral because her little white casket is actually exactly what Bridget's little casket looked like. Just being able to see it in a book and know that there are other families that understand and that you're wanting to point people to the hope of Heaven through this, because this is heartbreaking and devastating and no family should experience this, but Jesus is a wonderful Person that we want to be in His presence, and so trying to look forward to that hope.
And so thank you for writing it because it's so needed and I know that it's going to bless so many families who have older living children at the time of their loss, but also for families like mine who’ve had living children after a loss. So for my two little boys reading this has been a blessing to us too.
And I really love that you used the moon because for me, and I don't know if this sounds strange, but for me, looking at the moon for me has always been grounding because I feel like it's a constant that God made. It's part of His Creation. It's always there. It's always round. It's not changing.
And I want to read a Bible verse, it's in Romans 1:20, and going back to what God has created, it says, “For His invisible attributes, namely His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
So whenever I see the moon and the stars and look at the night sky, it's so hard to deny that there's a Creator that made everything. And so I see the moon, I think of God, the Creator, and all the things that He's made in the heavens and on earth.
And so such a beautiful book that's going to impact so many people in memory of Leila. And I know you said that in the back of the book it says Leila the evangelist, and I just love that. Would you share more about how that name came to be and what your vision is for her legacy?
Jonathan Gibson: [00:22:57] Yeah. At her funeral, which the book really replicates, it's the real photo. The inside of the church, it looked exactly like that, and we gave photos to the artist of the family members who had come to the church. Amazingly, we had about 170 people come to her funeral, which was a small church that we were in, but a lot of people came.
So the picture’s quite real. But in the funeral, the minister, Ian Hamilton, who was taking the service, said that he wanted to speak about Leila's testimony, and it struck us like, “She was an unborn child. What do you mean, she had a testimony?”
And he said that hers was a great testimony. She pointed us all to another world. She pointed us all to God. And then he just had this throwaway line, which wasn't in his notes, and he just said, “Leila, the evangelist.” And it just really struck everyone who was there, and it's a lovely picture of her life and ministry, and we often say, “She being dead yet speaks.” She's dead, but she's speaking into people's lives.
And people who were at the funeral, still to this day, we have a few people who will write to us on the anniversary of her stillbirth, and they'll often say, “We've never forgotten the line: ‘Leila, the evangelist.’
And for us, the book Is a little practical outworking of her ministry, that it's really her voice in the book pointing people to God. It's not really a book about Leila. She's there in the womb all the way through, and then she doesn't really appear at the end, and it's actually a book about God. And so we love that that's what our daughter's doing. She's pointing people to God, to His goodness, which doesn't change.
Ashley Opliger: [00:24:41] So beautiful.
Jackie, what does the book mean to you? And also now that Benjamin is 10, I'm sure some of those memories can be hard to remember, but he has this book to help him remember. So what's that like now at his age?
Jackie Gibson: [00:24:55] Yeah, I would say at 10, it's not that he's picking up the book much anymore and looking through it, but sometimes when his younger siblings are reading, he will look over their shoulder or have a look again. And he does enjoy seeing that that sort of looks like him, that little boy.
But in his bedroom behind his bed, we have a beautiful illustration of the moon, and it says, “The moon is always round.” It's not from the book, but I just got it made on Etsy. And so it's sweet to go into his bedroom and see him sleeping below that, that we keep believing it. We keep teaching it to our children that God is always good.
And who knows what the Lord has for Ben in his life? But we know there will be hard things ahead for him, and so it's wonderful that from such a young age he has been taught this Truth that he will have to wrestle by the Spirit to keep believing.
But I love that it equips children for what's ahead. Even children who have not had this experience in their own families, lots of people who just read it to their kids even though they haven't had the death of a baby. But it's a great thing to be teaching before it happens, before hard things happen. So yeah, it's been significant for Ben and precious now to see his younger siblings being taught the same Truth in our home.
Jonathan Gibson: [00:26:19] And it's been nice for the other two, who weren't born when Leila was stillborn, to teach them that they have an older sibling. So for Ben, it's a younger sibling, younger sister, and [it’d] be nice to tell them, “You have an older sister.”
So we always say, “Zach, you're number three. Hannah, you're number four.” Neither of you has ever replaced Leila, number two. And so they're quite proud they have this sister who's in Heaven.
And we went to visit Leila's grave this summer when we were in the UK, and it was nice to have a photo of them both standing, touching her headstone. And it was lovely because it was really through the book that they have this real sense that they have a sister who's in Heaven and she's not here.
Ashley Opliger: [00:27:03] We hope you are enjoying this episode so far. We want to take a quick break to tell you about some resources our ministry provides to grieving moms.
On our website, bridgetscradles.com, you can find hope-filled resources on grieving and healing including memorial ideas, quotes & Scripture, featured stories, and recommended books and other organizations. We share ideas on how to navigate difficult days such as due dates, Heaven Days, and holidays.
In addition, every month I lead Christ-centered support groups for bereaved moms called Hope Gatherings, both in-person and online. You can find a list of upcoming dates and sign up for our next support group on our website.
Lastly, we would love for you to connect with us on Facebook and Instagram. You can find us on these three pages: @bridgetscradles, @cradledinhope, and my personal page @ashleyopliger. You can also join our private Cradled in Hope Facebook group for grieving moms to find community. We would be honored to hear your baby’s story and be praying for you by name. Now let’s get back to our episode.
Ashley Opliger: [00:28:13] Jackie, I love that you talked about instilling in children really the theology of hard things are going to happen. Unfortunately, in this broken world we do deal with the effects of sin and death, and that is going to be a part of our lives.
And we talk a lot on this podcast about how loss exposes these errors in our theology, where we think that if we're good Christians, if we love God, that He's going to bless us. And so therefore, if something like this happens, “Well, then God must not love me.” And we know that's not true. That's not good theology.
And so I think going through something like this, it really does help us establish true Biblical theology. And so, Jonny, I know you are a theology professor, so I would love to know from your perspective, both as a grieving dad and a professor, how it impacted your own faith and theology going through such a painful loss.
Jonathan Gibson: [00:29:09] Yeah. Just before Leila died, I'd preached a series on the book of Psalms, or Psalms as you say here. We pronounce it Psalms in Northern Ireland. And I preached on Psalm 23, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.”
I preached on Psalm 139, “You knit me together in my mother's womb. You've numbered my days.”
I preached on Job 23, Job’s suffering, saying he wanted to meet with God and plead his case with Him and accuse God and get answers from God. I preached on all of those passages, and I think I did so with some level of sensitivity and pastoral care for those to whom I was preaching.
But when Leila died, for me it was like my understanding of those passages went to a whole new level. It's one thing to preach on that. It's another thing to experience death in the valley of the shadow of death and to feel like Job where God is silent and He won't answer you.
And so it didn't bring any doubts to our faith. We went through our times of anger and frustration and grief with God, why He did it. At the time that Leila was born, we had a couple of married couples friends who all had babies. Soon after we went through that whole thing of, “Why do they get healthy babies and we don't? And why are they on numbers three and four and we're just, we struggled to fall pregnant with number two, and then You took her away from us?”
So we had all of those grappling questions and wrestling with God. It didn't bring any doubts to us; over time, I would say solidified our faith. But it just made it more real, it was no longer theoretical. It was no longer just a cognitive truth in my head, it was something that I really did believe.
I mean, at the funeral, the minister at the graveside, his opening words was, “The enduring hope of the Christian faith is not the immortality of the soul but the resurrection of the body.”
We’d just placed her body in the ground and Jackie had just put some soil on the top of her coffin as we lowered it. And we've never believed in the Resurrection of the body more than when our daughter died.
But you want to share what it meant for you?
Jackie Gibson: [00:31:35] Yeah, but also picking up on what Jonny was saying about the Resurrection, I actually did learn something new when Leila died, in how I thought about where she is now.
I remember thinking after she was stillborn, “She's with Jesus. But hang on, I'm holding her body. So how does this work?” And that's when I really came to understand that her soul has gone to be with Christ, which is better by far, but it isn't yet best. Her story is not finished yet. She is awaiting the Resurrection just as we are awaiting the Resurrection too.
And so I did have a sort of theological shift where I thought about Heaven differently. It's not the New Creation Heaven yet. She is waiting to put on immortality. She is with Jesus, but her body is in a grave and mysteriously that is where she will rise from the grave, rise from the dead one day.
So I did have a shift in how I understood Heaven, but also Ashley, what you were saying earlier about it's tempting to hope that as Christians we’ll just live a life of happiness and safety and joy. But, oh, our Savior is not one who lived a life like that and He is our suffering older brother.
And in the midst of grief of after Leila's death, I just remember thinking, “I have never before seen Him so clearly on the road ahead, carrying His cross. That is the Savior I'm following.”
And so the opportunity in grief for the sweetest intimacy with my Savior I've ever experienced is precious. And it can be a lonely place to be in grief, but Jesus is right there in it and knows the depths of sadness better than any human.
Ashley Opliger: [00:33:36] It's so beautiful. Jackie, I love that you shared about the Resurrection too. And it's interesting that you brought that up because I was reading in 1 Corinthians and this verse actually talks about the moon and about the Resurrection, so I'd love to read it real quick.
It says, “There are also Heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies, but the splendor of the Heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another. And stars differs from star in splendor. So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sewn is perishable, it is raised imperishable. It is sewn in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sewn in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sewn a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”
So I just love that verse because it ties everything that we've been talking about because that is our hope, the Resurrection that's coming, that our babies’ graves will be empty just like the tomb [of Jesus] was empty. So every Easter when we visit Bridget's grave and we bring her flowers, I just tell our boys, “One day this is going to be empty and she's going to be resurrected.”
And I also tell other moms too that have had miscarriages where they didn't get to bury their baby or maybe they chose cremation for their baby, “God made us out of ashes. It says we're going to return to ashes, but He can resurrect ashes. He's the Creator of Life. He can breathe life into all the bodies that have passed away.” And so that Resurrection is what we have to look forward to.
And so for me, Easter has been such a favorite holiday now because that's what our hope hinges on. So I love that you shared that and also just the intimacy that you had with your Savior, because we don't get that intimacy in the mountaintops of life or just the normal, everything's going okay. When we can really relate to suffering, that's when we walk hand in hand with Him and let Him carry us, so thank you for sharing that, Jackie.
Would you also share about how Leila's loss impacted your marriage and how over time it strengthened your marriage as you were walking through this grief?
Jonathan Gibson: [00:35:43] Who’s going to go first?
I think it strengthened us. I think it brought us closer together. I mean, each person grieves differently. Each couple grieves differently. We did grieve differently, but also I would say quite similarly.
I like to go to Leila's grave quite a bit. When I was a minister in Cambridge, she died while I was a minister. And when I was out on pastoral visits, I would just quickly go to her grave for five, ten minutes and then go on to the pastoral visit or on the way home.
Jackie just practically wasn't able to go as often, but also didn't feel the need to go as often. So we managed that a bit differently. But we went once a week as a family for nine months until we moved country.
So we grieved similarly but also differently, but I think it brought us closer together. I had to learn that a mother has a very unique grief to a father because Jackie carried Leila for nine months and gave birth to her. And that's just such a unique experience compared to a man, obviously.
And then Jackie, I think, started to appreciate that a father grieves in a way that often mothers and women don't appreciate. So it was interesting that in the weeks and months immediately after, people would always ask me at church, “How's Jackie?” but no one really ever asked how I was doing.
And I was okay, but I just, I remember feeling it a bit like, “I'm grieving as well, not just Jackie.” I wasn't annoyed they were asking about Jackie, but it was as if the father and the man, it's not as big a deal. So overall, I'd say it brought us closer together. That'd be fair.
Jackie Gibson: [00:37:24] Yeah. And by God's grace, both of us share the same hope in Christ, and so we're able at different times to point each other back to that hope together.
Sometimes I was finding that more difficult to keep believing and sometimes maybe Jonny was struggling with that more. And so to keep grieving in the same direction together helps. And yes, I do look back and think, “Wow, our marriage by God's grace has been strengthened through this hard time that we shared.”
Apart from Christ, Who knows better and more deeply than any spouse, Jonny's the only other person who really was in those moments with me, in that hospital room with me. And so to have those memories together is precious, and I don't take that for granted.
Jonathan Gibson: [00:38:18] The one thing, and that's a nice way Jackie's put it, we both moved forward together in the same direction, but we both had to give each other space along the journey for each of us to grieve the way we were grieving. So I think that's a nice way of putting it, isn't it? Moving in the same direction together, but also letting each person have their own space and time to grieve.
Ashley Opliger: [00:38:45] Yeah. I think that's really healthy. And God made us man and woman, and so we have our innate differences about who we are, and then we have personality differences and everything.
But I think what matters most is that you're staying close together and moving toward hope, like you said so perfectly, Jonny, I do agree that fathers are often overlooked in the grief. And I can say that in our ministry sometimes we do focus so much on the women, and we do have couples groups sometimes, and we have had several dads on the podcast. But I think in general, a lot of ministries are really focused on the moms and the babies.
And so do you have any advice for us and for the general public about ways to support grieving dads?
Jonathan Gibson: [00:39:30] The first thing would be is to ask them how they're doing. As I said, at church people would always ask Jackie how she's doing, if we were together, wouldn't really ask me that. Or if she wasn't there, they'd ask me, “How is she doing?”
So just to engage with fathers and ask them how they're doing and don't assume that they're doing okay.
Sometimes men are reluctant to show emotions in public, but that doesn't mean that they’re not grieving. I mean, the general thing we always say to people is use the baby's name. Don't just refer to the baby.
We never liked the language of loss. “We're sorry you lost your baby.” We sort of felt like it was like a set of car keys or something that we'd lost. We preferred it when people said, “I'm sorry Leila died,” and I appreciated that as a father. “I'm sorry that your daughter died, Jonny.” “Sorry that Leila died,” things like that.
And just keeping in touch with fathers. Again, over time, grief, as somebody has said, has no timeline and you go through waves of it. And some days you feel actually okay, and then boom, it just hits you.
When I first came here to Westminster, we were just nine months from when Leila died and buried her, and we were still both quite raw. And I would mention Leila in meetings with other colleagues and none of them would engage with me.
They would look at me and express a sympathetic sigh, but then the conversation would change. And I wasn't deeply hurt, but I would come home and I'd say to Jackie, “Nobody engages with it. Nobody knows what to do with it.”
So I think just the basic engagement in conversation with the father can be helpful. And if he doesn't want to talk, he'll make that clear quickly. But don't assume he doesn't want to talk about it, particularly if he mentions the baby and their name and wants to say something about her. Rather than just say, “Oh, I'm so sorry,” and move on, you actually engage with them.
Ashley Opliger: [00:41:37] That's really great advice because there's not many outlets to talk about your baby in Heaven, because I think you're right. In general, our culture, most people aren't comfortable with it. And even when you do have the bravery to bring it up and to say your baby's name, sometimes it just makes people uncomfortable and then they don't know what to say and so they change the subject.
And so just engaging and asking questions. And I think speaking for myself, at least as a bereaved parent, I feel like people asking, “How are you doing in your grief? How are you feeling now,” and going into those questions.
And I think sometimes people think that, “Oh, if I bring this up, I'm going to make them sad or remind them that they have a baby in Heaven.” But you can't remind a bereaved parent that their baby is in Heaven. They're already thinking about their baby all the time. It's not going to make them sad. I think it only can help. And like you said, if they don't want to talk about it, they'll let you know that. But it's good to not make that assumption, so thank you for sharing that.
So I wanted to share with everyone, we've talked a lot about your book. The Moon is Always Round, and we love this book so much. We'll always have copies here at Bridget’s Cradles, but you are also going to generously give away a copy of your book. And then you also have another book called Be Thou My Vision. Is that a devotional book?
Jonathan Gibson: [00:42:53] Yes. The subtitle is A Liturgy for Daily Worship, and yeah, it's a daily devotional book, used individually or as a couple. It's basically like a mini church service. So during Covid-19, I became a bit dissatisfied with my quiet times. So I thought, “Let me try something different.”
So I ordered them a bit like a mini church service, for a Call to Worship, Scripture Reading, Prayer of Veneration, Reading of the Law, Confession of Sin, Assurance and Pardon, then a creed, Apostles Creed or Nicene Creed, Athanasian Creed, and then a short Praise Hymn, the Gloria Patri or the Doxology. Then a Prayer of Illumination, Scripture Reading, and then Prayer of Intercession, and then your own prayers, and the Lord's Prayer.
All the prayers are taken from people in church history, through all the different periods to Augustine, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, those kinds of people. And so there are four kinds of prayers per day: Adoration, Confession, Illumination, Intercession, and so they're put in at different places in the daily liturgy.
And the idea is that we all struggle to read our Bibles and pray every day, and sometimes we open our Bible, don't know where to read. We're not doing a Bible reading plan. Or when it comes to praying, we don't really know what to pray. We just rattle off a set of petitions, ask God to bless everybody we know in our family, etc.
But I find these old prayers by others helpful to structure my thoughts and mind, and put words into my mouth that I'm struggling to pray. So that's what the book is about, it’s 31 days. You can repeat it monthly. And there's a Bible reading plan at the back called the Robert Murray M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan. You can read four chapters a day if you have the time.
I do two chapters a day. I encourage people to just start with one chapter a day, but it helps you read through the Bible systematically. I find it a great help. I know others have. And in times of grief, often you don't know what to say or what to read or what to pray, and I'm hoping that Be Thou My Vision might be as a blessing to others in times of grief as well.
Ashley Opliger: [00:45:07] I love that and getting people into the Word because there's no better place to be anytime but especially in moments of grief, and being reminded of the Truth and the hope we have.
So I love that and we are so excited to be able to give away a copy of The Moon is Always Round and Be Thou My Vision. I know that's going to bless someone so greatly, and so we will be sharing those giveaway details on our social media pages, so be sure to check that.
Jonny and Jackie, do you guys have a website or a social media page where people can get connected to you?
Jonathan Gibson: [00:45:43] We don't have a website individually or collectively.
I have a faculty page on the Westminster Theological Seminary website, wts.edu. If you go there you can look at books or sermons or lectures I've given, so that's the only way you can find out about me.
Jackie doesn't have a website, but Jackie probably wouldn't want to mention this, but I'll mention it. Jackie's written three blogs connected to the grief of losing a child. The first one was Today Would've Been My Daughter's First Birthday.
That was written at the Gospel Coalition a number of years ago, which I think is really helpful. And then she also wrote one about, around the title, when The Moon is Always Round came out, why every parent should read this book to their child.
Jackie Gibson: [00:46:30] Why there should be a kid's book about death, I think.
Jonathan Gibson: [00:46:32] Aye. Why there should be a kid's book about death.
Ashley Opliger: [00:46:34] And those can be found on the Gospel Coalition?
Jonathan Gibson: [00:46:37] Gospel Coalition, and then your most recent one was on the Desiring God website, called You're Still a Mother. Seven Points for Mothers Who've Lost a Child In Utero, and I think they're very helpful. So those are the three blogs that if they just Google Jackie Gibson and stillbirth or Leila, Jackie Gibson, they’ll find them.
Ashley Opliger: [00:47:00] And we will link all of those blog posts. Thank you for sharing about those blog posts. We will link all of those on our website in this episode, and then we also will put those in our Hope Guide for this episode so people can get directly connected to Jackie's writing.
So thank you both so much for coming on and sharing about Leila's life and the ministry that you have started because of her, and this beautiful book that is blessing so many people and reminding people that God is still good, even when times are so hard, and that we can have hope in Him because He is good and He's never changing.
So thank you so much for being here and for sharing your story.
Jackie Gibson: [00:47:37] Thanks, Ashley.
Jonathan Gibson: [00:47:38] Well, thanks for having us on and thank you for the ministry you have through your daughter, Bridget, that you haven't wasted your grief or pain and ministering to many people. When we went on the website months ago when you made contact, we were both so encouraged to see the kind of ministry you have, and I think Jackie listened to one of your podcasts. And said it was really excellent.
Jackie Gibson: [00:48:00] It was a huge blessing. Thank you.
Jonathan Gibson: [00:48:01] Yeah, thank you. Thanks for having us on.
Ashley Opliger: [00:48:03] Thank you so much.
Ashley Opliger: [00:48:03] Wow, what a good episode. We pray that their testimony and words would encourage you as you continue to walk through the Advent season and into the new year. We are praying for you and holding you close in our hearts this season.
We will be back on New Year's Day with a brand new episode. Thank you so much for listening. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss new episodes when they release on the 1st and 15th of every month. You can also find this episode’s show notes and a full transcript on our website at bridgetscradles.com/podcast.
There you can also download a free PDF for each episode, called the Hope Guide, which is filled with notes, Scripture, links, discussion questions, and so much more. Be sure to leave your email address so that we can keep you updated on podcast episodes, upcoming support groups, and other hope-filled resources.
If you’re interested in volunteering or donating to Bridget’s Cradles in memory of a baby in Heaven, you can find information on our website on how you can get involved and spread hope to other grieving families.
One way you can help is by leaving a review of this podcast on iTunes [or the Apple Podcasts app]. Consider the minute of your time as a way YOU can personally share the hope that you’ve found here with another mom whose heart is broken and needs healing.
Thank you so much for listening and sharing. Until next time, we will be praying for you. And remember, as Jesus cradles our babies in Heaven, He cradles us in hope. Though we may grieve, we do not grieve without hope.
Cradled in Hope is part of the Edifi Podcast Network, a collection of faith-inspiring podcasts on Edifi, the world’s most powerful Christian podcasting app. To listen to Cradled in Hope and find other podcasts by leading Christian voices, download the Edifi app in the Apple and Google Play stores or online at edifi.app. Thank you so much for listening.
#cradledinhope #cradledinhopepodcast #bridgetscradles #christianpodcast #christianpodcasters #christianpodcasts #pregnancyloss #infantloss #babyloss #miscarriage #miscarriagematters #infantlosssupport #grievingprocess #stillbirthawareness #pregnancylossawareness #grievingmother #infantlossawareness #miscarriagesupport #iam1in4 #1in4 #stillbornstillloved #pregnancyandinfantlossawareness #stillborn #stillbirth #griefjourney #miscarriageawareness #lifeafterloss