Episode 32 - The Moon is Always Round with Jonathan and Jackie Gibson
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.