Before I can talk about Tristan I have to go way back to 1992 about 9 years before he was born. I met a woman in our church named Liz George, who taught me how to study the bible. She showed me how to not just read it, but how to USE it. So I started in Genesis and all the way through to Revelation I highlighted everything that talked about God’s character. What He said, Who He was, What He did. And then I penciled in the margin His character traits. By the end of that exercise, the character trait I loved the most was His Sovereignty. “The Lord sits on His throne in the heavens and His Sovereignty reigns over all” God is in charge of everything down to the orbit of the tiniest dust speck. He knows when a sparrow falls to the ground. He knows how many hairs are on our head, He knows our thoughts before we think them, He knows our words before they are on the tip of our tongue. And there is nothing that happens outside of His control. Back in 1992, God knew I was going to need that truth someday.
Liz also taught me how to set up a prayer notebook with a page for each child so you could pray over their life every day and have a record of answered prayers.
Flash forward to marrying Todd, and beginning our family.
I remember being shocked at how huge McKenna was when she was born, almost 9 pounds. With these big brown eyes. And then Greyson came, almost 10 pounds with his beautiful brown eyes. And if I’m being honest, it was a bit startling to me because everyone on MY side of the family had BLUE eyes! Everywhere I looked my whole life, blue, blue, blue, blue, blue, so I just expected my kids would have blue eyes. (I love the brown eyes God gave you guys, just so you know). But I remember praying, God, you form us in our mother’s womb, you design us exactly the way you want us, so could I please have just one baby with blue eyes? And if I’m going that far, could you also add blond hair? With curls? God said yes, and gave me my Tristy-wisty one, Exactly what I asked for. He had the hugest, bluest eyes, and his hair grew into long spirals of golden curls that hung down to his cheeks at one point because I never wanted to cut them.
And I always reminded him of that throughout his life, especially in the dark times, you are the boy I prayed for, Tristy, God said yes to your blue eyes and blond curly hair.
Tristy became our Sunshine boy. He just sparkled. He loved to laugh and bright sunshine seemed to shine from his halo of blond curls. At one point they hung down to his cheeks because I didn’t want to cut off a single curl. He was so friendly, he’d just run right up to any kid at the park and start playing with them. I remember so vividly these little bright red tennis shoes he had because he was only TWO years old and he could hop on his little scooter and zip around our driveway. We couldn’t believe how much control he had over it, it was freaky! He made these perfect tight circles with his little red shoes at TWO years old! And when Sawyer came along, he had a best buddy. They did EVERYTHING together. They made our recycle bin into a race car, they precariously stacked our 6-foot ladder on top of a work bench to see if they could reach the attic. They ran into the fields and waterfalls to explore whenever we found new places. They created gladiator battles complete with shields ON OUR TRAMPOLINE.
We were a close family. Since we homeschooled, the kids were always around. And they had the most fun times. They would create whole worlds in the backyard with plastic animals that could get wet in mud puddles. They’d create long detailed scenarios with their stuffed animals and my favorite thing was to take pictures of their kidlife. McKenna was always making them all laugh with the storyline of some ridiculous tale. I captured it all with my camera to put on our blog for the family back home.
That’s why I knew the exact moment things started to change for Tristan. I have the picture in one of our yearbooks. It’s not that something snapped, or something flipped, it was just the smallest shadow I noticed that wasn’t there before. And over the years that shadow grew slowly until he wasn’t the boy I knew.
Mental illness runs in our family so I was on the lookout for what I thought that would be– a deep, deep, sorrow, or grief, or an inability to get out of bed and do life. But that’s not what happened to Tristan. We were a close, tight, family that had its typical problems of sibling squabbles and grumpiness, but we always came back together in love. But Tristan got more and more isolated and angry so that it was like he was a part of us, without being part of us.
Todd and I tried everything we could to figure out what was wrong and researched everything we could think of. Everywhere we took him they would just say, it’s the teenage years. But as a mom, I KNEW something was wrong and I began begging God to bring my boy back. Please show me, I know YOU know. Can you please show me? I prayed this starting in 2013 but Tristan just got slowly and steadily worse.
Without that answer to prayer, I prayed that God would give me wisdom each time I talked to Tristan because he was not very communicative. If Tristan was talking, I was praying in the back of my mind, “give me wisdom how to answer him”.
Then this year, on January 21 God answered my prayer. Tristan asked me for help. He revealed that he had attempted suicide 8 times in the past two weeks.
I was shocked, as you could imagine. But there was something more – I was shocked that he was actually reaching out to me for help. He told me that he wanted to LIVE now.
I went to the first person I could think of, Bethany, who was a professional trained for this, she told me to take him to the ER right away. Tristan wanted to wait until the next day. I called his youth pastor, Jerrod and he said, I’m going to pray right now and you just go ask him one more time. So I went downstairs and said, “If we’re going tomorrow, we might as well just go tonight.” and He got right up and walked out the door with me. The next 6 days were trips to 5 different hospitals and mental health clinics to get Tristan whatever it took to help him. I was his MOM and he was going to get all the help he needed and everything I could find for him.
We finally found the exact right therapist at the Shriner’s and Tristan was making progress. His session notes said, “It’s getting a little better”. And with every doctor he met with he was saying, “I tried 8 times and failed. I want to live now”. He wanted to live.
Until Feb 8 when he didn’t.
That night he had gone with friends to a citywide worship service and the boys had gotten home after I went to bed.
Something woke me up at 3am and I laid in bed and began praying for Tristan like I usually did when I couldn’t sleep except this time it was different. The pain was so great, so great, like a sword was piercing my soul. I began begging and pleading with God to save my boy. I asked for a circle of angels to surround him, wings touching wings, with swords drawn, battling the chains that held him. I told God that if I could I would take his pain, could you give it to me to carry instead of him? Could we trade places? Please save my boy, give him eyes to see and ears to hear, save him, please protect my son.” It was exhausting praying like this, it lasted for about an hour. And then when I couldn’t pray anymore, I got up and went out into the kitchen and made some tea. And then eventually went back to bed.
Todd was up about 7am and that’s when he found Tristan. He ran back into our bedroom and said, “Our boy, our boy, he did it, he did it.” and I ran out with Todd into the garage and held my boy my beautiful, beautiful boy for the last time.
The commotion had woken up all the kids and we circled in the living room and held each other and cried and I could only choke out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Because I realized that at the exact moment I was wrestling with God to save my boy’s life, Tristan was out in the garage breathing his last breath. I was praying, and Tristan was dying, and I thought it was a cruel joke.
It wasn’t until later that day when the shock had begun to wear off that God gently revealed to me the true perspective. I thought about how much worse it would have been to have slept through the night and have woken up to a dead son. To have known absolutely nothing about it. Then I was GLAD I was awake and praying for my son. Later that day we were able to find a digital footprint of his last hour and I realized that I had been praying for Tristan at the exact time he was dying.
God reminded me that I had prayed for Tristan before he was born and I prayed for him until his last breath and THAT has been the greatest privilege of my life.
The pain of his loss was so great, that sword that was piercing my soul when I had prayed in the night had never left. I kept thinking, I’ve read about the pain. I’m going to read that passage about the sword that pierced Mary’s soul. At the same time, I was thinking, this is where it gets real. Either this book is a bunch of stories we tell ourselves to make us feel good. Just a bunch of tribal wisdom to explain hard things in life or, it’s what it says it is, The very Word of God that has all the answers. I mean, it doesn’t get any more real than this. Either my son is in heaven with God, or he’s just dead, and nowhere. So I turned to the passage in Luke that talks about Joseph and Mary bringing baby Jesus to the temple. I’m just going to read it.
Luke 2:25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss[d] your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Immediately, I thought, this guy Simeon is seeing hundreds of babies every year. Every Jewish baby has to come to the temple to fulfill the Jewish customs, and how in the world of all those babies, could he have picked the ONE baby that would grow up to be JESUS and fulfill that prophecy? And that’s all it took to restore my faith and show me that this book is true. Jesus is who He says He is, God preserved the Truth for us to live our lives by. And Mary knew what it was like to have a sword pierce her soul. I’m not alone.
Two main things in this bible keep me from drowning right now. I have sorrow and grief, but not despair. I have a heaviness, but it’s with hope.
Have you ever thought of time as a created thing? This is time, and this is the God who created it. He sees your life all at once. The beginning, middle, and end.
This is the first verse that comforts me when it comes to Tristan’s death:
“All the days that were ordained for me were written in Your book when as yet there was not one of them.”
I memorized that verse before Tristan was even born because God knew I was going to need it. Tristan’s life was always designed to be 18 years 363 days long. There’s nothing we could have done to save him and make it longer. There is no other page to turn. So I’m not mourning what could have been– university, career, marriage, grandbabies. There was not a single page left in Tristan’s book. I trust the God who gave him to me for that. Because He is all-wise and all good.
The other thing that gives me peace is that I know where Tristan is. He trusted Jesus as his savior to take away all his sin. So Tristan is in heaven right now. His pain is GONE. God answered that prayer, not the way I thought He would, but He took away all of Tristan’s pain. Tristan has a perfect mind, and a perfect body. When I think about wanting him back because I miss him so much, I remember the pain he had on this earth. And my happiness that God has finally healed him helps me not be able to hold my little boy again.
God answered another prayer, the one I asked back in 2013. What is wrong with my poor boy? We only found out the diagnosis last week. It’s called Major Depressive Disorder. It has 9 symptoms, you only need 5 to earn the label, and Tristan had 8 of them. I remember asking the doctor if depression could manifest itself in anger and isolation, and he said, “oh yes.”
Now we know. God, in His sovereignty did not allow us to know sooner. But I don’t have any what-ifs or “if-onlys” because I know that “God sits on His throne in the heavens and His sovereignty rules over all”. I begged Him to show me for 7 years and He didn’t until now. But I trust God’s timing because He is all-wise, and all-good.
God has a purpose for all of us. His purpose for Tristan’s short life on earth is not over yet.
I have this book, the cover of it is a tree, a seed that was planted that died, and then brought forth the fruit of this beautiful tree. I write down the blessings that have come from God taking Tristan home. Every day there’s more to write. We’re up to page 12 now. I’m going to have to get another book before this story ends.
Jesus says in John 12:24
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
Of course, my mother’s heart is sad. Of course, I miss my Tristy One. But it was not for me to say what Tristan’s life was to be used for, He was God’s all along. God has His purposes for Tristan, and I believe there are many more yet to come. “Thank you, God, for letting me love my beautiful boy for 18 years, 363 days, Amen”.