I sit on the grass and arrange the flowers in the vase, their bright artificial color making a pretty display. I pull green runners of grass away from the stones and look in awe at the date carved in granite – August 7, 1986. Have 25 years really passed since I gave birth to a beautiful, red headed, little baby boy?

I think back, not to the day of his birth, but to a bright summer day 20 years ago. We celebrated that day he was five – presents for Justin and his brothers, a cake with cars, crayons and school supplies for our new venture into homeschooling, and new shoes he didn’t think he needed.

Who needs shoes when the summer days are warm and the green grass feels soft to bare feet? It was a year of abundance – abundant rain, about grass, abundant joy.

So much can change in a year. One year later we brought him home from the hospital with a day pass to spend his birthday at home. We wheeled him into his room in a wheelchair on loan from the hospital hoping the sight of his room would somehow trigger a reaction – a smile, perhaps an attempt to communicate. Nothing. His Daddy and I sat in his room and cried the first bitter tears of reality. The bright, comical, talkative, little boy was forever changed. There were no pictures, no cake, only presents that we opened for him – toys we hoped he might someday hold- toys that would be put away never to be used. The only ray of joy in that bitter year was the addition of a beautiful little girl born just weeks before his sixth birthday in the midst of that long hospital stay and lost summer.

Today as I pull grass runners and uncover the gray stone, I find I am just as awed at the second date carved in the rock – March 3, 2004. Seven years have passed since he left our earthly home. I grieved that night of his death, just as I grieved that day when we brought him home for his birthday – that deep, heart wrenching grief that hurts the chest and steals the breath.

I grieve again today, but the hurt is not so deep because I am reminded of the life that forever changed mine. His passing, both times, brought pain, but his presence – especially the child that would never walk or talk again – taught me the truth about joy. God used his life to teach me how to be abundantly happy despite circumstance; to be truly joyful – that dance in the kitchen gladness that overflows into praise. And so, today I take flowers and remember Justin and joy!