Ella

This letter is written by Yates Boykin who is an inner city teacher in Memphis Tennessee and he is married to Alyson Boykin. They are dear friends to Mikey and Emily.

Dear Blakely,

I used to be scared of you. Yes, I was scared of sweet, smiling you — the least intimidating, cutest, buzzing little bumblebee of a baby. But you came onto Earth’s scene like a fiery meteorite with echoing, impactful wakes. I first felt those scary wakes when your dad called me to tell me about your disorder. This is going to cause so much pain, I thought. You see, I love your mom and dad very much, and I didn’t want them to suffer. But, I was also selfish. I was scared of the pain that would be coming my way. I was hundreds of miles from you, but I knew that your life and death would change things, and I was afraid of that pain and change affecting me. Gosh, that’s pretty pitiful isn’t it? Your mom was carrying you in her tummy, unsure of your chances, and your dad was preparing to say goodbye to you every day. And there I was, far away and afraid of everything — selfish and scared.

The selfishness and fear didn’t stop once you were born. That was a miraculous day, one that I will never forget, which has been eloquently recounted in previous letters to you. Despite your beautiful and miraculous entry — a streak of bright light across the dark St. Louis sky — I was still fearful. My fear continued as you lived past doctor’s estimations and fought and fought and fought.

You get the picture. I’m a confused wimp. But I just didn’t know what to do with you, Blakely. How was I supposed to feel? What was I supposed to say to your dad? Why did God create you the way he did? I knew you were good, but why did things look and feel bad? The questions went on and on.

Well, I still don’t really have the answers to those questions, but God has been good and gracious to me. As I wrote at the top of the letter, I used to be scared of you. You see where I’m going with this because you understand it more deeply than my earthly brain can understand it. I’m scared of God. I don’t know what to do with Him. He’s overwhelming, but He is beautiful. Your life and death helped me realize this, but it didn’t make much sense to me until this past summer.

In July, I traveled with my family to St. Simons Island. We’ve been going there for years. We stay at my aunt’s house. There is a room in the house with shelves of family heirlooms and boxes of family photos. One night, I found myself in that room with my mom and dad. Just us three. We were looking at some of those old photos. My mom pulled an album from 1991, the name “Ella” scribbled on the binding in my grandpa’s rhythmic cursive. She flipped through the pages, stopping and making comments with ooh’s and ahh’s. I was looking at another album by myself when she handed me a photo. It was an image of a hospital room. In the foreground, on one of those slippery, generic teal hospital chairs, sat my older brother, Seth. On the left and right arms of the chair sat my other two older brothers, Addison and Dane. My mom was on a hospital bed next to them. On Seth’s lap, my sister, Ella, lay with tubes and wires running from her. Certainly, this was the last moment that my brothers got to hold our sister. She didn’t make it past that day.

An instant after looking at that photo, I burst into tears. I sobbed. I couldn’t control it. Yes, it reminded me of you, but that’s not why I cried. I cried because I was scared. God was so freaking big in that moment. I had that same feeling you get when you stand at the base of a skyscraper and look up. It was jolting. The feeling is difficult to put into words. Maybe you can understand. I sat there, in a room, in St. Simons, with my parents — people who have experienced great pain and sorrow from the death of their own daughter — looking at a photo that captured a beautiful but scary moment. I didn’t exist when that photo was taken, and I never knew my sister, Ella. But in that moment, I couldn’t have felt more present and real. Ella couldn’t have felt more present and real. My parents, brothers, your parents, you, couldn’t have felt more present and real. God couldn’t have felt more present and real. And it was all so much. It was all so big and scary. It shook me to the core, but it was good. That selfishness I had been feeling suddenly seemed so silly, and it ran away. That fear I had of you suddenly seemed so misplaced, and it took on a different, right form.

Blakely, you are not scary. Your dad had it right when he said you are “overwhelmingly beautiful.” Sometimes, beauty is scary. Sometimes, beauty is misinterpreted by selfish cowards. It is overwhelming, but it is ultimately good because it comes from a good God.

In another room, in Crystal River, sit your parents, looking at photos of you. God is there. In a future room, your brother, Tripp, will sit with your parents and look at photos of you. God will be there. God is there with you now. I hope you and Ella are dancing and singing with Him. Gosh, what an amazing picture. I join Paul’s praises: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments and how unknowable his paths!” He is overwhelmingly beautiful, and he is painting an overwhelmingly beautiful picture. I am so thankful to be in that picture with you. I am so thankful that He made you. And I am so thankful that He used you to teach scared, selfish me about His glory.

Love,

Yates

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