Posted on June 3rd, 2009 by John.
Categories: Our Journey, Our Journey (chronological).

I think most of the intense feelings we needed to express about James have run their course now. It’s time to integrate our ongoing memories and thoughts about him into the rest of our lives, so instead of continuing to add to this blog at, we’ll bring things to a close here and write about him at our current blog, The site will stay up, and we’ll still enjoy reading and posting your comments if you wish to leave one., with its 1,200 comments, still getting a thousand hits a day almost a year after James’s death, has changed our lives forever. Not only were we better able to track, communicate, and celebrate James’s growth by recording the details of his life online; not only did we see God shape our attitudes towards disability and suffering and doubt through our writing; but we also have been witnesses of how personally God speaks to people—even complete strangers!—through the life of our beautiful, broken little man.

We loved him, but we didn’t realize so many others would, too. It’s impossible to understand how our story could be that special, except God must be at work through the lives of the weak. It has been a humbling, exhilarating, mysterious thing to witness. The continual stream of readers and comments has challenged me to share our story with a larger audience for the glory of God. Thanks for journeying with us and for loving James, and Dora, and us, extravagantly–even though many of you knew the cost before you started.

OK, one more of Mister Cute for the road…see you soon at the House of Gjertsen.

two years

Posted on April 26th, 2009 by Abby.
Categories: Our Journey, Our Journey (chronological).

This morning two years ago, I was propped up in a hospital bed trying to complete my substitute’s lesson plans because the pregnancy was failing and my baby was scheduled to be delivered 5 weeks early. The urgency kept my mind off the imminent c-section and the unknown beyond. We had no idea what was before us, and I think it was better that way. It took a long time to dawn on me how different James was and would be—at first because I was so medicated after the surgery, but later because we didn’t have a lot of information about his condition, and the docs were still trying to figure him out. But there was a gradual, fierce, protective love that grew for the little man in the glass box. He might be broken, but he was mine.

Last year we planned a big party for James’s first birthday, with an amazing cake and many friends and family. In fact, we wrote about his awesome birthday cake today on Cake Wrecks, our friend Jen’s blog. In hindsight I’m so thankful we had a big cake, so glad we got his picture professionally done, so glad we tried to celebrate his accomplishments without dwelling too much on his disabilities.

This year I couldn’t resist buying James a “2” candle, a small echo of his last birthday. I doubt they need birthdays in heaven, but it still feels right to celebrate his here. If James were still on earth, I wonder what he would be doing now. Would he be walking? sitting? eating? feeding himself? turning more pages in his books? Using more words? Would he have entered the terrible twos in an angry quest for independence that he would never attain? Would he have seen the beach, the forest, the mountains?

Last week I was looking for a videotape to record over, and I pulled an unlabeled one out of the bottom of the camera bag. I popped it in and was surprised to find a long recording of the underside of the kitchen sink. (At first I thought it was the bathtub plumbing, but that must have been a different tape.) At the time we had a slow leak that John was trying to find the source of, so he set up the camera to record the drips. I was about to rewind it to record over it when I saw the date was Dec. 31, 2007. I thought, James was home then. I wonder… I hit play, turned up the volume, and sure enough, I could hear my father singing to James in the background and James’s characteristic snort and coo. He never appears on the tape, but his precious sounds were such a gift to me this week.

Today we celebrate anew the joy we had in him, and how God used the weak to teach the strong. James is no longer ours, but he’s also no longer broken. He’s eternal and even more beautiful than he was in life.

Happy Birthday, Mister Cute. Mommy and Daddy love you, and we miss you.


Posted on April 10th, 2009 by Abby.
Categories: Meditations on Scripture, Our Journey, Our Journey (chronological).

Every three or four hours James is reborn in the digital photo frame on my kitchen counter. He starts off hideously thin, huddled in his glass box, and slowly gains weight, begins smiling, comes home from the NICU, puts up with wearing various costumes, celebrates precious milestones, and grows into a little boy in our arms. All the last pictures are happy, but we are sad when we see them, knowing that soon he will be whisked back to the Winnie Palmer operating room to start again. From his first gasp to last days, we never tire of looking at and talking about the gift of his life.

On April 1st I was thinking about James and wondering what we were doing this day last year. It dawned on me that April 1st was when he got his hearing aid, and the memory of our anticipation, and his wondering reaction, came back in a welcome rush. The sound of raindrops outside reminded me of another time when Mom and I were taking James for a walk in the Baby Bjorn and it started raining. Trying to protect James from the rain, we jogged back to the house, but he giggled at all the bouncing he was getting and seemed unperturbed by the drops on his upturned face.

One memory that haunts me from time to time is the one from what we call “that morning”—holding James’s lifeless body in my arms for the last time at the hospital. I can remember a lot of details from that moment, and it is still freshly painful whenever it comes to mind. I don’t know why I think of it, or whether it sent by Satan as an attempt to discourage me, but there are two things I try to do to cope with it. First, I remind myself that at that moment the real, beautiful, eternal James was in heaven with the Savior, experiencing fullness of joy in His arms. I try to picture that instead. Second, I ask God to replace that sad memory with a happy one from James’s life.

Meditating on the meaning of Good Friday and Easter, I don’t think the cross has ever meant more to me than it does now. God’s sacrifice of His only Son, the Son’s suffering to accomplish peace with God and eternal life for those who believe (and those, like James and Dora, who are unable to make a choice due to extreme youth or incapacity)…it is inexpressibly sweet to my soul. We love to watch James’s life continually renewed on his photo frame, but his real rebirth is far more glorious, joyful, and fulfilling than we can imagine.

“But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:4-7

a fresh start

Posted on February 11th, 2009 by John.
Categories: Our Journey, Our Journey (chronological).

Abby and I have been trying to make a habit each Sunday morning of reading over several comments left on our 482 days post. Not that we didn’t read them all the first time around, but it all happened so fast, and it’s good to just take some time to digest some of the things that our readers have said. This blog has been such a valuable way for us to process some intense things, and the process of writing has been enriched by several of you writing back.

This isn’t necessarily the last post; we’ll continue to write here anything that has to do with James and/or Dora. But as we’ve adjusted to a “new normal,” we’ve been working on a setting up a new place to write down some of our thoughts.

So for most of our future writing, you are invited to visit the House of Gjertsen.

quiet around here

Posted on January 29th, 2009 by John.
Categories: Our Journey, Our Journey (chronological).

Abby told me recently if we didn’t post something soon that January 2009 would be our first “empty” month since April 2007.

April 2007 – it seems like a lifetime ago.

For Christmas, I got Abby a digital photo frame, so now, on our kitchen bar, we can see a new picture of James every 15 seconds or so. We leave it on all day. After cutting out the blurry shots and the shots which weren’t that great, we have a little over 1000. Not bad for 482 days. So frequently we’ll be washing dishes or preparing a meal and see some picture of our son that just makes us smile, laugh, and or sometimes cry. In some ways it’s like he’s still with us, but without the constant glucose monitoring and tube feeding. Well, without a lot of things.

I think I mentioned before that an earlier post of mine was going to be published in a book. Well, Letters from the Waiting Room is out, and it’s a compilation of various sorts of letters or journal entries that all in some way or another deal with times of life that demonstrate the depth of the human experience. Anyway, my letter to Future John is on page 21.

As far as how “future John” and “future Abby” are doing, we’re contemplating starting a new blog. It feels very sad to leave this one, and we may continue to post here if topically it has something to do with James. But there’s going to be other stories to tell which don’t seem like they belong on Abby and I are trying to read about 10-20 comments each Sunday morning. Of course, we read them as they came in, but with the volume we received shortly after James died (especially from all our new Cake Wrecks friends!) we just felt we needed to revisit them. It’s pretty powerful, and hard to get through more than about 10 or 20 in one sitting.

Sometimes we wonder if our lives will touch as many people as James’s did.



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