Category Archives: Family

Remembering Kenny: God, Where Were You?

In yesterday’s post, The Joy of My Son’s Life, I recalled the life that Kenny did live, sharing some of the great memories I have of his life.  With this post I want to share the dark and difficult part of the story, Kenny’s death.

The day was Friday, August 2, 2002.  Laura and I brought Kenny home believing he was as healthy as a healthy baby could be.  Obviously that was not the case.  About an hour later Kenny suddenly stopped breathing.  911 was called and EMS came, taking Kenny immediately to a local trauma center.  Laura and I quickly followed and were eventually joined at the trauma center by many friends, who all were praying for Kenny.

Then, about an hour later, after exhausting every means to resuscitate Kenny with no avail, out came the doctor.  His words were shattering.  I remember them like they were yesterday.  “I’m sorry, we have pronounced your son dead.”

And with those eight simple words, a darkness came over me that would remain for nearly a year and a half.

The doctors did allow Laura and I to come in and hold our son, or his body, one last time.  Laura did not stay long but I couldn’t leave.  My son was gone.  And all of those prayers…where did they go.  Where was God when my son was dying?  How can this be happening?  Is this really happening?

I never doubted the existence of God and as strange as it may sound, seeing my son’s lifeless body only enhance my belief in God’s existence.  You see, life is not simply a matter of biology.  While all people are physical specimens, we all have an “image” which makes us uniquely human with all of our beauty and goodness as God’s creation.  That was gone, missing from my son’s lifeless body.  Did that just appear by accident or was it the image of God, created by God?

I was convinced that Kenny’s life – from the miracle of his birth (all births are miracles, are they not?) to the beauty that made him uniquely Kenny, that gave him glory and honor (cf. Ps 8:5) – was evidence of God’s existence.  But where was God when we needed him the most, when Kenny needed him the most?

That first night after Kenny’s death, I was awakened from my sleep due to my crying.  The anguish was so great that my stomach began to crap up as though it was being tied into knots and I had trouble catching my breath.  I remember asking “why?” when my son was so innocent…he didn’t deserve this.

The question of why began haunting me.  What happened to all of those prayer’s for Kenny that Laura and I and many other had prayed?  Did God hear them?  Did they matter to God?  Such questions crippled my faith because I could not resolve the tension that these unanswered questions left with all of my grief and pain.

It was difficult to carry on while trying to believe that there was any reason to have hope.  Yet to remain in that place of such darkness was to accept that life was hopeless and that seemed even more unbearable.

In tomorrow’s post I will share how discovered hope and had my faith renewed.  But for now, I want to recognize the importance of this place in the journey.  It has been ten years since Kenny’s death and I still do not have the answer to many of my “why” questions.  That is, I don’t know why Kenny died, just as I don’t know why suffering exists (and I’m skeptical of those who so easily claim to know).  However, when people endure such tragedies, this stepping into the darkness with the deep questions of faith is so necessary and acceptable if we are to discover faith and hope again.  For in between that Friday when Jesus was crucified and that Easter Sunday when he was resurrected is a very long and dark  Saturday, when the prayer of “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps 22:1; Mk 15:34) is met with the silence of God.

In that moment, I had to step forward in trying to find God in all of this.  I was scared as I did not want to lose my faith and yet I felt like I had very little faith. Even worse, the more I stepped forward the more the haunting the darkness seemed as the questions came with me.  However, in looking back ten years afterwards, I can say that when in darkness , if we will have the faith to step into that darkness then we will reach that place where the darkness gives way to The Light.

———-

This video is of the song “Can You Here Me?” by Mark Schultz.  Although the song was written about a mother and father who’s child was sick with cancer, the song captures exactly how I felt after Kenny’s death.

*****

See also part 1 and 3 of this “Remembering Kenny” trilogy:

Remembering Kenny: The Joy of My Son’s Life!

Ten years ago my wife Laura and I welcomed our first child into this world. Kenneth “Kenny” James Butts was born at approximately 8:30 in the morning on July 31, 2002.  Kenny unexpectedly died on August 2, 2002 and there has not been a day since that I have not missed my son.  The picture to the left was his first formal picture taken at the hospital, which he peacefully slept through.  Rather than focusing on his death, for this post I want to focus on his life since there is so much to celebrate about it.  In the following two posts, I want to discuss the horror of losing a son and then how I discovered hope in the midst of suffering.

About the life of Kenny…

As I said, Kenny was born in the morning.  Laura and I were living in Searcy, Arkansas at the time.  It was on a Wednesday morning and Laura gave birth to him through a cesarian delivery in an operating room, so we were on a lower level then the maternity ward.  The nurses let me hold Kenny and show him to Laura.  We both shed tears of joy, for we both were captivated by this bundle of joy with a love that goes beyond description (if you’re a parent, you understand).  We named Kenny after both of his Grandpas, Kenneth Butts and James Martin.

I was allowed to carry Kenny upstairs to the maternity ward where I proudly introduced him to “Grandpa Jim” and “Grandma Jan” Martin.  Realizing how crowded and stressful the maternity room can be after a new baby is born, Kenny’s “Grandma Mary” (my mother) had not planned on coming down until the following week.  So I called my mom on the phone and remember being nearly incapable of saying anything due to the joyous emotion that had overcome me (that was a great feeling).  Over the next two days, many friends from Harding University, Covenant Fellowship Church, and our Wednesday Evening Bible Study Group stopped by.  Even though we were tired (especially Laura who was recovering from surgery), I am so glad that we allowed all of these friends to share in the joy of our son’s life.

There are many great memories too.

  • Kenny taught me my first lesson about changing diapers on little boys – keep ’em covered up or else you get the front of your shirt peed on, which happened to me.
  • On the second day of Kenny’s life I read to him from God’s word.  This was the passage I read to him: “Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these'” (Matthew 19:14).  I wanted my son to know that from the day of his birth, he was welcome to be in the presence of Jesus.
  • When we brought Kenny home, I also had the opportunity to sit down and bond with him as father and son should…we watched the Chicago Cubs baseball game together.  The truth is, I wanted to indoctrinate Kenny into which baseball team he would root for.
  • We also have pictures of Kenny sleeping peacefully on his mother’s shoulder after getting his belly filled.  Again, the word “beautiful” comes to mind but that is a beauty that words can’t begin to capture.

Like all children, Kenny brought great joy to us.  He will always be our child, our first child.  Before Kenny was ever born, our prayer for him was simple.  We prayed that he would grow up to love and serve God.  We didn’t have any particular vocation or geographical location in mind.  Whether he became a pediatrician, plumber, or preacher and whether he lived a mile down the road or half way around the globe, that did not matter.  We just wanted to raise Kenny to love and serve God.

While Kenny never got the opportunity to grow up and be an adult, Laura and I praise God that he forever loves and serves God.  We only had three days with him but those three days are still better than nothing at all.

Below is a video with the song and lyrics to Mark Schultz’s song Remember Me.  The song was played at Kenny’s memorial service and I share it with you.  When I listen to the song, I remember not just the life that Kenny lived but the life he now lives safely in heaven with Jesus.

Kenny: I do remember and I’ll never forget.  I love you always, your dad!

*****

See also part 2 and 3 of this “Remembering Kenny” trilogy: