Cupcakes, Baked Potatoes, & The Purple Box

Today is and always will be bittersweet.

Four years ago in Marion, Indiana, we held our son Carter in our arms. His 5-pound frame swaddled in blankets, Carter was surrounded by warmth despite the furious blizzard outside. His one hour of life was filled with nothing but love. Grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles, and beloved friends all took turns holding him close—whispering both their hellos and goodbyes.

Carter Benjamin

Carter had been diagnosed seven weeks earlier with bilateral renal agenesis, a rare birth defect that prevents a baby from forming kidneys during pregnancy and also resulting in underdeveloped lungs. We knew before February 2, 2011 that our time with Carter would be limited. February 2 became that day we would both celebrate and mourn.

We would not trade our one hour with our son for anything. That early morning in the hospital room has become sacred ground, a hallowed sanctuary where God’s presence filled every space. I can close my eyes right now and see Carter’s small body and his wrinkly, old-man hands that made me smile. February 2 became our son’s birthday, the day our time with him began.

February 2 was also the day we had to say goodbye. For a couple hours after Carter passed away, Ben and I spent time holding him. We did our best to memorize his features, to say words we’d never get to say to him in the years ahead. We knew his spirit was no longer there. His body no longer suffered from defects. Yet we needed that time to let go.

Today—February 2, 2015—Carter would have been four years old. This year, we decided to remember Carter’s birthday a bit differently. For the last three years, Ben and I tried to get away on February 2. Cohen and Trace would stay with grandparents while we would escape for a day or two to just let the grief come.

This year, we decided it was time to develop new family traditions to celebrate Carter’s life and remember God’s faithfulness in his death. We’ll do that with cupcakes, baked potatoes, and a purple box.

The cupcakes are to celebrate Carter’s life. to insert some normalcy into February 2. Cupcakes are something my 5-year-old and 2-year-old boys understand. Birthdays are meant for cupcakes. So today we will bake, frost, and celebrate Carter’s birthday like we would for any of our kids.

For dinner, we will have loaded baked potatoes.  Almost every day I was pregnant with Carter, I craved baked potatoes—loaded up with all the cheese and butter I could find. That pregnancy became a really sacred time. I have never been the best pregnant woman, but with Carter, that was the bulk of my time with him. Eating baked potatoes take me back to that time, when every kick or flutter reminded me of the preciousness of life.

pregnant with Carter

After baked potatoes and cupcakes, Ben and I will bring out the purple box. You know those group ice-breakers when someone asks what you’d grab (after your family, of course) if the house were on fire? Well, for me, I would without hesitation grab the purple box.

When we were in the hospital, the nurses handed us this small box, covered in purple satin. A couple who had lost a baby years before had the idea to prepare and donate keepsake boxes to the hospital. I don’t know this couple but daily I’m grateful for their generosity.  On February 2, the nurses who took care of us tenderly prepared Carter’s purple box—a lock of hair, the blanket we held him in, his footprints. In the weeks to follow, we added a few other important items to help us remember Carter and tell his story.

Tonight we will bring out the purple box. We will pull out the tiny hospital blanket and tell our other two boys about their brother. Honestly, I’m not sure how it will go. The boys are young, and sometimes they have questions. But the reality is that they may also be counting down the minutes until they can get back to LEGOs. However, bringing out the purple box is important for us to remember and talk not only about Carter and but also about God’s all-knowing love for us in all circumstances.

It’s hard to believe four years have passed since February 2, 2011. In many ways, we’re still trying to figure out our new normal, how to live life after loss. But we hope that frosted cupcakes, potatoes with a bit too much butter, and the purple box help us remember and take refuge once again in One who is greater.

“Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”

– Psalm 62:8 (NIV) –

9 comments on “Cupcakes, Baked Potatoes, & The Purple Box”

  1. Jeanie Stelle says:

    Dear Ben, Sarah, Cohen and Trace,
    I am thinking of you all and wishing you a peaceful and happy day.
    I love your plans to remember and celebrate Carter.
    God bless you all.
    Sending my Love, Jeanie

    1. Jeanie! So good to hear from you. 🙂 Thank you for your kind words. Hope you’re staying warm in all that Indiana snow I hear y’all have today!

  2. Lisa says:

    Praying for extra grace and comfort for you all today.

    1. Thanks, Lisa. Much appreciated!

  3. Jeff and Christine Stanfield says:

    Thank you for sharing your celebration plans. Praying the “withness” of Emmanuel with give strength, grace and reminders of holiness as you bake, frost, butter, eat, laugh, mourn, share from the purple box and perhaps build with Legos. We celebrate Carter’s life, his story, his famil and His Creator with joy today. Hugs to you all!!

    1. Thank you! It brings us so much joy to be surrounded by the Church. Thank you for reaching out.

  4. Alora Janas says:

    Thank you for your graciousness in sharing your family’s story with us, Sarah. It’s beautiful, breaking, and moving, and it inspires those who read it to find hope and celebration in our own hard places. God bless you and your family. Happy birthday, Carter.
    ~ Alora

  5. David Drury says:

    thanks for this post, sarah…
    brings back a lot of memories.

    grateful for your continued rich writing and the way you are teaching others about life, grief, and family in the middle of the long journey.


    1. Thanks so much, Dave! For your words and for being a part of Carter’s story.

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