Happy Birthday, Kate

Our daughter Kathryn was born 18 years ago today, right about now in fact. She doesn’t show up here in my writing very often, at least by name, because she died 18 years ago September 1 because of a genetic disorder called Trisomy 18. (If you want to read more about her, go here). I mention her today because she is far more important to you than you will ever know.

1. Because of an experience on the day we buried her body, I have no questions about the real existence of a real God. I do understand the questions. I understand doubts. I understand reasoning that doesn’t work. And I understand someone reading this and saying “that may be true for you, Jon, but….”

2. People sometimes say, “that’s gotta be hard.” It was. But when I listen to the hearts of friends who live for years with children with wandering hearts and broken bodies, I can’t imagine how hard that would be. So we cannot play the comparative pain games that we play. (“You think that’s bad, I had to ….”)  We have to give each other compassion and prayer and encouragement and the humility to not tell people that we know how they feel. We can, however, feel and pray and speak when spoken to.

3. I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t be doing what I do and feeling how I feel and having “coaching, caring, creating, crying” on my business card if I hadn’t met Kate 18 years ago. So I’m pretty sure that she changed my life.

4. If you have ever heard me talking about being versus doing, if you have ever heard me talk about people being valuable not because of what they can do but because of their existence and thought that was right, you can thank Kate. She couldn’t open her hands, couldn’t eat, probably couldn’t hear. She couldn’t gain weight, couldn’t smile, couldn’t stop crying some nights. But she mattered, not by some measure of productivity or success or any other measure. She just was…and is.

5. You have heard me talk about Hope. That is the daughter born a couple of years after Kate died. (We also have a son named Andrew, who was 2 when Kathryn was born.) Her name is completely intentional and not at all wishful. As a word, hope reflects a confidence that God can bring healing in pain. As a daughter, Hope proves that…not by what she does, mind you, because that would be a burden no human should carry. No, Hope is an affirmation of God’s healing in our hearts.

So happy birthday Kathryn Elizabeth Swanson. Your life mattered. And still does.

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18 responses to “Happy Birthday, Kate

  1. Has it been 18 years? I remember all of this Jon – as a student. I remember how you and Nancy handled it with the student body. I remember the initiation of a scholarship. I remember the strength evidenced by you and Nancy in the midst of all of this.
    You have changed in many ways, and in many ways you have not – all for the better, for you and those of us around you.
    God Bless.

  2. I’m not one for mixing blogging and crying, but I second Becky’s comment. Wow.

    Thanks for sharing this, Jon. Thanks for sharing everything you do. Thanks for being a swell human who matters to the world, and who shows other people how they matter.

  3. What an amazing testimony. I’ve never had to experience losing a child, but I just welcomed my third one into the world 3 days ago and I love her so much already that I can almost imagine what that would be like.

    Because of the impact to you and your family (and now all of us), her life clearly mattered a great deal. It amazes me at times the ripple effect that these things can have.

    God Bless, and thank you for sharing this.

  4. Amazing and so well written. Thanks.

  5. Jon – thanks for reminding people that “hope” is not wishful thinking but “confidence” in God. It increases when we walk through tough places with Him; when there are no answers to our questions. There is just Him.

  6. Thank you, Jon. Thanks for allowing us to know you in a way that helps us to know God better. You are a gift to us all.

  7. Thank you Jon. In my opinion we have so little realization how much impact “just” existing can have on the world. Your post points how how precious and meaningful life itself can be.

    Thank you again, and (a belated) Happy Birthday Kathryn Elizabeth Swanson

  8. Thanks for sharing the power of her life, your love and her memory with us. It’s humbling.

  9. Thank you for sharing Kate’s story … one I didn’t know.


  10. Thanks for cracking open just a bit wider the door of God’s amazing love and grace.

    “Coaching, caring, creating, crying”–I’ve never seen your business card but this is exactly right. Not many would be brave enough to state this mix with such clarity. If you gave your cards out BEFORE people discovered your unique soul for themselves, there would be a long, long, long line outside your door.

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  12. Yes…I remember things like her birth…and rushing to be there, not knowing what we’d find when we arrived in the night. And looking and holding. So tiny. I’d prayed for a miracle, knowing He could do it, if He wanted to. I just didn’t know what kind of miracle He’d provide.

    Wiser than me, as always.

  13. Ive been rolling this post around since I read it earlier today. With it rolls the phrase “full of Grace.”

    Full of Grace.

    I’m so glad to know you both.

  14. Chris Bowser


    We cry with you. We do know exactly how you (plural) feel and the tremendous blessings that can come from tragedy. Our daughter Erin Nicole would have been 19 this past spring. The Lord has used that experience to uniquely mold and shape Lorri and I. I believe with all of my heart that God used the loss of Erin to draw us closer to him. I know that what we went through laid our hearts wide open to the Holy Spirit; making us keenly aware of God’s presence. The experience solidified God’s existence to us in a real way. It was only Jesus carrying us that got us through those dark days. Thanks for sharing the story and the tears. We share way more in common than outwardly visible. With all sincerity and love, Chris Bowser

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  16. Thank you for sharing that. Although I never met Kate, she has impacted my life indirectly through all of you.