“I Have Five Siblings” (an All Saints Day message)

“Do you have any siblings?” the admissions counselor asked my seventeen-year-old son at a recent college visit.

“Yes, I have five siblings” he forthrightly replied.

I paused, trying to do the math that didn’t add up (Because he has three siblings.), but I didn’t say anything.

Later that day my son was asked the same question by a different person. Again, he replied, “I have five siblings.” My wife, walking along with us, whispered in my ear, “He’s talking about his brothers.”

I paused again, smiled, grieved, and proudly smiled again as I stepped forward on the tour.

You see, when I’m asked the question, “How many children do you have?” I typically say “four,” and if there’s time in the conversation, because I’m so thankful for how God led us to adopt a son, I will sometimes add, “We have three biological children and one adopted.” It’s only in very specific contexts, typically Christian-friendly ones, that I talk about the others. I will say something like, “We have four living children. Six died pre-term.” Two of those were later in term, boys, and we gave them Christian burial. One, named Colm, is buried in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. The last biological child, Niall, is buried in Van Wert, Ohio.

For This Child I Prayed

Footprints and hand prints taken after the death of Niall O’Donnell

The boys’ gravestones have Romans 10:17 on them, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing the Word of Christ.” My seventeen-year-old knows how we pray in the morning and sing hymns at night. He knows his little brothers heard God’s Word. Though he was a toddler when Colm died and a little boy when Niall died, and though he wouldn’t remember Colm’s funeral and it’s unlikely he could remember Niall’s, we visit the grave sites when we can. He has seen his parents’ very real grief at those grave sites. Those two he knows. Those are his brothers, and he trusts God’s promises. He knows they live. And so, when asked, the seventeen-year-old son makes a bolder public confession than his father: “I have five siblings.”

Lord, let at last Thine angels come,
To Abr’ham’s bossom bear me home,
That I may die unfearing;
And in its narrow chamber keep
My body safe in peaceful sleep
Until Thy reappearing.
And then from death awaken me,
That these mine eyes with joy may see,
O Son of God, Thy glorious face,
My Savior and my fount of grace.
Lord Jesus Christ, my prayer attend,
my prayer attend,
And I will praise Thee without end.


A blessed All Saints Day to you.

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