mo(u)rning will come

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and woshiped. And he said… ‘The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.’
Job 1:20-21 & 19:25 .

When a couple struggles with infertility, each month is a roller coaster of emotion. Hope, dread, excitement, despair; the monthly cycle of fertility is something that they become intimately—almost fanatically—aware of. A woman’s perception of the changes in her body is fine-tuned to an astonishing degree.

It was that way for my wife Kathi after many years of us trying to have a baby.

We had adopted a daughter, and then Kathi became pregnant with our first-born son, but we wanted more children, and felt that God had promised us more children. But still we struggled to see her become pregnant, so when the joyous event happened again, we were aware of it within just a couple of weeks of conception.

And we were ecstatic.

But we all know that life doesn’t always allow us to remain that way; in fact, many would say that life rarely allows it. One morning, almost five months into the pregnancy, Kathi awoke and realized she was hemorrhaging, and began to have cramps. She felt panicked, I felt panicked, and we put in a frantic call to our doctor, who told us to wait a little while before coming in, in case the bleeding stopped.

While I waited, impotent and sick with worry, our two small children sat with me at our kitchen table in the early morning stillness, and we prayed that God would “please, protect the baby in Mommy’s tummy.”

The bleeding got worse, so with hearts in our throats we dropped our children off with friends and drove to our doctor’s office, and she couldn’t find our baby’s heartbeat, so clinging to a frayed thread of hope-against-hope we went to the hospital to get an ultrasound. Something was obviously wrong, but we thought maybe there was still a sliver of a chance that it would be okay. Maybe things were not as they seemed.

And as Kathi lay on a cold, sterile table, the technician performed the test, and then a kind doctor informed us our baby had died. She was a little girl, and she was dead, and she needed to be removed.

We all go through a sense of emptiness with the death of those we care about. We instinctively recoil from death. Even though some people will declaim that death is “just part of life,” deep within we all know that is simply not true. Everything inside us screams against it. Our reaction is not simply from fear or self-preservation or an inbuilt protection of our species: it is an angry, agonized howl against an unnatural enemy; it is the violent rejection of a vicious and cruel thief and liar. Death is not natural, death is not a gift of rest; death is a horror. Death is unspeakable, and when a child dies it is nearly unendurable.

Miscarriage is death, but it is a strange kind of death, and a nightmare for the parents. When death happens inside the womb, there is a feeling of something dreadfully incomplete, a cruel mocking of even the opportunity for parents to grieve deeply in a socially acceptable way. We found it was difficult to explain to people who had not experienced it. We felt searing anguish, and of course, people wanted to help. Well-meaning friends and sympathetic strangers told us “It’s probably better that you never saw her” or “That’s so sad, but you can have another one.” But it wasn’t better that we didn’t see and know and hold our child, even if it could have been just for a few minutes. We were devastated by the cruelty of it; we were robbed of the chance to at least give her one last kiss, and lovingly place her in a little casket, and say goodbye surrounded by family. She was just gone—scooped out of Kathi’s uterus and disposed of; so much useless tissue.

So yes; we hoped another baby would come. But this baby was special; this baby was unique and desired; this baby had, in just a few months, captured our hearts with dreams and hopes. We had never seen her, but we had fallen head-over-heels in love with her, and couldn’t wait to welcome her.

But she was gone.

We walked out of the hospital in grey, cold winter, to an empty car, with empty arms, an empty womb, and empty hearts. We sat for a while in silence. There was nothing to say.

I wanted words of comfort for my grieving wife. I wanted wisdom that would make it, if not better, at least bearable. My heart was shredded, and I realized Kathi had to be working through a shrieking agony of soul that no words could touch. So, without words, we wept.  

But we came to realize that, just as Job said, our redeemer lives, and because of that there can be hope and restoration in any tragedy. We began to be comforted by the realization that our little Alexandra was not really gone; she was in the presence of Life and Love himself. She gazed with open eyes and innocent awareness at her perfect Father. She would never be subject to the pain and bittersweet anguish we all go through journeying this life. She was aware, far better than us, of how short a time it truly would be until we met her in fullness, met her in a place and with understanding that transcends any earthly connection.

The LORD gives, and takes away–and gives. Two years after our baby’s death, Kathi became pregnant again, and gave birth to our little daughter Amy, who has grown into a beautiful married woman. Her husband Luke is a fine and godly young man, and to us is more a son than a son-in-law.

And—in the incredible paradox of coincidence that can only come from God, the day after we lost our baby, across the country in Ohio, a little baby girl named Brittany was born. This girl grew up and went to college in Tennessee, and met our son Corey who had traveled there from California, and they married have given us three precious grandsons who fill our hearts with laughter and love and joy.

The ways of God are mysterious and incredible, inscrutable, frustrating—and even sometimes tormenting. But Kathi and I have learned to not regret the parts of our story that contain excruciating pain. The darkness of grief contrasts with the light of joy. Colors of rejoicing are made richer and fuller with the depth that comes from shadow; our laughter is more vivid and complete by the dark contrast of weeping; a chiaroscuro that gives life dimension and hope solidity. Every life is a painting, but if it is made up of only bright and shiny hues, then it really is just a pale sketch. If we rightly respond to pain, and let Jesus speak to us and comfort us and teach us in our darkness, we always receive reward. Today’s emptiness leads us into greater appreciation of tomorrow’s fullness.  

This is not wishful thinking or misty-eyed fantasy. When we look to our God and trust him with our lives and the lives of our loved ones, we gain greater perspective of his great goodness, and we find ourselves continually enriched, strengthened, and restored in the rainbow of eternal possibilities shining through the dark clouds of our present sorrows.

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