Part Four: Grace in the Midst of Grief. ~ The Grace Between

Part Four: Grace in the Midst of Grief.

. . . The details from this point forward are unimportant.  I received the drugs, if only to shut me up. I was in a Dilaudid-induced haze for much of the day. I have vague memories of Army Wife moving in and out of view, on the phone with Husband, keeping him apprised of the situation, holding my hand, helping me to understand the risks of surgery, helping me choose surgery. Of her being the hands and feet of Christ. After undergoing the surgery, I had to stay until my blood pressure reached acceptable levels. I didn’t know until recently, six and a half years later, how sick I truly was. I discovered the Red Cross message in a manila folder stashed among the paper trails of Husband’s life. Except for a few photos of a pregnancy test and my medical records, it was the only physical evidence outside of memories burned in that I had of my sweet H’s existence. I wanted to wave it around, to keep it, to touch something, anything tied to his almost-life.

Husband came. He came. But before he came, he called his brother. “Give me twenty minutes,” Little Brother said.  “We’ll be on our way.” They lived four hours from me, in D.C. They dropped everything to pick me up, to take me from Army Wife, to take me home, to take me to the bathroom, to feed me Vietnamese food, to love me. To be the hands and feet of Christ. The next day they met my mother and sister halfway to Georgia. Turned me over. Two days later, Thanksgiving Day, I was in the arms of Husband. Moving gingerly up my parents’ driveway, eternally grateful for his commander, who fought for Husband to have this visit without sacrificing later ones. Gravity re-centered.

In the midst of my hurt, God poured out His grace on our grieving hearts. I used to say, before I was pregnant, that I didn’t care if we had a boy or girl, I just wanted a healthy baby. Six weeks into our pregnancy, I met Baby Blue. He had Kernicterus, a condition resulting from excess bilirubin in the brain, unchecked jaundice. I walked away reeling. (Not just from the fact that he stole my heart, my sweet, smiling boy.)

What if God doesn’t give us a healthy baby? That was the beginning of a radical shift in my thought process. It would be years before I stopped dictating to God exactly what I wanted, but the foundation was laid here. Right then I started praying for the baby God designed for our family, knit together to fit perfectly in the weave of our story. In theintervening years, Blue’s life and his sweet momma’s heart have been living truth of God’s grace. The life we live, every tear-soaked second, is perfectly in line with His omnipotent plan. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare [peace] and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope’” (Jeremiah 29:11, ESV).

Fast forward five weeks. God gave us Baby H for eleven and half weeks. Eleven and half weeks of new momma joy, of hope. Of name-dreams, of nesting, of joy even in goodbyes to the Husband because the hello would be ever so sweet. Eleven and a half weeks of bliss. Baby H, and his short eleven weeks in our earthly family was a gift, a treasure worth far more than silver or gold. He was the baby God knit for us, my first wee love, and a sweet vessel for experiencing the grace and peace found in knowing Christ.

Being able to grieve with Husband added a depth to our newlywed love that was rich and sweet. We spent quiet days in a friend’s basement, marveling at the peace God provided us at every turn, at the body of Christ rallied around us pouring out words of comfort for our wounded hearts.

My family gave us a card – easier to write when you don’t know what to say in the face of a raw and gaping wound – and what my older sister wrote is seared into my soul. It has brought me comfort a multitude of times and I have shared it with others in hurting places. As Christians, we believe some hard truths, particularly in times of trial -specifically that God is omnipotent and directs our paths, and allows us to fully experience the earthly results of original sin, to know intimately pain, suffering, and ultimately physical death. (See the entire book of Job.)

So, as my sister so gently said, “God did not bring you to this place [because I believe He did] to abandon you here.” He promises, promises, in Hebrews 13:5, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (NKJV).  He did not abandon me, has not abandoned me. The almighty, ever-present God of the universe, the Namer and Counter of stars, loves me, and He is all I need.

Another dear friend sent us a copy of The Valley of Vision. Let me introduce you to this prayer if you have not met. These words, too, are woven throughout the past seven years, balm for my often raw and tender heart.

Lord, High and Holy, Meek and Lowly,

Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;

Let me find thy light in my darkness,
thy life in my death,
thy joy in my sorrow,
thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty,
thy glory in my valley.

(Taken from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, edited by Arthur Bennett.)

If you ask me now, my mommy heart, my flesh, my sin-scarred soul will say without hesitation that I choose my babies. But – and I have said this before – I surrender my choice, knowing that I serve a God whose heart can weep with mine. Who carries my wee ones in His Shepherd arms. Who works all things together for good.

His will be done. His glory. His gospel. His grace. And if for even one second, that gospel and grace is reflected off the shards of my broken heart – that He pieces back together every time – If His glory shines even from the deepest valley, the darkest well – then I am grateful. He sustains me. His will be done. Ever and always.

But that was then, Thanksgiving 2005. Those lessons were just beginning, the foundation laid in the first echoes of grief and fear.

My heart was changing as Husband walked away for the second time. Hardening a little, even in the deluge of grace. I was standing in Hartsfield International, in the hustle and anonymity of a hundred thousand lives scattering across the world, oblivious and incurious as to what was unfolding in their peripheral vision. The Husband-sized chunk of my heart – the bit not in pieces – was climbing on an airplane, destined for uncertainty and real physical danger. In my grief, and yes, fear, I gave God an ultimatum … or maybe just made a declaration, engaging in some spiritual finger wagging directed heavenward. I informed Him in no uncertain terms that H. was the first and last sacrifice I was (un)prepared to make. I retracted my willingness to live without the Husband and literally forbade God to allow him to die. He had H. That was enough. He could not have my Husband.

I was blind, deaf and dumb to the crack widening. A jagged fissure building pressure, threatening to blow open and devour me in a hissing, heated rush.

On Christmas Eve, Pastor C. (the aforementioned Chuck the Duck) preached on mommy-hood and the joy and wonder of a new wee one. It was hard to sit in the pew and  rejoice in a wondrous birth . . . tears poured in the candlelight as I connected with Mary’s joy and her impending loss. I’ve lost two babes now in the days before Christmas, H, and my little Bug. I identify with Mary very closely. Except for the unmarried part, anyway.  I keep thinking of her physical feelings, her emotions at being a first-time mother. Closing my eyes and thinking of her in labor . . . in a cave/stable/animal dwelling. The smell, the temperature, the dust . . . the pain. Cleaning, or trying to clean him. Nursing him for the first time. How sweet that moment is. Or scary, or frustrating, or overwhelming. Unwashed teenage boys traipsing in to see her wee man. Was she scared? Happy? Layer that with the knowledge of who her infant Son actually was and . . . words fail. I just love knowing that Jesus had a mommy who did mommy things like nursing, and wiping bottoms, and soothing tears, and swaying to calm Him, and loving His smiles . . . all the while knowing He was never really hers. Can you imagine?

Which leads to sacrifice. The knowing and willing sacrifice of our Heavenly Father. The unknowing, but obedient sacrifice of Joseph, and of His mommy, of Mary. I think about Bug, about H, and I grieve at the unexpected loss of lives not yet lived. I think of the two littles I have now, and how I would move heaven and earth to protect my sweet babes. I cannot fathom the depths of love and grace poured out on me by a Father who would offer up His own Son to save me.  But oh, I am grateful. Breathing in deep my sweet son smell and kissing his sweet face and knowing two thousand years ago His mommy did the same in the knowledge that her Babe was unlike any other.

That is grace in the midst of grief.

On New Year’s Day 2006, I offered up a simple prayer. “Rest. Lord please just give me a break this year.” Now, I have long since given up that request, but, at the time, I just wanted some respite from the emotional intensity of the previous year. I remember clearly thinking the word “break.” Unfortunate word choice, as, unbeknownst to me, this would continue  to be the year of breaking. Breaking my heart, breaking my idols.

And seven days later God answered my prayer with a resounding no . . .


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