A lot can happen in a year. A year can bring pain and disappointment, frustration and despair. It can also bring new seasons of life, tremendous healing, unprecedented clarity, and overwhelming gratitude. It’s amazing how pain and healing can exist so simultaneously. On this day, more than ever, I am acutely aware of the beauty in the contrast. For me, today is, and I suspect will always be, a bittersweet symphony of the strange mix of grief and joy. But the joy is there, and for that I am incredibly grateful. In light of this, I would like to write a Mother’s Day letter to myself, on this day, last year…a letter of hope and comfort and of the beauty to come. I pray it encourages someone else for whom this day is also bittersweet.
To Chelsea on Mother’s Day, May 11, 2014:
Today will be a day of pain. That is not what you wanted, not what you expected, but that is what it will be. Today, you will wake up on your first Mother’s Day, delighted with your secret of the child growing in your womb, and find your delight melting into despair. You will wake and know instantly that something is not right. After lying still for a few moments, you will begin to feel severe cramping in your abdomen, but the pain of it won’t compare to the fear that fills your heart. You will go to the bathroom, and as the bleeding begins, you will realize your baby is dying, and part of you with her. You will call for Husband, and watch the desperate way he tries to find another answer, any answer, except for the one you are being given. “Maybe that’s not it,” he’ll say. “Maybe this is normal.” But you will know. Your body is betraying you, betraying your baby. “Call your Mom! She’s a nurse…maybe she can tell you what to do,” he will plead. You will hold each other and cry as you explain to him through heaving sobs that there’s nothing to be done. There is no stopping the inevitable. You will be filled with so many thoughts at once, but two resonate most loudly. It is Mother’s Day. And it is Sunday.
The cruel irony of both of these truths will take your breath away. How can you be losing the one thing you have prayed for, begged for, hoped for, on the day meant to honor you for gaining it? And how can it be on a day when you know your husband must go and lead the people of God in worship, unable to stay with you and hold your heart together, unable to grieve freely and mourn the loss that is as much his as yours? You will both send out desperate texts to those closest to you, begging for prayer, knowing that without it, you will not survive this day. You will call your mother, and she will weep with you and lament being too far away to help. She will ask you if there is anyone you can call to come be with you. And in the first of many waves of God’s mercy to wash over you today, you will realize that there is someone you can call. In fact, there is only one person to call. She is a nurse, she is a friend, and she has walked the infertility journey with you from the beginning. She will understand. And you will know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that God put her in your life for moments like these, as a tangible instrument of His grace in your life.
She will drop everything to come be with you. As you realize that help is on the way, your focus will turn to your husband, who is preparing to lead worship like he is heading into battle. There is a somber sense of inevitability and sadness in every action as he gets dressed. Unlike other Sundays, he does not warm up his voice. Singing does not feel consistent with the heaviness of this day. Tears flow freely between the two of you, with few words. As he leaves, you will be filled with heartbreak as you imagine him having to sing praise and lead worship in the midst of such devastation. For awhile, you will forget your own pain and feel so consumed with concern for your husband that all you will be able to do is cry out to God on his behalf.
Your friend will arrive, and she will allow you to grieve in every way you need to. You will cycle through sorrow, numbness, anger, and fatigue many times throughout the day. Your phone will blow up with texts of love and support from so many. One will say, The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. In your heart will rise up anger and peace, the first of many contrasts you will feel over the next few hours, days, and months. Blessed be the name of the Lord. You will repeat this as a mantra to yourself many times, hoping your heart will catch up with its truth.
The morning will drag on painfully, slowly. As your closest friends find out, each will reach out in a different way to surround you with love and grace and support. One will come and change your messy sheets so you don’t have to see the evidence of death. She will wash them, and clean your house, and bring all your favorite foods for when your appetite returns. Her husband will come and take your dogs away for the day, even though they aren’t “dog people”. Another friend will come and describe to you what happened at church. The beauty of the story will initiate the long road to healing in your heart.
She will describe to you how the church body was told by your pastor of your loss, and how they flooded the stage to lay hands on your husband and pray for his heart. She will tell you how tears flowed freely, as the body of Christ grieved with you. She will describe the terrible beauty in hearing songs like “Desert Song” and “Sovereign” sung by the heartwrecked worship team, with people clinging to the lyrics like lifelines. She will tell you how broken and beautiful and strong your husband was as he lived out his calling, leading people in worship, into battle. She will tell of a church body unified in sacrificial love for two of its parts, and she will remind you that the enemy has lost a great battle that day. Then your little circle of friends, your sisters, will pray with you and over you. They will literally carry you through this day, holding you together through the power of One who knows all too well the pain of a child dying.
Eventually, your husband will return and your friends will leave, giving you time alone together to mourn. You will both weep, and sleep, and pray, and cope. You will cling to each other tighter than ever before, bound by an intense grief that has changed you forever. A few days later, the grief will still be ever-present, but there will be other things too: sweet comfort, shaky peace, and tentative hope. The suffering has been and will continue to be great, but so will the grace. Jesus will love you tangibly, fiercely, intimately, through the people of God and the loved ones He has placed in your life. Cards, texts, cookies, gifts, and other symbols of love will be brought to your house over the following weeks. Each will touch you and remind you that you are not alone. You will feel your heart break and mend in every way many times over. You will realize with poignant clarity how terribly weak you have become, even as you recognize that His Spirit is stronger than ever within you.
As more weeks pass, the healing will continue, and you will start to feel like yourself again. This will bring with it gratitude and guilt, the contrast of feeling thankful for your growth, yet guilty that your times of sorrow and grief have become less frequent. There will be grace for this too, as the Spirit of God faithfully ministers His Word to you and reminds you that Jesus bore your grief and carried your sorrow long ago. In an exercise to commemorate and honor your lost baby, you will give her a name, the only name that means anything in this season of life: Hope.
The following months will bring blessings that will be greater than you could ever have imagined. Four months after your devastating loss, you and your husband will be matched with a precious little boy and little girl who will become your children through the miracle of adoption. You will experience emotions you never knew you were capable of as you begin the daunting task of parenting two little strangers from a distance. You will experience frustration at new heights as the process of bringing them home is delayed time and again. To have three children separated from you, one by death and two by distance and political red tape, will be more than you can bear. But Jesus, and His people, will continue to bear your grief and hold you up, as they did on this first day of devastation. You will learn what it means to not only accept your weakness, but to embrace it, as the strength of God shines more brightly when you do so.
Today will be a day of pain. It will be a day of crippling grief. It will be the death of a dream, a death of Hope. But this day of devastation will give birth to something more beautiful than you could have ever imagined. It will produce a newfound and utterly necessary dependence on Jesus. It will create a deeper bond between you and your beloved husband. It will clothe you with empathy and compassion and understanding. It will make you a better friend, a better wife, and a better mother. On your second Mother’s Day, next year in 2015, you will remember the depth of this valley you walk through now. But through the memories of darkness will break breathtaking beams of glorious light, as you remember how God’s love was greater than pain, greater than death. You will feel the grace and love and faithfulness of God as His people surround you with love yet again, and as you talk on the phone to your sweet children in Florida, knowing that the waiting for them will come to an end soon. You will feel joy mixed with your sorrow, and you will savor the bittersweet privilege of being called to this journey of transforming ashes into beauty. You will rejoice in the knowledge that your Hope is in heaven with Jesus, and that truth will be enough to sustain you in every season.
With Abundant and Amazing Grace,
Chelsea on Mother’s Day, May 10, 2015
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. I Cor. 13:7-8a