See Luminosity

5 Years Later

5 Years Later

Sometimes I feel I have lived a lifetime in the past five years.

My life, in every respect, has two distinct parts: before Dominic and after Dominic. The “after Dominic” part has, without a doubt, included the most profound suffering, pain, and devastation I have ever experienced. I have hated it, fought against it, been broken because of it, and wanted to check out of it all together. But as I stand here, five years later, I can say – with reticent, awed, realization…

It is the part I am most thankful for.

That is not a cliché. I am not Pollyanna. I do not use lots of happy exclamation points on social media, and I am far, far beyond Sunday School platitudes.

But I can stand in this moment, five years after the death of my son, and say that the journey spurred from my deepest hurt, my greatest suffering, and my most profound brokenness has been the path to a place… a place I want to be. A place I think the Lord wants all of us to be.

What is that place?

It will take some explanation.

Three Griefs

Although Dominic is the grief that has been most public, the journey that began the day of his birth has actually involved three griefs. His death was obviously the first, but throughout it all the Lord showed himself to be present and powerful in specific, tender, personal ways, about many of which I blogged. I mourned, I searched, I learned, yet I grieved with the assurance that we would have more children, and that the yawning hole in my heart from his loss would be filled, at least partially, with more babies to love. I clung to passages like Psalm 127:

 

  • “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them”

and Psalm 107:

 

  • “He blessed them, and their numbers greatly increased, and he did not let their herds diminish, but he lifted the needy out of their affliction and increased their families like flocks.”

After praying fervently, two years later, we finally got pregnant again – only for it to end in miscarriage.

That was grief number two.

It was devastating, but, again, the Lord proved Himself faithful, powerful, and present. By this time, I had a new family of faith at the Blue Ridge Women’s Center who brought tremendous encouragement and joy into my life, and I was beginning to see some beauty from the ashes of Dominic’s loss, as the Lord opened up opportunities to minister to women who had lost children of their own. I mourned, I searched, I learned, yet I grieved with the assurance that we would have more children, and that the yawning hole in my heart from my losses would be filled, at least partially, with more babies to love.

I continued to pray passages I felt the Lord led me to:

 

  • “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven.” (Psalm 107)
  • “When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, ‘I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.’ And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.” (Hebrews 6)
  • “The Lord will grant you abundant prosperity—in the fruit of your womb…” (Deuteronomy 28:11)
  • “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 42)

But the months passed.

I grew older.

No pregnancy happened.

It became harder and harder to hold on to the hope I believed the Lord had given me. I began to face the heart-wrenching reality that I clearly had gotten it wrong – that I am not going to have any more children.

There was a definable moment in which this third grief hit like a tidal wave. Ironically, it hit me simultaneously with the very blessing that, in the end, helped heal me.

But first, some background is required.

The Name

In my years of praying for more children, I envisioned a baby boy whose name I already had chosen. His name would mean “praise” in Hebrew – because he would be the embodiment of my praise to the Lord for the blessing of bringing beauty from the ashes of my losses. I wrote his name down in my journal multiple times, as I dreamed of the face of this child that I knew the Lord would bring, and I planned the ways I would proclaim the blessing of this child to the world in any way I was capable. I never shared this name with anyone but the Lord – it was to be my personal sacrifice of thanksgiving for the blessing I knew God would bring.

The months and years passed, without a pregnancy. However, my sister did get pregnant. The announcement was bittersweet, as we praised the Lord for His gift to her, while I simultaneously watched the possibility of such a gift slip away in my own life.

Then, suddenly, my family’s world was shattered by devastation yet again – of a completely different kind. This time, it was the devastation of astounding deceit and betrayal, which left my pregnant sister facing divorce, single motherhood, and the loss of all of her dreams. My own shattered hopes of having more children became secondary to helping her pick up the pieces of her own life. Surprisingly, in a completely unexpected way, Lord gave me a new cause, a new goal, and a new purpose.

Little did I know that God would use her suffering as an avenue for my salvation.

We prepared for the birth of my sister’s baby. The months of doing so moved my heart further away from myself and my grief and more toward the excitement, in the midst of our nightmare, of a new life. We needed – I needed – life and blessing in the middle of what felt like a whole lot of losing. I was busy, I was focused, and my world became occupied with supporting my sister in the midst of her crisis. Instead of feeling powerless over my losses, I felt useful. I could do something to help. Somehow, in those months, I shifted away from the role of victim and into the role of rescuer.

In doing so, I didn’t know it, but Jesus was healing my soul.

In the turmoil of reality, my sister had not decided on the name for her baby. Nonetheless, three months after our world fell apart, she gave birth to a healthy, beautiful baby boy. Only after his birth did she reveal the name she had chosen for him: Jude.

The moment of that announcement, time stopped, for just a moment – suddenly crystallized with clarity. It was the defining moment in which I knew, unequivocally, that I would not have any more children, and that God had a different plan. The name the name I had repeatedly written in my journal, the name for my sure-to-come son, the name that was to embody my “praise” for God’s blessing – was Judah. And I had planned to call him…

Jude.

My sister didn’t know. I had never told her the name I wanted to give my future child. Of all the names in the world, this new baby of hers, this child born amidst suffering, would bear the name I had planned for the baby that was going to fill the hole of my losses.

The moment his name was announced, God shattered the elusive, ethereal dream I had clung to since Dominic’s death, and, yet, simultaneously reached into my grief and extracted a new, concrete, powerful hope that was real and personal and profound. I did not know it then, but The Lord was going to fill the void from my losses with a child – just not in the way I thought. No, He was going to do much more than what I thought. He was going to give me the joy of a child, as well as a pathway out of my grief and into new purpose. The Lord was going to use this child, born of pain, to heal my pain and give me a new direction in life. He was going to use suffering, yet again, as the means to restoration.

The Miracle

It has been more than a year since my nephew’s birth. I have, due to my sister’s situation, been able to have the closest possible relationship with this sweet boy that I could have without being his mother. I have gotten to carry him in the woven wrap I bought for the baby I miscarried, and in the backpack my children loved. He has used all of the baby toys I saved from my girls for the “children to come”. We spend multiple hours together each day, and he cries every time I leave him and have to go home.

I love him like my own.

Jude has filled the hole in my soul for more children. And, somehow, quietly, unobtrusively, the months of loving him, praying for him, and seeking to protect him and his brother and my sister in the midst of an unimaginable nightmare, have changed my heart. The shift was gradual, yet profound. Somewhere around Jude’s six-month birthday, I realized that I no longer was praying for more children. I no longer was seeking scriptural assurance that the Lord was going to give me a baby. I no longer was even thinking about babies of my own…and, most astoundingly…

I was beginning to feel thankful that I did not have young children of my own.

I don’t know how it happened without me even realizing it. The unbearable, ever-present longing that never abated for more than four years  just….wasn’t…there….anymore.

Sometimes the greatest miracles happen in the quietest of ways.

Fighting for the well-being of my sister and her family, for justice, and for righteousness, has lifted the veil of grief and replaced it with direction, meaning, and fulfillment. I have reveled in this baby God has put in my life, while being unencumbered to fully participate in life with my older girls. I have had the freedom to pursue my love for writing and research, and seek out new opportunities to share what I have learned with others. I am teaching a Bible Study group, and facilitating a support group for women who have lost children. I am counseling and ministering to women who face unplanned pregnancies at the Blue Ridge Women’s Center, and am in the process of bringing my social work experience to bear there through other life skills classes. The past year has put me in the position to utilize my passion and abilities in ways I have not been able to do since first becoming a parent.

Instead of grief and yearning, I feel joy and purpose. Instead of sadness and weariness, I feel grateful and energized.  I no longer wake up having to remind myself of all of my blessings as a spiritual discipline and sacrifice of praise to get myself through the day…I feel the blessings.

But probably the most compelling miracle of all is that through my sister’s nightmare, I have been able to find myself again – the person God made me, separate from babies and children and grief. The truth is that I am, at heart, a warrior. My passions and abilities most clearly align, and I am at my best, when I have a cause to fight. Parenthood, with all of its blessing and beauty, is not the forum where campaign waging shines. In contrast, as the situation our family has faced has brought me into the role of protector, I have been able to reclaim my “Justice Girl” cape. It’s like in this past year, the Lord put me back in the saddle to be the fighter He made me to be.

By not getting what I thought I wanted, I have gotten more than I even knew I wanted.

The Place The Journey Has Brought Me

This is the place my journey of suffering has brought me, five years later. Somehow, God has used the brokenness of the past five years to bring me to my true desires. I began the journey desperate for children. He fulfilled my longing, yet gave me far beyond it – meeting the needs of my soul I didn’t even realize I had. He gave me the joy of a child, while providing a pathway out of my grief. He provided a new direction, and multiple avenues for the wedding of my desires, passions, and abilities. And because I had no strength of my own and had to be reliant upon Him, He tuned my heart to His presence and purpose.

Through this journey of suffering, I have become more of who I truly am supposed to be, and I have gained more of what my soul truly wants – because all of it has led me to Him. What I thought I wanted – I don’t. Five years later, I just want Jesus. With every grief I face, with every pain I experience, everything else from this world just gets increasingly stripped away. The place I have come to, five years later is this:

Our fulfillment comes not from getting what we think we want, but from wanting who He is.

For most of us, I think, it takes suffering to strip away enough of ourselves that we can we can truly want Him. And, the more we want who He is, the more we can experience love, hope, joy, and meaning no matter our circumstances, because that is the essence of who He is – and He is always with us.

I will always miss my son. I will continue to feel sadness over my losses, though the sting lessens with every passing year. My journey is not over, and it is, even now, marked with suffering. But, five years later, I am in a new place. I am no longer tossed by the waves of grief. I have climbed into a boat and am paddling to the next shore where I know there is a home and a job waiting for me. And even while the swells rock my vessel to and fro, I am able to look up and truly savor the scenery along the way.

I keep seeing what the Lord does with suffering. Somehow, amazingly, He works through it to bring about blessing. He used the loss of my son to bring comfort to women who have lost unborn children. He used the death of my dream of more babies to help me reclaim a new purpose and passion outside of parenthood. He used the demise of my sister’s marriage, and my role in helping her pick up the pieces, to heal my grief. He used a child born of my sister’s pain to mend my own pain. It’s like God’s consistent M.O.: working restoration from destruction. Good from bad. Life from death.

God uses suffering to bring us out of ourselves and more to Him. I miss the children I lost. I am wistful over the children I never got to have. But five years later, I can say…

it is worth it.

I am…yes… thankful for the road marked with suffering. With every scar, I have become less imprisoned by my self, less captured by what this world has to offer. With every hole in my heart, my ability to love deeply has increased. Every tear has made me long for the place where there will be no more tears, and every wound has pushed me toward the Healer of wounds.

Five years later, the place the Lord has brought me, through suffering, is, perhaps, best elucidated by C.S. Lewis:

“The more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become…our real selves are all waiting for us in Him…Your real, new self (Which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him…”

“The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: you will find eternal life.”

“Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”[1]

Jude means “praise”.

Because this child, these griefs, and my suffering have been in Jesus’ hands

I can.

 

 

 

[1] Lewis, C.S. (1952). Mere Christianity. New York: MacMillan Publishing Company.

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