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The Hard Assignment

The Hard Assignment

Divine Subterfuge

I had no idea, when Dominic died, just what kind of assignment The Lord was signing me up for.

And if I had known, I would’ve just said a big ol’ “NO.” Yep, a la Jonah. Thankfully He didn’t really make it clear what assignment He had for me until I was already in it, or it probably would have taken more than a fish to get me back on track. I kind of like to think of it as divine sneakiness. Whatever the technique, it worked.

The assignment has become clearer with each passing month since Dominic’s death. I don’t know if it’s that the Lord has brought people to me, or if He has brought me to people, but slowly, as the weeks and months have progressed, I’ve begun to see it.

It started with a message from friends, months ago. Friends who learned from tests that there might be a problem with their unborn child. Like that – BAM! – I was hit with The Burden. The burden to pray for these parents-to-be, and for their new little life. Once God gives me “The Burden”, I don’t have to remember to pray…I can’t seem to do anything else but pray. I can’t sleep at night, I have trouble concentrating, and I live and breathe it until The Lord releases me (and/or the objects of my prayer). It’s not the most convenient thing, I assure you. Especially since, with this burden, I had a sense from the very beginning that the news wasn’t going to be what I (or they) wanted it to be.Throughout the next few weeks, I learned that the fears were confirmed…the baby had Trisomy-18 and complications that were incompatible with life. My friends, who had tried for a very long time to get pregnant, were going to lose their child.

And, with that news, I realized, for the first time, what the assignment was The Lord had for me. But by then I had The Burden too deeply to refuse it. In some twist of divine subterfuge, The Burden somehow became The Assignment.

The AssignmentRyder-1210

2 Corinthians 1 says “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”

The Lord comforted me in the loss of my son, so that I could be in the position to do it for others.

I got the “dying baby” assignment.

Seriously?  Like I said, if I’d known about it ahead of time, I probably would’ve pulled a Jonah. I would’ve begged God for the “bless people through music” assignment or the assignment of sharing the good news of Jesus with kind, receptive, very-much-alive listeners. Really. Who would actually choose the dying baby assignment? Someone better than me, I assure you.

But this is the assignment He gave me. An assignment He has prepared me for. And, as much as it sucks, I determined to do it well. Still working on that wedding dress, ya know.

So I carried The Burden. Every hour of every day, for many weeks, as this family walked the road of meeting their first child and having to give him back to God. I prayed for specifics that were on the parents’ heart – the foremost of which was that they would have time to meet their son, whom they named Ryder, before he passed away. It was a long shot; the doctors thought at one point in the second trimester that Ryder would die imminently. I agonized and stumbled with The Burden and sought The Lord and begged for grace for them. Each new day dawned blessing as Ryder exceeded the doctors’ expectations and thrived in his mother’s womb, in spite of his physical challenges. Each day was a battle in prayer as I became more and more confident that The Lord planned for Ryder’s parents to be able to meet him.

And then The Lord upped the assignment.

Ryder-1195-2Raising the Stakes

As it became more of a possibility that Ryder might make it to birth (if he were delivered early), his parents asked me something that turned my world upside down. They asked me to be present at Ryder’s birth and death. And to photograph it.

Just a few months after doing that for my own child.

The Lord wasn’t content with this assignment to be just about having the burden. He wanted me to LIVE the burden.

I didn’t think I could do it. It was too soon, too difficult, too…something awful that I couldn’t handle. Being responsible for the only photos my friends would have of their baby who was going to die? Going back to that raw place opened by Dominic?

Hebrew 4:14-16 says: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Jesus lived The Burden. And He’s made it so that, even in this assignment, when I approach His throne off grace, I will get what I need to complete it. He prepared me for this. He gave me this assignment because He knows:  “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.   (2 Corinthians 12:10).

So I said yes.

I’ve never before wanted so much to do something that I didn’t want to do.

Whoever said Christianity is a “crutch” for the weak hasn’t experienced the God that I know, because this path of faith is so narrow at points, I’ve thought I was tight rope walking.

For Such a Time as This

Ryder-1597Doctors did not hold high hopes for Ryder making it through birth alive. As the weeks progressed, I got to meet Ryder through his ultrasound photos, and I marveled at the miracle of this perfect little life that had become such a part of me, even though he wasn’t mine. The burden sometimes weighed me down, as I struggled with the transcendent questions and realities still fresh from Dominic. I lived them all again, but this time with the time to entreat The Lord. Please, please, Lord. Let them meet their son. I believe you are leading me to pray this; grant them time. Please, Lord grant them time and mercy.

When you are going to lose your child, which is better – knowing (like they did), or not knowing (like I didn’t)? I’m still not sure of the answer.

And then, the day came. I got the call while getting a pedicure – something I never do – as part of a “Mommy and daughter” day with my oldest child. It was a lesson in God’s sense of humor…the most stressful news ever at an event intended to relax me. Ryder was not yet at 32 weeks. But the doctors said it was time to induce, because doing so would give him the greatest chance of making it to birth alive. It was happening today.

When I walked into the hospital, I thanked the Lord for having prepared me, the week before, with a visit to another friend who had also just had a baby. Even so, my heart was in my throat as I walked to the elevator, praying for my friends, for Ryder, and for myself. I was overwhelmed with a sense of this event as the meeting of the temporal and the eternal…God’s purpose and timing being unfolded before us. It felt like an illustration of Esther 4:14: “And who knows but that you have come to your position for such a time as this?”

Ryder-1090-2It took many hours, as first labors do, during which we had much time to share, pray, and prepare. God’s intimate graces were evident early on, as my friends’ doctor and the nurse who was part of my church (and had been praying for them) were both on duty. As my friends requested, I photographed everything, from the faces of the nurses to the clothing and casting kits the family had brought to the hospital. When you know your moments with your child are numbered, every moment is precious. And there can never be too many photos.

Right before the birth some additional doctors who don’t normally work on the labor and delivery floor, came in to assist, because of the nature of Ryder’s physical complications. To confirm the God-ordination of the whole experience…Who were they?

Dominic’s doctors.

The two physicians that had worked with us most closely when we were in the hospital with Dominic – they who had been like God’s angels to us in our time of need. I felt, as soon as I saw them, that the Lord was bringing everything full circle. I even got the opportunity to talk with them and tell them just how much they had meant to us. It was like The Lord brought everything back to its completion; a crazy, God-ordained deja vu to show me just how much He is working for good through Dominic’s death. The Lord was in total control, working through Dominic’s death to preparing me to be there, in that moment, in the same place, with the same doctors, to help support someone going through the birth and death of a child, 8 months after going through it with my own. I also knew, at that moment, that Ryder was going to live to meet his parents.

Life, and Eternal LifeRyder-1510-3

Ryder’s heartbeat remained strong throughout labor. And then, at 9:33 a.m., the moment we had awaited came. In an absolutely beautiful birth orchestrated by God Himself, Ryder Allen Brooks came into the world. Tears obscured my vision and I shook with emotion as this beautiful little boy, who had been so anticipated and lifted up in prayer, was placed in the arms of his parents. I prayed that the Lord was somehow working through my camera lens to capture the magnitude of the event.

He was alive.

I wept with joy and pain and gratitude and longing and so many other emotions I don’t think I can categorize them all. It was so powerful, so beautiful, and so heart-wrenching all at the same time. I stood next to Ryder’s father as the doctor pointed out the baby’s tiny chest fluttering ever so slightly. The miracle of life. God’s gift and God’s grace in a fallen world, for this family, against all odds.

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…”  (Romans 1:20). We were seeing it, right before us. And we were changed.

Ryder-1436-3Throughout the next hour, Ryder’s parents loved him and marveled at him, and I attempted to record it all through my lens. I couldn’t stop trembling from the emotion of it all, and I just kept praying that by God would capture it all through my photographic equipment. I know what it means to have only photos of your child. The magnitude of the responsibility might have choked me if I weren’t already so completely overwhelmed by the intensity of experiencing it all. There were smiles of pride and eyes lit up with joy and loving caresses of silky smooth baby skin. God’s purpose and grace in a 2 lb. 6 ounce, perfect package.

As the hour drew to a close, Ryder’s time with us did as well. Ryder’s doctor – Dominic’s doctor – tenderly checked his heart and found that it had stopped beating. Ryder peacefully slipped from our world into Jesus’.

10:36 a.m.  The moment of life becoming life everlasting.

Ryder-1564A Glimpse of the Creator

1 Corinthians 13:12 says:

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

There are a few times in life when the Lord allows us to see and understand how He is working. This was one of those rare moments. Ryder’s birth, and his passing, provided a glimpse for me through the dark glass into seeing the power, sovereignty, intimacy, and goodness of our Creator God. So many people wonder if God is really involved in our lives. I saw testimony to this fact playing out before me.

Every single request Ryder’s parents had, the Lord answered. Every. Single. One. The most important of which – they got to meet their little boy, and they got to love him. Every fear was assuaged, every potential complication was overcome, and the predominant experience of everyone involved was…joy.

Yes – joy.

At the death of a baby, with only an hour to squeeze in a lifetime of love – the umbrella covering the entire event was joy. There is no better proof of the goodness of our Lord.

Ryder has changed my life. God has, once again, used the most difficult of assignments to show me joy and grace. He loves me, and Ryder’s parents, enough to orchestrate good out of sorrow, in every detail of our children’s births and deaths. And, in every step along the way, He is showing more of Himself. In these heart-wrenching, most excruciating moments, the Lord is revealing Himself, and letting me experience who He is and what He does. And the more I experience Him, the more my life is changed for joy.

Yes, this assignment is hard. But I’m learning that hard is the only way to good.

With every dose of hard I’ve gotten an exponentially greater dose of good. God good. A good infused with a new level of joy that only comes from experiencing the Lord and being a part of what He is doing. A good that brings purpose and fulfillment and meaning. A good that transcends the trials of this life and actually, really makes possible Paul’s learning to be content in all circumstances (Philippians 4:11).

I began seeing it with Dominic. I’ve seen it more through the connections the Lord has worked because of Dominic. But Ryder has helped me be able to say, fully and completely, that the hard is so very, very worth it, for the good.

I’ll take it, Lord, and I can say it. Thank you for the hard assignment.

Because I can do hard, if it means that I get your good.Ryder-2139

6 Responses to “The Hard Assignment”

  1. Rebecca says:

    Cubby, You are welcome to put the article on your website, if you don’t mind just linking or mentioning in some way. Thank you for your kind words.

    • Cubby LaHood says:

      thank u so very much!! I am blasting this around to all of our links…we have a number of sister orgs that do the same works….we are all christian and serve interfaith. I will be sure and link your site up in some way. Erin emailed this morning and gave the a-ok. A tuff mothers day for you?? I will hold u in prayer. Cubby

  2. Cubby LaHood says:

    This is one of the most beautiful articles I have read by a parent/photographer…I know Ryder and family through our service Isaiah’s Promise which supports parents who carry to term. We also have a friend who lost a baby to SMA, you may even know them. Your words are very moving and you have seen the gift up close that Dominic has offered. I am writing to ask if i may put your article on our website.
    The only thing that matters in life – is love. Best, Cubby

  3. Jennifer Brooks says:

    Thank you so much for being there during Ryder’s birth & passing.
    So many pictures & I look at them everyday.I got to meet my first grandchild..such a treasure he was too.He will be in my heart beautiful little grandbaby “Ryder”
    I don’t have picture of flowers or landscapes or forests on my walls.I have pictures
    of my family.I have already chosen a 20 x 24 for my wall that you took.I will cherish it & all the others…
    Thank you Again So Much..

  4. Audrey says:

    I couldn’t stop reading. I felt like I were in your shoes feeling the intense emotion of heartache and even joy. Left with a painful lump in my throat. You sort of answered a question I have in my own pregnancy. Is it better to do the tests and know? Or is it best not to know? Or what if I do the tests and am told something is wrong with my baby when in fact he may be perfectly healthy? You just experienced both and said you don’t know which is better or worse. Being over 35, I have new concerns in this fourth pregnancy… Not sure what to do yet. As always, beautifully written, Rebecca. Thank you for pouring out your bleeding heart.

  5. Sharon says:

    Some of the most beautiful words I have ever read.

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