Since baby Stephanie Grace’s stillbirth last week, I have been trying to live in a sort of neutral, non-emotional place. It’s been hard finding a default setting that incorporates basic kindness, a general lack of sleep, the parenting of two distraught daughters, and the teaching of 60+ angsty sophomores. Music has helped. Carbohydrates have helped. Avoiding chit-chat has helped.
We are doing a lot of silence here at the house–not sad or angry silence, just healing and restful quiet.
Then, today, I participated in this exchange:
Person X: “How are you?”
Person X: “Just okay?”
Through gritted teeth: “Yes, just okay.”
I was dumbfounded. It has been eight days. Eight days since I held my one pound three ounce granddaughter, who never breathed air once.Never heard her mother sing. Never saw the sky. Never petted a kitten. Eight days since I stayed awake for forty hours straight, tending to my daughter and her broken heart. Eight days: not even 200 hours.
Just five weeks ago, April’s room held a crib and a changing table. Baby clothes and colorful toys were in neat piles. We were making preparations, slowly moving from acceptance to excitement. Now, the funeral flowers and sympathy cards still cover April’s bedroom. Stephanie Grace’s ashes are in a tiny urn on the chest of drawers, atop the pink baby blanket she nestled in as April held her. It’s one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen.
But, I’m okay. I’d have to say the whole family is okay. That’s all we are.
We’ve agreed that it feels as if we’ve washed up on a beach after being lost at sea; just lying there in the sand, we are unable to move to help each other; we are too tired to go get help, too weary to even talk.
No one is bewailing our fate. No one is in histrionics. But we are quietly recovering from something very hard. We are allowing one another to breathe. And rest.
We are okay. And it is okay to be okay. I refuse to participate in some sort of holier-than-thou Jesus-Healed-Me-The-Quickest Contest. I’m not sobbing in a darkened corner, but I don’t have to be singing, “Praise Jesus, the baby’s in Glory!’ either.
I would rather her be here.
I am allowed to be human, to have emotions; I don’t have to be some sort of parroting Christian robot squawking Romans 8:28. I know all things work together for good: I’ve seen good come from leukemia, failed adoptions, job losses, miscarriages–and I’ve testified to this. Good comes.
But mine is NOT a pretty, front-of the-church, fine-china testimony. It’s a in-the-hospital-bathroom sobbing-your-desperate-heart-out testimony. I can help you when your loved one has cancer, when hubby’s broken your heart, when you’ve broken his, when your kids have messed up, when the bills will never be paid. I can help you if you’re suicidal, if your kid is cutting, if he’s on drugs or in the psych ward or stealing from you. I can help you with the ugly things because I have endured a lifetime of ugly things.
I’m not going to be rah-rah about any of it. Some Christians can be. I can’t. I lived through a difficult childhood that’s been followed by an even more difficult adulthood, so forgive me if I don’t want to get out the pom-poms. I can’t do that. But I can look you in the face and say, “God is with me. Even here. Even now. Even with this dead baby. God is with me.”
I think my faith requires you to see and acknowledge. I cannot hide the heartache. But refusal to hide the ugly heartache permits others to more fully see the hand of God. What God has done for us, He will, after all, also do for you.For me, that’s the testimony: my authentic “I’m just okay” and the acknowledgement that God is nevertheless with me. He is graciously carrying me through once more, just as He has before. My testimony, like yours, sometimes requires showing the broken things, all the broken things and all the destruction. Not holding them close, not reveling in them. But not denying them, either.
A co-worker who taught April went to the hospital after Stephanie Grace was born; expecting to see only April, she was surprised that the baby was also in the room. She saw the tiny, broken baby that my daughter was holding so close. But, more profoundly, she felt the peace in that hospital room, the peace that had overcome us all day long.
God was There.
He is Here.
In our brokenness. In the ugly pain. He is in our midst, making the unbearable bearable, knitting together our hurt hearts, doing His work. We can rest in that certain assurance.
Good comes. And if it takes some time, well, that will be okay.