Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. Psalm 69: 1-2
This weekend was supposed to be Olive's first road trip and overnight stay at her grandma and grandpa's house. My husband's parents live in Illinois and we had plans to visit and catch up with extended family that were in town for the holiday weekend. I had been thinking about and planning for this weekend for months.
If there was anything that our three baby showers taught me it was that we probably didn't need as much as we had. I imagined we'd load the car up with a ridiculous amount of baby gear, way more than we'd actually need for our short 2 night stay. Would I sit in back with Olive and the dogs, or trust them to be next to the car seat and not get in her face the whole ride? Being Labor Day weekend, the probability of getting stuck in traffic was high. Would we have to pull over so I could nurse her, change her or calm her? In the end none of these things would matter because our trip would no longer be the same.
Not at all how I had planned.
Just like the hundred or so times before, we tossed our overnight bags in the back, got the dogs in their seats and drove off....just the two of us. Friday, August 29th marked one month since Olive would come into our lives. The whole drive down I cried. I kept replaying my labor and delivery in my head, longing to be pregnant again just so I could feel connected to her. As I watched the clock hit 5:18pm I imagined them laying her on my chest. I closed my eyes through the tears. I knew it was going to be a long weekend.
Mornings have always been difficult for me since Olive passed. I have little motivation to get myself out of bed, mainly because I know it's another day without her. From the moment I wake up, my mind takes me to places I wish it wouldn't - dark places where I ache, dark places where I think about who I can blame for this, dark places where I cry out to God to save me. Lately, though, I find myself heading to these dark places at many times throughout the day. I live with a constant lump in my throat, choking back tears - having to pause before responding, in fear of breaking down.
My anxiety was high as I knew I would have to face family and friends that were going to express their condolences, ask questions and hug. Worse yet, after all of that was out of the way, people were going to be normal. There was no more living in my own world of sadness, I had to come to reality - a reality where I'm the only one with a dead child, I'm the only one living in that agony, everyone else was moving on with life and was going to be enjoying the beautiful day. Sure they would be kind and compassionate, but eventually someone would tell a joke or start talking sports. Eventually someone would want to talk about something other than Olive.
That's the hard part about trials that we face - they are our trials, they don't belong to anyone else. Sure, other people will experience the loss of the child, but no one else will ever experience the loss of MY child. How on earth will I go through the rest of this earthly life without this sweet, precious baby? How do you just trust that this, whatever "this" is for you, is all a part of God's plan? We can't answer these questions on our own. I thank God that He has brought me strong Christian friends to remind me and help bring me back from these dark places.
After I got home Sunday night a friend had sent me, word for word, the sermon that was preached at her church that very morning.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. James 1:2-7
A verse I've heard many times before, a verse I've even read since Olive has died - a verse that is not easy to comprehend in the face of heartache like this - which makes it a verse that is so much more important for my healing.
Paraphrased from the sermon: Jesus didn't tell Peter to go around the waves or wait until they started to die down. He had him walk right through them. And even after Peter sank, Jesus pulled him up and put him right back in the middle of the storm. Israel was jammed between an army that wanted to kill them and a sea that could swallow them. But the LORD didn't build a bridge of over it or give them a map to go around it. He had them walk right through it. God's solution wasn't for them to run away from their trials, but to face them, and, eventually, overcome them.
It's easy for us to be full of joy, just as long as things don't get too bad. As long as you never get sick, as long as you have enough friends, as long as you keep feeling special, as long as the tumor goes away, as long as you keep your job, as long as the right people get elected, as long as you never have to bury someone who is near and dear to your heart. Does God really expect you to be full of joy when one of those things happen? He didn't say it's easy, but James does believe it's possible to find pure joy in the middle of any trial. However, it takes a very important gift from God to be able to find it. It takes wisdom. But you won't ever have this wisdom if you believe there are limits as to what God can do for his children.
How on earth do you weather a storm like THIS? How on earth do you consider the death of your child pure JOY? This is certainly something I'm struggling with. This is where I tell you, dear reader, that I am not strong enough.
Maybe I've been praying for the wrong thing - maybe strength isn't what I need. The times in my life that I've felt "strong" are probably the times that I've been the furthest from God -
"No thanks, God, I've got this. You can just keep on helping all those weak people out there, I can handle this on my own."
The storms in life are God's way of bringing us back. Did my daughter have to die for that to happen? Maybe - maybe not - that's not my call. There is no doubt that there is a bigger picture here, a bigger part of the plan that I can't see, a piece of the puzzle that I'm missing. Strength isn't really what I need, what I should be praying for is wisdom and trust. Wisdom to understand that I don't have all the answers. Wisdom to remind me that man couldn't save her but He could and He did. Trust that God is holding me through this storm. Trust that He has never failed me even at my lowest times. Trust that He is caring for my girl - way better than I can (which is a hard thing to wrap your head around as a parent, isn't it?).
Our faith is directly tied to all of God's promises. So if he has made you a promise, then act like he's going to keep it. If he says he is with you always, then act like you're never alone. If he says he provides a way out from every temptation,then keep walking away from it. If he says he answers your prayers, then pray like God is listening. If he says he will do what is best, don't complain about his decision. And if he says that every trial in your life right now is strengthening you for an even bigger trial still coming, then start looking at your trials as a blessing, no matter how big and scary they may be.
This weekend was just one of, I'm sure, many reminders that none of this has gone as I had planned - yet all of it has gone exactly as He has planned. Which brings me back to the question - how can I find joy in this trial? I'm certainly not joyful that my daughter is dead, and either is God. He didn't want Olive to die, He doesn't find satisfaction in death, there is no joy in death - but there is joy in life.
Even though it takes everything in me to focus on it - there was joy in her life. Since I believe life begins at conception - we had a lot more than 36 hours with her. There is joy in a healthy pregnancy, joy in feeling your baby grow and move within you, joy in knowing that you and your spouse created (with the help of God) this amazing being. We can be joyful that my labor was positive - I was strong and confident in my abilities to birth her. There is joy that we became parents that day, joy in the experience my husband and I had together, joy that we got to hold her - as there are many families that don't get that experience when they lose a child. There is joy that she was born alive- and that our families and we were able to have time with her.
As I was talking with a friend tonight she helped me come to a realization - it was a short life but my husband and I were able to be at her side for the three most important milestones she would have: her birth, her baptism and her death. We were there- holding her hand, stroking her hair, loving her and present with her as she was born into this world, born into God's family and received by the angels into her eternal home. And as parents, that was all we were given the opportunity to do for her - and we didn't let her down. THAT brings joy to my heart.
There are going to be many more dark days ahead of me, which is why I have this blog - when I get these moments of wisdom that I've asked God to show me - I need to read them over and over again so that I can let it sink in, so that I can remember and restore my faith in Him. Whatever your trials are, whatever storm you're facing I hope you can find something that brings you peace and joy from it. It doesn't happen from reading one bible passage or blog post - trust me, I've tried! It's a continual process, a long journey, but one that we have to remember God is in control over - our shelter from the storm.