Last week, while reading a blog post of a new friend, I was escorted, by way of memory, to a past event in my life. As the bittersweet memory formed itself on the horizon of my mind I was filled with awe and reminded of the goodness of our God; the absolute goodness that can encompass and indwell our lives even in the midst of terrible pain.
...and that's my $0.02!
It was mid-to-late March of 2004 and I stood at my closet door, tears streaming down my cheeks, eyes searching, heart breaking. I had to find something I could squeeze into. I would find something, somehow and I would gather my three children and I would get out of our house. I had to. I needed to feel the sunshine on my face. I desperately needed to know that the world was still revolving, that people were still smiling... and living.
I would not wear anything maternity. I wasn't pregnant... not anymore. I'd seen it myself on the ultrasound a few days earlier.
I'd hurried in to my doctor's office clinging wildly to the hope that the bleeding was just another inexplicable pregnancy nuisance and that I was, indeed, entering into my second trimester.
I'd left her office cloaked in an ominous, dark cloud of pain tinged with disbelief. That dream, the one I thought I'd carried safely and warmly inside of me, had died.
And then, after days of phone calls and tears, prayers and more tears, I had to step back into the daylight... but not in maternity clothes. Although I'd not lost a single ounce of the new pregnancy weight I'd acquired I had to walk out of my door in my regular jeans. Better to appear to be poured into them than to be reduced to tears at an innocent inquiry about my baby; my baby who'd flown home even while I stood as the Matron of Honor at my sister's wedding the weekend before; my baby who'd had to leave without saying goodbye while I stood smiling, laughing, happy.
All the cards, all the condolences, all the shared tears with friends and family fell short of comforting me. Nothing made it alright. I understood and appreciated all the well-meant, although sometimes trivializing, comments and I accepted them eagerly hoping they would serve as a kind of heart-balm. But my grief went untouched by them, defiantly standing its ground.
My determination drove me as I readied myself and my children for a trip to the shoe store. It was such a major undertaking. It was so much more than a short drive to buy the children the shoes they needed. It was an attempt to stand again in spite of the weight of my loss. I couldn't shake the burden off... not yet. I still needed time to wade through it, to make sense of it, to sort the hay from the stubble. But I could stuff it into a duffel bag, load it onto my back, and, like an encumbered soldier of war, wearily, yet courageously, put one foot in front of the other.
And so I did.
I arrived at the store with my three children aged eight, three and a half, and two years old. It was difficult. My mind wanted to be singular in its focus. It wanted to measure little feet, find shoes to fit them, and block out everything else. It wanted to ignore the noise of my little ones playing and straying from me. It hardly cared how many shoes they pulled off shelves and left in isles. It craved only full and simplistic absorption in the task at hand.
Nevertheless, I had to take hold of myself every few minutes and rein in my thoughts and my children. Even if I didn't feel strong enough I had to be the responsible adult. I had to be the Mom. I'd been given no leave of absence from my post, and my youngsters, the precious ones that still surrounded me, needed me fully present. I was not off duty. I would have to be among those who were healed as they went (Luke 17:14).
As I once again roused myself from my introspection I looked up to see my two-year-old round a corner and disappear from my sight followed by her sister and brother. So playful. A slight smile touched my lips as I set down a shoe box and started after them. For a moment the part of me that still recognized the blessings in my life had gotten a welcome upper-hand and longed to be as carefree as they were.
I followed them to an isle where a middle-aged woman shopped with a two-year-old little girl. The woman smiled down at my three for a moment and then looked up at me. She was asking if they were all mine. I was nodding yes and was having the impulse to happily inform her that I was expecting my fourth... but I wasn't, was I? Not anymore.
I felt the heat in my cheeks. I felt the tears coming. Just that fast the pain was fresh again. My thoughts began to shout at me. "Breathe deeply, don't cry. Not here, not now." And conversely, "Tell her everything. Let it out. Why should things go on as normal?"
Whether my conflicting thoughts and emotions played out on my face in that moment I do not know. This stranger smiled sweetly at me and began to say how blessed I'd been to have three such lovely children. That was a sentiment I'd heard repeatedly since my miscarriage from people who wanted me to focus on the "bright side" of things. They were comments that I'd known were true but that hadn't relieved my suffering.
But this was different. She didn't know. She wasn't attempting to redirect my thinking. There was real conviction behind her words. She meant what she was saying so strongly that I could feel it and I had to pay attention to it.
She had a gaze that was strangely warm and penetrating and I was drawn in. It was quite unusual. I actually felt hungry for whatever she might say next. She looked down at the child who'd come with her and explained that this little one was her daughter. She told me she and her husband had one other daughter who was an adult. They'd tried for years to have a second child but had not been able. They thought they'd never have another baby. But, amazingly, two years prior to our conversation, when their first child was grown, she'd given birth to this beautiful little girl.
She spoke about her children, and mine, with a depth that moved me. She spoke from the perspective of one who'd ventured across a painful wilderness and had, at last, arrived at a long awaited oasis. You might imagine that I'm referring to her second child as this "oasis." Not exactly, but close. Of course each child is a wondrous gift but the "oasis" she helped me find that afternoon was the recognition of each child as God's gift of love to a parent... His gift of love to me.
Though my love for my children is so great I can scarcely put it into words, in that moment God's love for me became so clear I could sense it towering above any emotion I could ever hope to experience. I suddenly understood that each of my three children was an expression of that love.
I was unable to receive comfort from the people in my life who suggested, in varying ways, that I forget about the child I lost and instead focus on the three I got to keep. In my heart it just didn't add up right. But I received tremendous comfort from a stranger who just saw my three children for the gifts of Love they are, apart from all else.
I'm sure I will never see that woman from the store again and she may never know how her kind words touched my life that day.
I never did tell her that I'd just lost a baby. I don't know why she opened up and shared with me like she did. I only know that I heard God's voice through her story, and His was the voice I needed to hear.
I will always think back on her as an angel sent by God to deliver His message to me.