Car rides and rainbows

I’ve been thinking about my last post – the one about the What Ifs – and realizing that while I do think that asking those questions is a part of the grieving and healing process, they do also reflect a lack of faith.

And that’s okay.  I think our faith waxes and wanes sometimes.  Especially in the wake of tragedy.  It’s where the rubber of our faith meets the road of life.  And sometimes we skid a little.  We get flat tires.  We want a little more evidence of things not seen.

That had me thinking about this post that I wrote on our family blog in the midst of the NICU time immediately following Brigid’s premature birth.  I’ve copied and pasted it below:

We’ve had a week of rapidly changing weather, and as Patrick and I are driving back and forth to Hershey each day, it will often alternate between downpours and sunshine, and occasionally it will do both things at the same time. It’s been prime rainbow weather every day.

Only I haven’t seen one.

I’d find myself making little deals in my head with God in the car. “Okay,” I’d think. “If I see a rainbow, that means Brigid’s going to be fine.” And then I’d crane my neck all over looking for one, all the while reasoning with myself that even if I don’t see a rainbow, she could still be fine and realizing that I could see one and she could die tomorrow. I’m testing God, I’d think, and then I’d feel ashamed of my silliness. He doesn’t owe me a sign. He’s told me enough about himself for me to have faith in this situation, whether or not I see a rainbow.

It’s not faith that Brigid will be okay that I’m called to have. If that were the case, and she died, my faith would be shattered.

Rather, it’s faith in God’s goodness. It’s faith in the fact that His ways are not our ways. That all things work together for the good of those who love Him. It’s faith that God is sovereign and knows us and loves us and sees our situation. Faith that we’re still in the palm of His hand. It’s faith that if it’s His will for her to heal and grow, she will. And if it’s not, we’ll still be okay. It’s faith that He knows more than we do. Faith that He is trustworthy and that He loves our baby girl even more than we do.

This is the faith that we are called to have. This is the faith that I have to exercise each day, as surely as an athlete exercises his heart and muscles for an endurance trial. God is so good to give us our daily bread – the strength to get through each day, even when we don’t know what is at the end of the road.

I’ll still crane my neck to look for the rainbows.

But not because they have anything to do with Brigid.

I was looking for signs then, too.  But the same principles are as true today, more than two years after her death, as they were then, a few days after her birth.  God is good.  He loves us.  He works all things together for our good.

I’m not sure why I felt it so strongly then and now I struggle sometimes.  I have to keep telling it to myself, I think.  Over and over until I am facing my own death.  Sometimes I just read the words of Brigid’s eulogy over again to myself.  They bring me so much comfort.

I am working on posting our story, though it is so incredibly long.  March to June – the time from our diagnosis until the second one of our twins died – was only four months, but brought a lifetime of ups and downs, hopes and fears, joy and sorrow.  In an effort to keep faraway friends and family up to date on each twist and turn, and to process my emotions myself, I wrote about the experience on our family blog.  There are so many posts, though, that it is hard to condense them and still give the whole story.  Suffice it to say, you are welcome to peruse the posts starting in February of 2011 and continuing until…well, until today, I guess.  Our loss is threaded into our lives since then and there is not really any separating ourselves from it, even as we keep living.  We never move on from it, we just move on with it.

absence

Blessed be the name of the Lord

After Brigid died, it took about four or five weeks for the numbness to start to wear off, and for us to really start feeling the weight of our grief.  It started becoming more difficult to carry instead of easier.  I also started to feel like the Lord, whose presence and comfort was almost physically tangible to me in the days and weeks before, was pulling away.  I remember standing in the kitchen and washing dishes and crying, saying to him, “No, please don’t go!  Please don’t leave me!”

It was right around that time that we had another devastating tragedy hit our family, and I truly felt like someone was holding my head under water.  Like I couldn’t even get a second to come up for air.  It physically felt hard to breathe.  My heart was heavy. My chest had a weight on it.  It was literally crushing.

I felt like Job.  Remember him?  Everything was going just fine for Job until one day, God allowed him to be tested.  God removed His protection for a time and tragedy befell Job.  Not just one tragedy – a series of devastating events, one immediately after the other.  So close, in fact, that the scripture says that while one messenger was still speaking to Job, informing him of something horrific, the next messenger would arrive, with his own tale of woe.

After all of the messages had been relayed to Job, he responded by saying, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there.  The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

This seems so hard to believe, that someone could experience all of those things and yet have that response.  Surely, anger at God would have been justified in this case?  And yet, Job did not sin by cursing God.  And this was prior to any of the good news that comes to us in the New Testament with the arrival of Jesus and the promises He gave us.  We learn there that all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord (Romans 8:28), that there is victory over death, and that, while even Jesus the healer wept at the death of his dear friend, Lazarus, we don’t have to grieve like those who have no hope for seeing their loved ones again. (1 Thessalonians 4:13)

When Brigid died, I was challenged by the book of Job.  I had people telling me it was okay to be angry at God – that He could take it.  And I knew this was true.  But I had a lifelong relationship with God and Jesus.  I knew that trials and suffering were part of life and that they weren’t to blame for them.  I knew that trials strengthened our faith.  And I remembered that when, at the end of the book, Job even dared to question, “Why?” God sat him down and told him of all His vast knowledge and power.  Sometimes, even sarcastically – “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?  Tell me, if you understand.Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!” (Job 38:4)  I knew what that meant.  Sarcasm is my second language.

So I asked God to help me understand.  I didn’t want to ask why, and I didn’t want to curse Him.  But I needed help understanding how a loving Father could have answered all our prayers for her healing with, “No.”  And then He answered me.  It was like a comforting hug.  Like a band-aid on my broken heart. I shared that answer when I gave Brigid’s eulogy.

I felt like God comforted my heart by helping me understand that the suffering we were experiencing, though it felt like a heavy cross to bear, was light and momentary and achieving for us an eternal glory. (2 Corinthians 4:17) I felt like He was teaching us about Himself in our suffering, and giving us a perspective on eternity, compassion for others, and a hope for heaven that we had been lacking. In doing so, He was refining us in the fire and making us more like Christ.  In hindsight, I think the pulling away I felt in those weeks after Brigid died was like a parent who lets go of his child’s bike as he learns to ride with no training wheels.  In those early, wobbly trials, the parent is still holding on, but at some point, he has to say, “Okay, I’ve taught you all I can, but you won’t learn how to use it unless I let go.  Now you just have to do it.”  He is not abandoning the child; it is in love that he lets go.  He is still right there, but eventually, the child has to take all of the wisdom and instruction imparted by the parent and actually put it into practice.   He has to take the words and turn them into knowledge and understanding.  There is no better way to put the words of your faith into practice than with a trial, and the death of a baby is the ultimate trial.  I wonder if any of this understanding would have been possible without going through that dark valley.  On the other side of it, I have to say that I don’t think it would have.  We are truly changed.

Of course, we still struggle daily with sin in our lives and we still feel the weight of grief. It’s not like now we’ve learned this valuable lesson and we don’t have anything else to learn.  We treat each other unkindly and our grief can translate into a short temper or anger or distraction that feels like laziness.  We forget to love God and one another.  Yesterday was a particularly hard day for me on all of those fronts.  Not until we reach heaven will those things be over.  But we know that one day, he will wipe every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more death, or mourning, or crying or pain. (Revelation 21:4)

We sang this song in church yesterday, and it has been in my head ever since.  That verse in Job that says the Lord gives and the Lord takes away can be of little comfort, unless we also combine it with the knowledge that He loves us, that He works all things together for our good, that there are rewards in heaven for our suffering on earth, and that we will be reunited with our loved ones again one day.

If He is worthy of praise when good things happen, then He is worthy of praise when bad things happen.  He doesn’t change.  He is good.  I hope that encourages you like it does me.

Blessed be the name of the Lord!