I was asked to speak at a campus ministry women’s event about “transitions.” Obviously my life has changed quite a bit since college so I had plenty on transitions to talk about but I focused on the life changes that turned out drastically different than what I expected and the two ways I reacted to extreme disappointment. This is a slightly altered version of the story I told that night.
Both B and I graduated with bachelors degrees in 2008 and married a month later. We wanted kids but needed jobs and also wanted to spend time getting used to living together. We bought our house in 2009 and decided that there wouldn’t be a better time to start a family. Turns out, my health history made it very complicated to get pregnant. Two long years full of doubt later, in June 2011, we found out we were expecting Baby Desi and then I lost the baby 2 days later.
It is difficult to explain what this loss did to me. There was a deep emptiness and ache in my soul, a sense of crushing disappointment and disbelief. The best analogy I can think of would be familiar to fans of Harry Potter. Dementors are the dark creatures that guard the wizard prison and keep prisoners servile by sucking every last positive thought and feeling from their souls. That is what losing Desi was like.
There are several ways our faith comes into play during a crisis: We can cling to God’s promises and truth or we can withdraw. I withdrew. We didn’t want to go to church or see anyone for months. I especially had a hard time hearing about other couples who we’re expecting children and got pregnant seemingly without issues.
After 6 months of infertility treatments and many doctors appointments, we discovered we were expecting Baby Q/BBQ. The pregnancy went really well, with minimal concerns. I figured most of that was due to the added progesterone I took for the first trimester. We were so thankful when Benjamin Alfred was born and still thank God for him daily. He is a ray of sunshine to all he meets and always greets the day smiling.
I am an optimist by nature so when I got pregnant again in September 2013, I was sure everything would be fine. Lightning doesn’t strike in the same place twice, right? I was on progesterone again, all the fertility meds worked perfectly without having to adjust dosages. The pregnancy was going spectacularly; I felt great. Sick, but great.
I went to a routine appointment at 10 weeks and neither the nurse nor the doctor could find the baby’s heartbeat. Before being hurried in for an emergency ultrasound, I knew at that moment that we were going back into the my worst nightmare. We have since discovered that Baby 2 was missing chromosomes (Turner’s Syndrome) and if she had been born, she would have had massive physical problems. To this day, that doesn’t make me feel any better but knowing the cause of why this baby didn’t make it and knowing that it wasn’t something that we caused helped us heal.
I could have reacted the same way I did the first time by withdrawing but instead I dove into God’s word and prayer. I called close friends and let them know that we needed support. Our family rallied around us. God makes a multitude of promises in the Bible, not just to those living at the time but to us as well. Here are several:
I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
“All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced; those who oppose you will be as nothing and perish.
Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them. Those who wage war against you will be as nothing at all.
For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.
“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you and through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you. When you walk through fire, you will not be burned or scorched, nor will the flame kindle upon you.
Not long after that, I stumbled across a blog post by a pastor from Indiana called Confronting the Lie: God Does Not Give You More Than You Can Handle. Here is an except of what he wrote, shortly after going through a difficult time very similar to ours with his own family:
In the face of all this, I can honestly say I feel no pressure to be the “pastor” and have the answer for this. Honestly, even as a pastor, I have no answer for this. My questions before God about the reality of what my family has experienced over the last three weeks are the exact same questions anyone would ask.
Why not step in?
Why not act?
Why wouldn’t you make it right?
Why couldn’t you part the clouds and provide a moment for us to catch our breath?
Why everything at once?
Not only am I okay asking those questions, but I think there is something holy and sacred in being courageous enough to ask them. Don’t be fooled, those questions are only to be asked by the courageous. It is easy to spout trite Christian platitudes designed to make people feel better with bumper-sticker theology. But insipid axioms do little in the face of the actual brokenness of the world. It is more courageous to ask the hard questions of God and wait for him to answer than it is to find hope on the side of coffee mug. Asking those questions requires courage because, in the end, it is very likely they will not be answered.
This experience forced me to look at one such statement that gets spouted often when people go through a lot: God won’t give you more than you can handle. If I may be so bold, let’s just call that what it is:
Tell that to a survivor of Auschwitz.
Tell it to the man who lost his wife and child in a car accident.
Tell it to the girl whose innocence was robbed from her.
Tell it to the person crushed under the weight of depression and anxiety.
Tell it to the kids who just learned their parent has a terminal illness.
Limp, anemic sentiments will not stand in the face of a world that is not as it should be.
He goes on to point out that the statement “God won’t give you more than you can handle” isn’t in the Bible. 1 Corinthians 10:13 talks about not being tempted beyond what is common to the human race but not about experiencing more than you can bear. Paul writes about not being able to handle it on his own, on being weak and incapable during his letters to the churches and how it is at the point where we can’t do it any longer and are empty that the power of Jesus’s resurrection shows itself most powerfully.
The post finishes with:
Don’t hear me saying I am rejoicing because of the last couple of weeks. I am not. Not once have I danced around our house shouting, “Yeah suffering!” Instead, in the midst of pain and hurt, I am actively expecting God to do something. I don’t know what. I don’t know when. But I am expecting the God of resurrection to heal us. I am expecting God to restore us. I am expecting him to redeem this situation. I am expecting him to do this and so I will be actively looking and waiting for him to do something. I believe expectant waiting can only happen when we exchange our feeble platitudes for an authentic faith that engages God with the full brunt of our emotion and pain. Only then can salvation been seen.
Am I rejoicing that I never got to meet two of my children? No and I probably never will. I know many strong Christian women who’ve lost children and still feel a sense of a missing and longing decades later.
I AM rejoicing that because of my experiences, I’ve drawn closer to God and to my husband. I have learned to treasure my son a little bit more. I have been able to minister to friends who have lost their babies and encourage them as they deal with the worry and doubt that is inevitable during subsequent pregnancies.
My small group leader of many years and close friend has told our group that when all else fails and we are at a loss for words to describe our faith to simply “tell people what you know.”
I know this: Everyone will experience disappointment, hopefully not the same kind as our family, but it is an unavoidable part of life. There will be situations that crush your spirit and make it hard to go forward but if you draw close to God, he will hold you close.