Last night I went to the viewing of my friend’s daughter. She was only eight months old. Eight months. Seeing that miniature casket topped with flowers and a framed picture of her bright, baby face……That is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Harder even than visiting her in the hospital just a short week and a half ago and seeing her hooked up to a ventilator and tubes and wires, her body still swollen from the aftermath of open heart surgery. Only eight months and yet she touched hundreds of people from all over. Brought them together in the hopes of a miracle for sweet Maddie.
I’ve been praying for Maddie since before she was born. Her parents found out only about a month before she was born that she had a congenital heart defect. The “what-ifs” were enormous and unlimited. No one knew. That’s when I first became bold enough to tell this friend of mine, who doesn’t profess a faith in Jesus, that I was praying for her baby and for her. I asked my mom and grandpa to pray too.
You know what happens when you lift someone up in prayer month after month? You grow to love them. You hold them in your heart and you lift them up into the heart of God. How can they not become dear to you? How can you not want the best for them?
So I took Maddie into my heart and I prayed and I wept and I touched her little unresponsive hand in the ICU and begged God to touch this little body and heal her. So that her mommy and daddy could see her bright blue eyes again and be warmed by her light-up smile. Up and down, up and down, for 3 weeks.
And then the unthinkable happened. I got the phone call that they were going to let her go, that there was no more hope, nothing more for the doctors to do. My friend (another friend, not Maddie’s mom) and I wept together. There were no words to say. Our hearts were broken for Maddie and all that she had suffered these past 3 weeks and for her mom, our friend, who would now have to face life without her little girl.
At 10:20pm that night, Maddie passed from her mommy’s arms into the arms of Jesus. I say “into the arms of Jesus” because I really truly believe that’s what happened. In one instant we are here on earth and the next, we are with Jesus. And I’m more than willing to bet that He wept, too. For all that she had suffered and for those she left behind. And He rejoiced. Because she was Home.
But what about the rest of us? What about her mama? Her daddy? Her teenaged brother and sister? Her grandma? Her aunt? All the people here on earth faced with life without her and the question, “Why?”
I’ve wrestled this week. I haven’t lost people very close to me to physical death. Yet. I know it’s coming and I dread it. I’ve seen grief, I’ve read about grief but this is probably the closest it has touched me in a human form. What do I mean by that?
I’ve experienced grief in a different way, which is why I imagine I can understand this mourning grief of a child or a loved one so well. I have experienced the grief of lost dreams, lost expectations, unanswered prayers, lost hope. And, that, my friends, is some of the deepest grief you can experience. Loss of Hope. It sucks all the light out of your eyes, your present, your future. It is a dark, dark prison. Sometime, maybe, I’ll tell you some more about that.
But for now, as I’ve wrestled this week with grief, I’ve been learning a few things. One, I am learning that even though Maddie wasn’t mine, it’s okay for me to grieve the loss of her. I have felt guilt over that this week, that I shouldn’t receive any sort of sympathy or nod to my grief because what is my grief compared to my friend’s? My grief is very real, too. Not the same, no definitely not the same but it is real. Maddie was precious to me and she will be missed.
I am also learning that sometimes the question of “why” will never, ever get answered on this earth. And what possible answer would really make that “why” okay? Is it really going to lessen the hurt and heartache to know why? So we can package things up in our neat boxes and move on with our life? Maybe God lets us ask these questions and feel the brokenness so deeply to show us Himself in it. With us.
I have been learning very, very slowly this year, that even amidst brokenness and grief, there IS hope. It is Immanuel. God with us.
I was chosen to be on the launch team to promote a new book that will be coming out this year. It’s called “Daring to Hope” and even in the first couple of chapters, I have already begun to hear God speaking to me. As Katie Majors, the author says, “God sees you and me in our pain and our brokenness. He sees you walking a difficult path when the sun goes down and your life is a far cry from that which you expected or dreamed up. He sees you when the ending of the story is not the one that you yearned for and your prayers seem unanswered and it all just feels like a bit of a mess……….His deep desire is for us-that we would know His love in these unexpected broken places and that we would know the true Hope found only in His Son Jesus, the Lamb, who never, ever stops reaching out for us…..”
God does not promise this world will not be broken or dreams won’t be shattered or sickness and disease won’t happen or that we get to hold on tight to our loved ones all the days of our life. What He does promise is that He will be with us. In the shattered, broken dreams and expectations, in the ugly mess of life. And He will be more than enough.
So for me, I want to learn to pay attention to Him reaching out to me and not to get hung up on the, “why’s,” as it’s been so easy to do these past 5 years or so. I want to see Him and hear Him in my everyday mess.
Don’t let anyone tell you that your grief or your pain isn’t as bad, as valid or as deep as someone else’s. I have been told that and it hurts very badly. We all have pain and brokenness and to look at someone else and say, “Well, at least…..” At least, you’re not like so and so. At least this other terrible thing didn’t happen to you. At least you haven’t suffered like so-and-so. At least he/she isn’t suffering anymore. At least you have a child/ children. At least you have a job. At least you’re healthy. At least…….
I have felt so much guilt these past few years, having been told, “at least” and having believed it. But you know what? Something stands out to me as I write. I’ve never heard God say that to me. He has never told me “at least.” He has held me, wept with me, begun to heal some very raw places in my heart and has given me the courage to face one more day, one day at a time.
So I just want to say this to you, if you’re reading this: It’s not to late to experience hope. Whether you’re in the grief or hurt or brokenness or on the other side of it but still feel the scars from it. God wants to touch that hurt and be with you in it.
Immanuel. God with us.