We went camping this weekend. By we I mean my husband, son, and I. We were invited by friends from our church to Idyllwild for two nights of outdoor fun. My son had never been camping before and you never saw a more excited little boy. I think boys are hardwired for open spaces, dirt, and the kind of fire that roasts marshmallows.
The weekend was wonderful in more ways that one. I enjoyed watching my son be a little boy, dirt and all. He was brave and slept in his own tent all by himself and genuinely seemed unfazed by it. He went to bed every night way after his usual bedtime yet still managed to wake up too early. I loved hearing his little voice singing and talking to himself while he waited for us to wake up in the morning.
Of course I thought about my girls. First I imagined how filthy they would be crawling around in all that campsite dirt and how I would have lost my mind keeping them away from the open campfire. Then I wondered if we would have even been there if they were alive. It seems I can't get through a day without feeling that my life wouldn't be this way if...
I get confused sometimes imagining my babies. All the what ifs are just emotional rabbit trails that only lead to one place...reality. My girls are not here anymore and they never will be again. 7 days with Ellie and 13 days with Aubrey is all the time we got. And after more than a year, I still struggle accepting that.
But the reality does not stop me from picturing them in my mind. I usually see my girls as they would have been if they went full-term. I set their age by what their birth date should have been, not by what it was. And I almost always imagine them healthy.
Occasionally though I think about if they had survived being born so early. It always ends in tears. It hurts to know that if they had lived they would be very sick little girls. They would not be crawling around in campsite dirt or putting little pebbles in their mouths. Not because we wouldn't be camping, but because my baby girls would have never crawled...or walked...or talked...ever.
My love for my girls is unconditional. I would have loved them, cared for them, and been honored to be their mother in whatever condition they would have been in. They are my babies. But I can't lie and say there is not a part of me that is so relieved that my girls are no longer suffering. It hurts to lose them absolutely. It hurts like nothing I have ever felt. But at least I know they are ok and I don't have to worry about them anymore. I know they are safe now.
As parents we are always talking about turning our children over to the Lord. How they don't really belong to us, they belong to Him. And it is a nice spiritual concept to say to God "my child is yours" while still holding them in our arms. I have done that exact thing with my son. I trust God with his life. His life. But trusting God with my daughters' deaths is not tied up so neatly in a perfect little bow. How easy it is to trust God when we get what we want.
But what happens to our faith when we don't get what we want? When we hand our children over to His hands and He doesn't give them back to us. What then? Where do we stand now?
I can tell you where I stood...on shaky skaky ground. My faith was turned upside down. I didn't lose it, but it had to be completely redefined and re-established. It had to be restored.
Twice within the same week I had to sit with my husband and decided to hand my child back over to God. How I wished I could have instead stood up on the church podium in a sentimental dedication service and given them back as a metaphor and a choice while the congregation sighed at the cuteness of my identical twin little sweeties...but it was not to be so. My husband and I had to walk out our faith in the most tangible way imaginable. For 7 and 13 days we trusted God with our daughters' lives. And then we faced the dreaded moment of trusting Him with their deaths as well.
It was not an easy decision. It was the worst decision I have ever been faced with. And our faith did not remove from us our questions, fears, and profound pain. I could literally feel my chest cave in as the doctors removed life support at our request and handed my babies to me. I held my breath for a miracle. The one I wanted never came.
There is a song I love called Held by Natalie Grant. The song talks about a mother who lost her infant son. It is beautiful but heart wrenching and hits amazingly close to home. One of the lines in the song says "they had no sudden healing" and goes on to say later in the song "who told us we'd be rescued?" I could not get these words out of my head as I watched my girls slip away. Will we be rescued?
I waited so patiently, but our sudden healing never came. Walking out of our private room with each of our girls in our arms after they had passed away was a faith changing moment. Our faith stood on the brink...and I remember only one thought.
Even I don't understand it. Who says thank you in that situation? I never imagined in a thousand years I would ever hold my child as they died. Nor did I imagine I would do it twice. I never imagined that my life would require me to hand my babies back to God literally to never hold again. Nor did I ever think we wouldn't be rescued. And my faith hung in the balance of all of it. Why not a sudden healing? Why not a heroic rescue? Why not a happy ending? Why not...
I could feel the disappointment and anger building up. I felt that all my faith all these years had amounted to nothing more than being abandoned when I needed God the most. As I turned my face upward, ready to confront God with my questions, ready to challenge His decision not to intervene, ready to question His goodness and love...the only words that flowed from my heart were thank you.
Not thank you for allowing my babies to die or thank you that my heart is completely broken, I will never be thankful for that. But thank you for sending your Son Jesus, who by his blood, made right every wrong. That before I felt the pain of losing my own sweet girls God made a way to fix every broken thing so that in the moment of my worst pain I could have hope. At the lowest moment of my life all was not lost...it was found...in the miracle that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that none should perish but have eternal life. We were not forgotten. We have all been rescued. My girls just sooner than the rest of us.