Friday, May 14, 2010

It Is Well With My Soul

Pain changes everything doesn't it.

The trials we face are often the ones we least expect. And they always hurt infinitely more than we ever imagined. I found myself blown away by the intensity of the pain of my daughters' deaths and even more surprised by my response to it.

I imagined myself coping so much better. I don't even know what that means exactly, but I do know that I didn't meet my own imagined expectations.

One month before Aubrey and Ellie were even born I attended a woman's retreat for a weekend. During that retreat I attended a short class about maintaining faith through trials. The speaker spoke of the death of her ten month old daughter and how she and her husband endured their grief with faith. Through their pain they triumphed in Christ. She was very real about her experience and very inspiring. I remember walking out of that class thinking to myself if I ever endure such hardship I hope I can do so with as much strength and faith as her.

Six weeks later I stood at the graveside of my daughters', broken and lost. I didn't feel strong at all. I felt hurt and scared and horribly disappointed. All my energy was being put toward simply waking up each morning. I wanted to persevere in theory, but in application I just didn't seem to have it in me. Real pain was more crippling than I ever imagined it and I couldn't seem to bridge the gab between my hypothetical expectations of myself through trials and suffering and the realistic ones. And for a while I lost my way.

I can only compare it to running on a wounded leg. Until you stand on a broken leg it is impossible to know how much it truly hurts, let alone have to run on that leg. It isn't like the movies where gritting your teeth and taking a deep breath gives you the pain tolerance you need to run. This was real life and real pain. And figuratively speaking I didn't have it in me to stand, much less run, in my brokenness.

I wanted to. But I couldn't. And I felt horribly guilty about that for a long time.

Perseverance seemed reserved for the stronger people. The ones who, when tested, ran on their broken leg regardless. Not the weak and overwhelmed like me.

Where was my strength, my unshakable faith, my relentless striving in the face of suffering and trials?

Losing my girls has not only been the most painful experience of my life, but it has been a giant magnifying glass on who I really am. My faith and character were exposed to the core. And it wasn't always pretty.

Even before losing my girls I have been extremely impressed with those who seem to be able to persevere through extraordinary pain and adversity. I am in awe of World War II vets who fought willingly for this country despite the hell they endured, especially those who reenlisted. I am blown away by athletes who put themselves through years of hard work and pain for the chance to compete in the Olympics or earn a championship. Some competing with injuries, in unimaginable pain, just to finish what they started. I marvel at people who have lost everything they love and find a way to continue on with meaning and purpose as an example to us all.

At my daughter's funeral we played the song "It Is Well With My Soul." My uncle played it for us on his saxophone. I don't know if you are familiar with that hymn and its history, but it was written by a man named Horatio Gates Spafford. His life was full of tragedy. First his only son died of Scarlett fever at the age of four, then he lost his entire fortune in the Great Chicago Fire, but ultimately it would be the death of his four daughters at sea that inspired the hymn. His wife and daughters were on a ship that sunk on its way to England and miraculously his wife was spared, but his girls were not. He immediately boarded a ship to join his bereaved wife in England and as he passed over the very spot where his daughters perished he penned the words to the hymn:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

When my girls died I could not say it was well with my soul. It was a long time before I could see through the pain. And honestly I am still striving to get to that place of authentic soul wellness...but I'm trying.

But no longer am I relying on my own strength. It hurts to stand on a broken leg ourselves. But when someone carries us the pain significantly decreases. The healing process seems so much more manageable with help and proper care, and how blessed are we that we get PERFECT care from the God who created us and knows us best. He is, after all, Jehovah-Rapha, the Lord your healer.

Soul wellness is available to us all. If we are willing, God can do a work in us that, despite the circumstances of our lives and the pain those circumstances cause, we can still be well in our soul. We can be transformed from the inside. And we can see with new eyes.

I know how hard it is trying to embrace the healing God can offer. I know that nothing I do, not even my faith, can bring my girls back to me. And at times I wonder how my pain can ever end as long as they are not with me. It seems like a horrible contradiction.

But it isn't.

It is a miracle.

Without God there is no hope. And he is not asking us to forget or to stop feeling or to make our hurts small. He is simply asking us to trust him.

He is big enough that our pain doesn't have to shrink one molecule for him to overcome it and bring wellness to our soul. His grace is sufficient regardless of the size of our pain. He has the power and the willingness to fix whatever is ailing us. And not fix in the worldly sense either, but in his ability to supernaturally instill joy and peace in a heart that is broken. He can mend any injury, physical and emotional, and does so willingly and completely when we ask him to as many times as we require.

I will always miss my girls and hurt that they are not hear. I bear that burden because I love them. And I don't want God to take my love for them away. But I do need to experience the fullness of God's love in every way to get me through.

It will be well with my soul, not when the pain goes away, but when, despite the pain, I can rejoice in the goodness of my God.

...when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot you have taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


Yesterday I was in Aubrey and Ellie's room digging picture frames out of the closet. Empty frames that I had collected and saved for them. I was going to put their pictures in those frames and hang them up in their room.

After they died I couldn't go in their room for a long time. And when I did I felt very uncomfortable. It felt so empty in there.

Their room never got to be used for its intended purpose so by default it became sort of a catch-all room. I put guests in there when they stay overnight and use the closet for extra storage. I have yet to set up the crib for the new baby.

I still call it Aubrey and Ellie's room.

It has been getting hot here and for the first time in a long time I put the air conditioner on to cool the house. When I opened the door to Aubrey and Ellie's room to look for those picture frames a blast of hot air hit me. I walked over to the air vent and stood on the glider to open it realizing that it was closed and cool air could not blow in.

As I stood there adjusting the vent I said to myself I don't want my little girls to burn up in here.

I stepped down and paused for a minute.

Aubrey and Ellie are gone, Rachel. This room is for the new baby now. You don't want the new baby to burn up in here. You are not bringing your girls home. You are bringing your son home.

I had to take a moment to get my head back on straight. I know that Aubrey and Ellie are gone but sometimes I think my heart cries out for them in unexpected ways. I know that this baby is not them nor will he ever fill the Aubrey and Ellie shaped hole in my heart, even when he does fill the empty nursery.

But I do feel a little crazy sometimes. I still wake up some mornings and listen for them. I still have to remind myself it all really happened. And I am not sure that will ever change. Some realities take a lifetime to truly accept I think.

A few days ago my husband asked me if it is going to be weird for me to have two children. We know the knew baby will be here very soon. It is amazing how pregnancy can feel like an eternity and a blink at the same time. I told him that it won't be weird to have two, but weird not to have three. And he responded "So it already has been weird not to have three you mean."

I shook my head yes.

There was never supposed to be just two. There was one, then three, and the new baby makes four. Having two boys will be amazing. I love my two and I am thankful for my two. But two girls will always be missing. And that seems to make even the most wonderful things a little bittersweet.

I am still getting the hang of being a baby lost mama. It is a lot more tricky than I ever imagined. I get frustrated constantly adjusting and readjusting, trying to get my heart and mind on the same page, and trying to feel like I am not crazy, just still hurting.

Aubrey and Ellie's room isn't going to be their room anymore very soon. And I am very sad about it. It isn't like we moved the twins to a big girl room to make space for the new baby. It is a very painful transition and although I can't wait to bring home the new baby, I feel like the moment I put him in his room I will grieve for my girls all over again. I want to welcome him home, but I don't want to have to say goodbye to my girls again.

Sometimes I just don't know how to take the next step.
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