You have turned my mourning into dancing:
You have loosed my sackcloth
And clothed me with gladness,
That my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
A few weeks ago, a sweet friend of mine and fellow loss mom posed an intriguing question on social media: “How do you know if something is coincidence or if it’s God?” This is a question with which I’ve wrestled myself, especially over the last two years. I didn’t comment. It’s a difficult question to answer. When your world has always been painted from top to bottom with black and white, it’s sometimes difficult to detect the vibrance of the Master Painter’s hand. One might think the contrast would be obvious. But it’s not always. When you’re not looking for color, for beauty, are you less likely to see it?
Some would argue that since we can never know with certainty when something is without-a-doubt God, then we shouldn’t ever attribute anything to Him. What if we are wrong in our assumption, and we attribute something to God that He had no hand in? While I can follow this line of argument, still I question. What would be the greater mistake? To attribute something to God, even if He was not actively a part of it, and in the process direct others’ attention to Him and bring glory to His name? Or to fail to give Him credit for something that He has done–no honor, no glory?
Then there are those beautiful, precious gifts that seem to be so unmistakably God. Another very dear friend of mine braved a response to the original post that began, “Assume it’s God. Thank Him and handle the situation as you think He would want.” In those most precious moments–those gifts of His love–how would He want me to handle the situation? In the question, I happened upon Psalm 30:11-12. If He turns my mourning into dancing, removes the heavy cloak of grief that I’ve worn for so long and replaces it with a flowing gown of joy, then He surely has done so for a reason–that my glory may sing His praise and not. be. silent.
I have thought long and hard about this story and how to tell it. What should be my approach? How do I introduce it? What details do I include? I think I’m overthinking. What else is new? The analysis has kept me silent, but it is time to sing. Therefore, I have decided just to tell the story. It doesn’t have to be fancy; God’s handiwork is frilly enough in this one. I will let it speak.
December has become a difficult month for me. I’ve always loved the magic of the Christmas season, but the busy-ness overwhelms me. Since Christmas of 2015, grief has added a numbness that made the busy-ness that much more difficult. Many times over the last two years, I have wished that I could just fast-forward through it. However, with children and birthdays (We have a two-week Powell party at our house!), fast-forwarding is not an option. And truthfully, I wouldn’t want to fast forward through a solitary minute with my babies. Sometimes the minutes are just hard.
This past December was no exception. I was feeling distant, numb, disconnected. But early in the month, I felt a great reassurance of God’s presence and His light. Here’s a post from December 3, in case you missed it on the first go-round:
On the way to worship this morning we drove through some pretty thick fog. We passed through downtown Birmingham, emergency lights flashing because we couldn’t see even one car link in front of us or behind us. My mind began swirling. Sometimes I still feel like I’m LIVING in that fog–fog so dense that I can’t see what’s behind me (because much of the last two years has literally been wiped from my memory with only faint traces here and there), and I have no idea what’s ahead. Often I feel guilty about it. I feel like I shouldn’t be here anymore, and yet I am. The realization that the fog could potentially exist for the rest of my earthly life is overwhelming. All of these things are rolling over and over in my mind when there is a sudden and very abrupt break. It’s not a gradual lifting of the fog; it’s just GONE. And in its place…a BRILLIANT, almost cloudless blue sky, the sun so bright, we had to shield our eyes. To go from such dense, grey fog to dazzling light in a matter of seconds was breathtaking.
But the most amazing part… While I was lost in the fog of my mind, playing just under the radar of my consciousness, “God, come quickly! Only You can save me! Will You lead me where the light is?” And at THAT MOMENT, there was the light, so bright that I couldn’t bear to look TOWARD it, much less INTO it. And you know one of the things I was praying for specifically last week? Sunshine! I wasn’t thinking so much about literal sunshine as much as SONshine and the warmth of God’s love, but He gave me BOTH.
I have faith that God WILL somehow, in some way, at some point (whether now or in eternity) lead me where the light is. I pray that He does it quickly in the here and now, but if not that He will grant me contentment and clarity. In the meantime, in the waiting, I trust that He is doing His best work, molding me and preparing me for whatever He will reveal when the fog lifts. So I will pray, and I will wait actively, and I will confess my shortcomings, and I will pray more (Chuck Webster as always, thank you for such a great lesson! The timing was amazing!). And I know that it will be exceedingly abundantly above anything I could ever imagine.
It was almost as if God was beckoning to us, asking us to follow His lead out of the fog and into His light.
It consumed me throughout week. I decided to add to my daily prayer list the following week: “Take the evil and suffering in our lives and use it for good.” It dawned on me, much to my shame, that in all the prayers I had audibly sobbed or the ones that I mouthed through silent tears into the darkness, I had never asked God to take the pain and work it into a beautiful masterpiece. I had just assumed that He would, like the selfish teenager who just expects a car for her sweet sixteen. After all, He is in the redeeming business. I had prayed specifically about the ways in which I thought it best for Him to do that. I had prayed about an opportunity to volunteer at a Women’s Clinic, hoping that my story might save the lives of babies like my girl and give purpose to her loss. I had prayed about adoption. We had met with two separate agencies, and I had literature from five, but it just felt impossible. The doors weren’t budging. Anywhere. So, as I prayed, I imagined God opening one of these doors for us to step through. Also, in my Bible study that week, I read in I Peter 5:10-11, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” I prayed those words specifically over our family. Since we had suffered, could He, would He now restore, confirm, strengthen and establish us?
The month continued. We sang of joy to the world, peace on Earth, but they were words without meaning. Darrell and I both had a hard time “getting into the spirit”. We decorated and pushed ourselves to fulfill family traditions and obligations anyway, but the actions were very robotic. I’ve always been a good gift-giver, especially for my own children. I know them and know what things will bring that extra sparkle to their eyes. But this Christmas, I had to ask them to make lists. I felt like a failure. I told Darrell that I was tired of having “things” just for the sake of having a present under the tree at Christmas. Our move over the summer had convinced me that we had way too much. I didn’t want “things” for Christmas. I asked for heart gifts–rings with my babies’ names engraved on them, a new journaling Bible, and a 2018 planner. That was all. Little did I know that God had His own gift prepared for us that would shock my heart into overdrive. On Christmas morning, our entire family received the most special gift we have ever received–a tiny little plus sign the size of a fingertip and the promise of hope.
Three weeks after God had literally led us out of the fog and into the light; three weeks after I had open-endedly prayed for Him to turn our suffering into good in whatever way He saw fit; three weeks after I had asked Him specifically to restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish our family…Three weeks later, we learned that I was five weeks pregnant. PREGNANT!!! FIVE WEEKS!!! If you’re not a woman, or one that has been overly concerned with her cycle, you might not know that the first two weeks of pregnancy are basically freebies. You’re not “technically” pregnant until the third(ish) week, give or take…which would mark the date of conception sometime during THAT week!
Of all the things I had asked of God, I had not once dared even to whisper for a baby. There was nothing–nothing–that I wanted more. However, after Thea’s loss, we learned that I was born with a bicornuate, septate uterus. Quite frankly, my doctor was shocked that I had Eli and Eden–period–much less without complications. The probability of another baby like Thea was rather high, and rather terrifying. After much prayer, study, deliberation, anguish, and more prayer, we decided not to decide. We made a prayerful choice to ask for what was best over what we wanted. I knew that sometimes God gives us what we want, even when it’s not what’s best…cue the nation of Israel and her kings. We didn’t want a baby, no matter what it took; we wanted our King. What if another pregnancy would end like Thea’s and God knew that it would be too much for our family? What if something happened to me, and my children had to grow up without their Mama? Giving that decision to God was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. Though it crushed my heart, my fear wanted to blow the whistle and call “The End”. But we decided to choose faith instead; we trusted that He knew what was best and would act accordingly.
So for two years, we prayed that He would make the decision that was best for our family. And for two years, that answer was “no”. We watched as other loss friends had empty arms filled with new love, and we listened as they spoke of incomparable healing. We even heard our doctor speak the word “infertility” into our hearts only four short months ago. But what science quickly dismissed as infertility, we claimed as Providence. He was obviously at work in our lives, even if His work was in preventing a pregnancy. How could we be disappointed with His hand directly involved in our lives? Even though the “no” was disappointing, it was exhilarating to know that He was with us in this.
I know there will be skeptics who question our decision. Isn’t it selfish to risk the life of a baby knowing that our choice could be the cause of his/her demise? I would be lying if I said that those questions hadn’t clouded my mind as well. But I realize that this decision was not ours. For two years, God prevented it. He certainly could have prevented it for the remainder of our child-bearing years. But this one time, He said “yes” to something beautiful in our lives. Given our prayers and the timing, I could never deny that this is His gift–His unbelievably joyous gift.
Regardless of how this story ends, I have faith that it will be beautiful. That is specifically what I asked, and this is how He answered. I am not naive enough to believe that the only way in which that can be accomplished is through a successful pregnancy with a healthy baby and mom. I’ve thought much and often of the story of Joseph. He endured much evil in the process of God’s beautiful rewrite of his narrative. His ways are mysterious, but He is faithful and steadfast through them all. Whether we introduce you to a healthy baby in August or an angel sometime before that, this story is already beautiful because it is hand-picked for our family from GOD!
2016 was hands down the hardest year of my life. Pregnancy trouble began on January 7. Thea was born at 21 weeks on January 18. I don’t have many other specific memories of that year. Maybe in a God-given blessing, it has been almost entirely wiped from my memory. Last week, our preacher spoke about a two-letter Hebrew word found in Psalm 62 that is often translated in different ways. In this psalm alone, it is translated in the ESV as “alone” (vv. 1, 2, 5, 8), “only” (vv. 4, 6), and “but” (v. 9). In Hebrew, it precedes a statement that–based on a previous experience–might not come naturally or easily. It is an implied nevertheless. [I have endured this or that great hardship.] Nevertheless, my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. Nevertheless, He is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken. Listening to the lesson, I thought, “That was my 2016.” I spent the year convincing my heart to cling to these truths that my head was urging me to accept. God is my rock, my salvation, my fortress. He is. He is. He is! If I said it enough times, maybe it would stick.
It took almost a full year of convincing, but by the beginning of 2017, my heart had accepted, and I was ready to grow. I decided to spend that yearfocused on faith in my personal Bible study –what is it? Who is this God that I’ve placed so much faith in? How does He work? Does He work?
So here’s a basic outline of my life over the past two years:
2016: Clinging to Faith
2017: Growing in Faith
Looks like 2018 will be Living by Faith.
“For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Ps. 30:5). I don’t know how many times I’ve read this verse over the past two years and wondered how long I would have to wait before my morning would begin to dawn. Sometimes the night is long. And it feels eternal. But I’m just beginning to see the breaking of the sun, and it’s so beautiful! (Our hearts are with those who are still “in the waiting”.) Indeed, He has turned our mourning into dancing. He has reclothed our grieving hearts with gladness. And we will tell anyone willing to listen that He is faithful. We cannot be silent.