A dear friend “tagged” me in a note on facebook the other day as someone who “inspired” her, and it made me cry.
Not because I was so honored to have been chosen for such an auspicious honor. 😉 That was nice, yes. But it was the lady who listed me that way whose memory brought the tears. Having often considered writing about her and never done so, the tag was the push for me to go ahead and tell her story, which is dearer to me now than it was when it happened.
It’s been 13 years now since that day. We lived in a small town in West Texas on the edge of the Chihuauan Desert, which is as lovely and welcoming a place as the name would indicate. When we were contemplating the move there, we asked my husband’s uncle, who lived in Austin, what the landscape was like and he said after a brief pause, “Well, picture the surface of the moon . . .” Point taken. Anyway, while the scenery left something (okay, lots of things) to be desired, the people were wonderful. I used to posit that it was because they knew they’d *better* be nice to one another, because there was nothing else to do. Whatever the reasons, we loved our church and I was part of a small group of women who met often for Bible study and discussion.
One of our favorite couples was Dave and Melissa. They were the sweetest of the sweet; you know, the type of people who never had a bad word to say about anyone, who were always loving and giving and reaching out to others. The type of people you thought nothing bad could or *should* ever happen to. After having struggled with her health for some time, Melissa was thrilled in 1997 to finally receive news that she was expecting. We were thrilled for them! What wonderful parents they would be. Our entire group was just giddy over it all.
Then one night after a Wednesday church service, I turned to see Melissa a few rows back talking with another of the girls in our group. Heading back to join them, I caught a glimpse of her face and knew something was wrong. Dazed, she told me . . . she’d had an appointment that day and the doctor said there was no heartbeat. He said the baby had died; that she should schedule the delivery of her no-longer-with-us child. She got halfway through the sentence before the tears came, and we clung together in the sanctuary in disbelief. When we could talk again, I asked what the plan was, and she told me that they didn’t feel they were to just accept the word of the doctors. They planned to believe that God was bigger than the diagnosis, and that if the baby had indeed passed away, that He could certainly reverse death if He so chose. They’d told the doctors no, there would be no scheduled induction (which at that early stage would certainly have meant death if it hadn’t already taken place) and they were going home to pray.
And so we prayed. We all prayed, and prayed, and prayed.
We prayed until God told them they had to let go.
I remember the day of the funeral, all the funeral bagpipes playing, it was extremely sad. I hadn’t even known it was possible to do such a thing–to hold a funeral for such a tiny, tiny person, only a few months in the making. My husband, who loved David as I did my friend, was kind enough to come with me out to the cemetery on that cold, blustery January day where many of our friends had gathered to be with them, try to offer awkward, inadequate suppoprt in their grief. He’d taken my arm and headed for the front but I faltered, then steered him to the far edges of the crowd, fearing my own ability to hold it together and what on earth our beloved pastor was going to say about all this pain, this mysterious giving and taking away . . . this evidence of the fall. I was surprised so many of us were there but glad to have the support myself–I, who had been overly blessed and held my own three gifts tighter those nights of grief and wondered, “Why? Why them?” I couldn’t see Melissa through the crowd. My heart caught, though, at the sight of a box, so much smaller than those boxes ever should be . . . time began to warp. Pastor began to speak . . . words of wisdom and life. Told them–told us all–some of the reasons, the elephant-in-the-cemetery-“whys” of what had happened. He said so many wise things and they all wrapped us tight; reminded us of God’s love even when we couldn’t understand it. Some of the world righted itself as he spoke. I don’t remember everything he said, but there was one particular thing that stood out . . . I remember him telling David and Melissa that God had made them into parents the day that baby was conceived, whether he ever looked into their eyes or smiled or threw his dad a baseball or his mother a kiss. And that they had parented well. They had clung to life, to God; and never let go until He told them it was the right thing to do–the only thing left for them to do for the precious baby they’d already loved with all their strength.
And then . . . the song. The first notes floated out, words of heat, warmth, life challenging cold air and they stung hard and throat caught and the sobs wouldn’t stay down either . . .
“Arise, My Love; Arise, My Love,
The grave no longer has a hold on You
No more death’s sting, no more suffering,
Arise, arise, My Love . . . ”
And I thought my heart would burst and I wondered that she was still standing and I watched to see if that tiny box was going to open, because if faith and longing and love could have done it, it would have . . .
I sobbed the big, ugly cry I’d feared and everyone around did too and we stood there together under a cold grey sky and longed for salvation, for home, for our Jesus Who had overcome death to show up somehow and tell us it was okay.
It was probably a week later when the holy moment came. There have been a few in my life, places I’ve felt like taking my shoes off, places something remarkable and un-natural was happening and I was in awe. It was a Sunday morning and I was singing in choir. We were rejoicing in the Lord and His goodness and enjoying communion with brothers and sisters, and cemeteries were far away and there was so much life in the room, and we sang “Better is one day in Your courts, better is one day in Your house . . . ”
and I saw her.
Saw my grieving, bereft friend, her face beautiful and alight, with arms so recently left empty uplifted . . . and she was singing . . .
and the devil shook his fist and all of hell quaked and my heart caught again but this time on grace.
And I learned something: that this foundation would hold. I’d wondered it often in those days of darkness and cloud, wondered if I could live through such a thing were the places reversed. And now I knew. God was enough, is enough; could hold up, could hold *me* up, if ever I were to face the unfaceable.
I stepped out of my shoes onstage and let the tears come.