strength in the ashes

Angie of Bring the Rain brings our Are You There, God? It's Me, Medusa blogolympics to a close, rounding out a month of new voices that's left us all deeply moved, comforted and invigorated in the heart.

Angie lost her first child to miscarriage in January of 2002, and lost her fourth daughter Audrey Caroline shortly after birth on April 7th, 2008 due to conditions that made her incompatible with life. In her writing, Angie has shared what often feels like an intimate conversation between God and herself, a Christian walking the path of spirit-baby motherhood.

Speaking to the extraordinary response she received on her October 15th post to acknowledge the sisterhood (and brotherhood) of babyloss, she writes: "If you believe in Him tonight, you will know what it feels like to trust completely in the One who holds you high above the discernible ground. You know that it isn't always perfect, and it isn't always easy. It is entirely possible that something will give way and you will fall, head first into the ache that is this life.

But on the other hand, you'll never know unless you jump."

"Jacob, where do you find the strength to carry on in life?"
"Life is often heavy only because we attempt to carry it," said Jacob. "But I do find a strength in the ashes."
"In the ashes?" asked Mr. Gold.
"Yes," said Jacob, with a confirmation that seemed to have traveled a great distance. "You see, Mr. Gold, each of us is alone. Each of us is in the great darkness of our ignorance. And, each of us is on a journey. In the process of our journey, we must bend to build a fire for light, and warmth, and food. But when our fingers tear at the ground, hoping to find the coals of another's fire, what we often find is the ashes.
And, in those ashes, which will not give us light or warmth, there may be sadness, but there is also testimony. Because these ashes tell is that somebody else has been in the night, somebody else has bent to build a fire, and somebody else has carried on. And that can be enough, sometimes."
—Noah benShea

I was about 18 weeks along when they told me she wouldn't live. After the diagnosis, the doctor asked me how I felt, and I replied, "My Jesus is the same as He was before I walked in here." I believed it. I still believe it.

But it hurts.

We decided (against medical advice) to carry her as long as possible because we wanted to leave room for God to perform a miracle. I spent the next several months answering difficult questions from strangers about when my baby was due, what we were naming her, whether or not she would have red hair like her sisters, what were we thinking to have another baby when we already have three daughters aged 5 and under. The sweet shape of my growing tummy belied the truth. She wasn't going to be ours. Not the way we wanted her to be.

I spent many, many nights in tears of panic and desperation. I realized something about my faith that I hadn't known up until that point in time: I really believed in Him.

It's one thing to say it. It is another thing entirely to do it.

I found myself curled up in bed after the kids were sleeping, talking to the Lord like He was a friend sitting beside me. I told Him about Audrey and the way I loved her. I told Him I didn't think I could live without her, that I wanted it to be a dream. He never failed to meet me where I was, when I had nothing else that spoke to me. And so, in the darkest season of my life, I found myself falling head over heels in love with the God who held her life in His hands.

I think that as Christians, we are sometimes tempted to believe that if our faith is where it is supposed to be, we won't fear, we won't be disappointed, we won't mourn what we have lost in this life. Well, I am here to tell you that I have been through the worst of it, and it was, well, the worst of it. I didn't walk around life exclaiming my joy about the impending birth (and death) or my daughter. I remember driving home from (of all places) a baby shower for a good friend of mine. The rain was splashing all over my car and I started screaming and pounding the wheel. "You can FIX this Lord. You can heal her! DO IT! HEAL HER! HEAL HER!!!"

He talked to me about Who He was, and He led me to Scripture that I could press into. He earned in me a faithful follower, and in return, He taught me the power of ashes.

On April 7th, 2008, we met our sweet Audrey. She went to be with the Lord after about 2 hours, and it was bittersweet to say the least. We studied her bellybutton, the bottom of her feet, her rosebud lips. We held her, sang to her, prayed over her. We loved her as if we had always known her, and then, in the blink of an eye, she was gone.

We held her for many hours after she died, and I would be lying if I said that I didn't have it out with God during that time. I would be lying if I said I haven't had it out with Him every day since then. Yes, I believe. Absolutely. I don't know how to not believe.

But I don't understand.

I want you to know that if you have made your way to this site because you have walked across a cemetery to spend time with a child you cannot parent, I am sorry. If you have miscarried so early that you don't even have a physical marker of your sweet baby, I am sorry. If you are a mother who is without your daughter or your son tonight, I want you to know that I am praying for you as I type these words, and I am broken because I know the hurt of an unrealized dream.

We may not believe in the same God, and we may not attend the same church. We may not ever meet in this life, but I want you to know that from the deepest part of me, I am sorry that your hands have had to dig deep into the earth alongside mine, desperately searching for coals. We are united in the most undesirable of ways, but tonight, I am grateful to have women who remind me that I have permission to feel the way I feel, and above all, whisper in the dark of night, You are not alone.

And sometimes, that can be enough.

...and provide for those who grieve in Zion-
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair...
Isaiah 61:2-3