This picture was taken one year ago today. It popped up on my phone this Wednesday afternoon and with it came joy, remembering, and sadness. Mostly sadness.
I remember taking that walk with my sister, Ellie. The weather was exactly like it is today in Indiana as I write this – a new warmth, brilliant blue sky – and the neighbors were waving enthusiastically at us as the birds chirped new songs in the barely budding trees above. I remember seeing those buds, just like I saw some today, and connecting them to the budding new life in me that was about to enter the world.
I dialogued with Ellie about whether or not to post that picture at the time. I was elated that after one lost life, God had granted us the joy of a full-term pregnancy, but I also felt a stab of pain with my own knowledge of what that picture would mean in the eyes of the childless. I knew that pain, too.
Ellie is a very convincing youngest child though, and so the picture was posted.
I knew Timehop (an app that shows you what you posted in past years on this date) would be featuring that picture on my phone soon, and yet, the sight of it still stabbed me. I know that baby now. His name is Tage. And under other circumstances, it would have been a happy photo to see…but not today.
Today, my face is held under the water, and I can barely breathe. I don’t want to come up for fear of what I might find, for fear of all the “anniversaries” that are coming up this week: due date, induction, birth, going home, and the four month mark since he’s been gone. My eyes are red with tears, and my heart is gray with grief. Today, all I want to do is hold Tage, and I can’t.
But today, on my journey of reading through the Bible, I found myself in the book of Job. Job knew even more grief and pain than me. Not only did he lose his children, but he also lost his business, his home, his servants, his health, and the respect of the people in the community who all accused him of having greatly sinned.
Sometimes I have to tell myself that if he made it, so can I.
So, I was reading the words of my friend, Job, and he spoke for me what I was too afraid to admit:
“What I always feared has happened to me. What I dreaded has come to be. I have no peace, no quietness. I have no rest; instead, only trouble comes.”
“If my sadness could be weighed and my troubles be put on scales, they would be heavier that all the sands of the sea.”
“For the Almighty has struck me down with His arrows…Don’t I have a right to complain?”
“I wish He would reach out His hand and kill me. At least I can take comfort in this: Despite the pain, I have not denied the words of the Holy One.”
“But I do not have the strength to endure. I do not have a goal that encourages me to carry on.”
“Is this not the struggle of all humanity? A person’s life is long and hard, like that of a hired hand, like a worker who longs for the day to end, like a servant waiting to be paid.”
“When will it be morning? But the night drags on…”
“Oh, how I long to speak directly to the Almighty.” (from Ch. 5, 6, 7, 13)
These are verses in God’s Word that speak to my soul today. These are the prayers of lament.
As a child, I learned to pray using the acrostic ACTS: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. But in this season of my life, I find the acronym that worked very well for me as a child is missing my adult laments, my pain, my questions — all which must be placed before the Almighty in the midst of my deep grief and sorrow.
This is a new kind of praying for me. For months after Tage’s diagnosis and death, I couldn’t pray at all. The words would not come. I had nothing to say to God, yet so many restless thoughts swirled in my head. I was struck speechless by the weight of my sorrow.
During those months, I clung to the knowledge that we had many friends and strangers praying on our behalf, and I trusted Romans 8:26 which says,
“the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”
Yes, groans. That’s how I felt. So many gut-wrenching groans.
But now as the storm has passed, I look at our post-tsunami life littered with debris and brokenness wondering, What just happened to us? And I look at the newly budding trees, the melting snow, the blue skies, and the way the March sunlight hits the kitchen floor, and I want to know why these joyful spring changes have to cause tears.
I need to lament before my God. I need to run into His open arms, lean my head against His barrel chest, and bawl like a girl who’s just had her heart ripped out. I need to ask my questions, shout my anger, and empty my Grief Cup at the feet of the only One who sees my past, my present, and my future.
The Bible gives us the example of how to do it. Not just once, but time and time again. Job laments in the book of Job. Jeremiah laments throughout a whole book titled Lamentations. And David laments throughout the book of Psalm. Even Jesus lamented when He prayed, “My God, My God. Why have You forsaken me?” Why have I missed this part of my prayers until now? Why did I think God couldn’t handle my darkest doubts and questions and my hot, salty tears? Why did I think a “good” Christian woman wouldn’t need to lament? Why did I not believe He would provide the comfort I need most?
So, today, after I walked and stood in the exact place where that photo was taken a year ago today (sometimes I can be a little dramatic), I came home and sat in my chair with my Bible and learned how to lament. I pictured Jesus sitting across from me in the other chair, and I looked over to where He was sitting, just as if we were having coffee together, and I spoke out loud all my angry questions, hot tears and all.
“Lord, can’t you see I’m dying inside?” I wept out loud. “I can’t keep going. I miss Tage too much. I don’t know why You took him from us. What are you doing? My heart is breaking, and I don’t like living without him. I miss saying his name and talking to him in little voices and dancing to Motown in the kitchen. Our home is so quiet, and I don’t know what to do with the empty days. What am I supposed to do now? I feel like I’ve lost my purpose and my joy. I just want to be taking care of Tage. Why did you allow genetic mutations into our family? There are babies everywhere, and I don’t know if I will ever get to carry another one. You are the one who placed this desire in my heart, and now you’re ripping my heart to pieces. Why?! Why, Lord?! I don’t have enough strength for today let alone this week of anniversaries, and I dread facing this sorrow for the years to come. I am so overwhelmed, Jesus. I need to feel your nearness. What do I do?”
Tears streamed down my face as I tried to catch my breath between sobs.
And do you know what He did? He whispered those same soothing words He’s spoken to me since September: Molly, I’m here. I hear your groanings. I see you hurting, and I cry with you. I am not flippant in what I do. So I need you to trust that I’ve still got this. I took care of Job, and I will take care of you. The story is not over.
I took a deep breath as my shoulders went down once again. After twenty minutes of expressing my despair and sorrow, I felt like I had really spoken with Jesus. My heart calmed. I had spoken to the Almighty, and I knew He heard me. I knew He cried, too, right there in my sun room.
A few moments later after I caught my breath, I saw some fluttering behind me, and looked out the window to see an astounding fourteen fat robins perched in the bare branch just outside my window. They were all facing the sun — chests puffed out, eyes closed, beaks smiling — soaking up the warmth like feathered, Floridian beach bums. I had never seen anything like it, and I couldn’t help but smile at their cartoonish contentment.
And then another Whisper…
“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” — Jesus (Matthew 6:26).
So now the shock has faded, and it is time to come to God with my groanings, not just once, but whenever the Grief Cup gets sloshy. Job is teaching me how. For chapters upon chapters, he laments to the Lord. He pours out his agony over and over again to his God, and he doesn’t apologize for it.
We don’t need to apologize to God for our tears and our asking Him to remind us what we know when we have forgotten it again.
Then smack-dab in the middle of his groaning, he turns on a dime for a mere three verses, and he remembers:
“I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!” (vs. 25-27)
Then, he goes back to his lament.
But for a few short moments, in the midst of the grief, he stops to remember. He remembers his Hope.
It’s hard for me to remember my Hope in the midst of this week, a week that a year ago I envisioned would be bursting with smiles and family celebrations and a naked, one-year-old boy in a highchair smashing cake on his face.
I hate this. I hate that what I had hoped for is not so. My heart is aching and my body is exhausted and I really just want this whole next month to pass quickly. But I am thankful for a God who lets me just be — just as I am, no pretending, no faking.
Just guttural grief and lament.
And He comforts like a friend: He listens and He loves. No quick fixes or mentions of putting on your big girl pants or comparison stories of whose grief is worse.
Just listening and loving.
Today, I am embracing lament. And I do so with the Hope that one day, after I’ve done the bitter work of grief and expressed the shameless songs of lament, the sun will once again shine on my smiling beak, too.