We are all thankful for our families, our jobs, the roofs over our heads, the warm bed at night, the food on the table. We may take those blessings for granted and forget to appreciate them, but when we pause and think our hearts move toward thankfulness.
Then there are the other things. The bad things. The gifts I didn't want. And I am not talking about turtleneck sweaters or toe socks. No, the gifts I am thinking on are things like sickness, disease, tragic accident, betrayal, divorce, victimization, addictions, neurosis, depression, and death. The list could go on and on. I don't know what you have experienced in your life, but I promise you this life will have pain and sorrow and grief. But, don't take my word for it. Jesus said "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).
I wrote a couple of days ago about Taylor, my wonderful eighteen year old daughter. And now I want to tell you about my other daughter. Her name is Ansley and she is waiting for me in heaven. She was stillborn at thirty eight weeks gestation. Everything was perfect throughout the pregnancy and, in fact, she was perfect too. However, the umbilical cord had a weak spot and crimped, and cut off her life before I would get to hold her in my arms.
Sixteen years later, that day in my mind is like a 3D movie with surround sound. I remember going to bed and thinking that I wasn't sure that I had felt the baby move that day. We were moving back into our home in south Georgia after the flood of '94 and it had been a busy day of unpacking and organizing. I fell into bed exhausted and thinking that I would feel Ansley move during the night.
However, I slept straight through the night and immediately upon waking told Kevin that we needed to go to the doctor. I told the nurse my fear and she assured me that everything was going to be fine and she began to search for a heartbeat. After a moment or two of searching, her expression changed and she left the room to get the doctor.
Dr. Gatewood came in and tried finding a heartbeat; there was none. I was moved to a room with an ultrasound machine. The ultrasound confirmed what the doctor and nurse knew, Ansley was no longer living and growing or moving.
The pangs of grief that began to shoot through my heart were pushed aside temporarily as I focused on Taylor, two and a half at the time. She had come with us because we had left in a hurry and hadn't expected bad news. Kevin had taken her out of the room during the ultrasound. We hadn't told her anything yet. How do you tell your two year old that she is not going to be a big sister right now after all?
I don't remember exactly what I said to her. I'm sure I talked about heaven and being with Jesus. Those words could have been empty, but they weren't. I really believed all that God had promised. I still believe that one day I will be together again with Ansley, with my grandparents, and with all other believers in Christ. There will be a resurrection of the dead and there will be a judgement. And I have the righteousness of Christ covering me and opening the way to heaven for me. Speaking comforting words to Taylor was part of God's ministering comfort to me. The promises were true and I could depend upon Him.
Of course, that does not mean that I did not grieve. I lost a precious daughter and because I already had one sweet daughter, the reality of the loss was that much clearer. I wouldn't experience Ansley's coos and smiles and giggles and hugs. I wouldn't get to just hold her near to soothe her cries. On this side of heaven, I wouldn't get to hear, "Mama" from her lips. The grief was very real and painful. It would come like an ocean wave when I didn't expect it. Stabbing, throbbing, emptiness. Where there should be a child, there was not.
And yet at the very same time, during those trials of grief, loss, pain, and tears I experienced a tremendous strength and peace from God. It was as if I was being carried along on the arms of God. Deuteronomy 33:27 promises, "The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms." When I needed to weep and to cry out my questions, my refuge was God. My strength was gone and I was lifted up by Him. My heart was ripped open and He was there holding me and healing me. God's grace went beyond words on a page and into the reality of my suffering. Those everlasting arms are real.
Am I thankful for this loss? No. Am I thankful for the pain? No. First Thessalonians 5:18 commands, "Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."
I know God does not expect me to be thankful for loss, grief, and death. Those are consequences of the fallen world in which I live. But I was thankful IN the loss. I found myself being especially thankful for my extended family, for the daughter I did have, for my gracious church family, for His mercies and His peace, for His promises, for the realness of heaven.
The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.