Three of my friends gave birth to baby girls in the month of August. One of them was born asleep.
Two of them announced the news about their daughters on social media on the same day. A local friend posted a photo celebrating the safe arrival of their surprise baby girl after two boys, and right beneath it in my feed was an announcement from my dear friend Emily that their baby girl after two boys was delivered still born. I knew that both of them were coming. I had already seen both of the photos. But seeing them on top of each other took my breath. The tension was thick that day for me. And it would only grow thicker.
I went to the hospital with my husband to hold this little unexpected blessing, holding hurt in my heart for the loss of one little girl as I celebrated and delighted in the one I held the other in my arms; So thankful to be with this friend in her moment of joy and so longing to be with the other as she wept.
A few days later I received that longed for invitation, and made the four hour journey to be with Emily. Her husband was going back to work, and I was there to shoulder some of the burden of caring for children, cooking meals, doing the dishes, and just deciding what to do next. Mostly I was there just to be there; to be present in the pain. I played with the kids one afternoon while she took a shower, and she came back downstairs holding a memory box the hospital had provided for them. I love their boys like my own, and this was all of their precious Lily I would ever see or know. I touched the blanket she had been wrapped in. I held in my hands a tiny hat stained with blood and amniotic fluid that had been placed on her beautiful premature head. I fingered a tiny beaded bracelet a nurse had made with her name, and stared through tears at her baby doll sized hand and footprints beside her recorded height and weight, too small and too soon. Emily quietly slid her lap top over and we clicked through pictures of her tiny hands and feet, covered with delicate, breaking skin. We delighted in images of her beautiful face, pointing out features that looked like each of her brothers and laughing through tears that God had spared her from her mother's inherited childhood uni-brow.
Those tears spilled out as I took in every detail of the photos my friend had intentionally captured: the rain on the window, one of Lily with just her mama, one of Lily being held by her daddy, one of both of them seated on the hospital bed holding their sleeping daughter, and one with her tiny hand between both of theirs, donned with rings promising faithfulness for better or worse. 86 photos. All the photos they would ever have of their daughter.
While I was there, I received word from my closest local friend, Rebecca, that she was in labor, they made the decision not to find out gender, but I heard not long after that she had given birth to a baby girl. Her desire was that I would be able to meet their baby in the hospital, and by God's grace the timing of this trip and their release worked out that I could. I drove home, after a painful goodbye, filled with prayers entrusting my friend to the Lord, and sat in thick tension for that four hour drive of the eager expectation of meeting the surprise miracle daughter of one best friend and the bitter grief of never getting to know or love on the daughter of another.
I was overjoyed to walk into the hospital room and see my dear friend seated in a recovery bed beside a baby we had prayed for so fervently sleeping peacefully in a basinet. I hugged my friend, in a scenario we had both resigned we'd ever know after years of infertility, and picked up the beautiful baby girl God grew in her womb. I ran my fingers over her hat and blanket, and thumbed her warm, plump, soft, life filled cheeks. I studied her face, making comments about whose eyes and nose she had and celebrating her beautiful features.
A week later this tension is still thick for me. At least once a day I weep in confusion, in sadness, or in gratitude. I weep in wonder over both God's purposes for allowing death to strike the wombs of his loved ones and wonder at his kindness in allowing life to flourish in a fallen world. These baby girls, Lily and Nancy, are individuals, fearfully and wonderfully made with unique purposes. All the their days of life were known by God before he knit them together in the wombs of their mothers. And yet, distinct from each other as they are, I cannot help but experience them in terms of one another. Lily's death causes Nan's birth to feel even more miraculous to me. Nan's life deepens my sense of loss over Lily. Joy and sorrow mingle. They magnify one another. Grief and gratitude both temper and multiply each other.
But I am overwhelmingly grateful for the privilege to fulfill these commands in this context, simultaneously weeping with one who weeps and rejoicing with one who rejoices as both of them have bravely and boldly wept and rejoiced with the other from a distance.
That dining room table and that recovery room are sacred places to be welcomed into. To weep and rejoice in the same space with the one who has lost or received, with detailed knowledge of history and the intimate knowledge of a person born from time and faithful friendship. In this space where two or three are gathered he feels so near, so unmistakable. I am deeply humbled by the privilege of being with them in these sacred spaces, having been knit together with them by his Spirit through friendship. They have given me the gift of beholding the power of presence, mine with them and God's with us.
It is a unique gift to experience community this way. To lose concern for self or social standing in someone else's moment. And yet the power of these moments and my place within them cause me to pause and consider what he's revealing of himself to me.
Their invitation to enter in to these sacred spaces of grief and gratitude are invitations from him to see his goodness, the way he works, the nature of his character, the power of his promises, and his immeasurable capacity to be with us in joy and sorrow, to ache with us and rejoice over us in all places at all times. I know more of the heart of Christ in this tension: in his weeping beside the tomb of Lazarus even with the knowledge of the joy set before him. He is nearer to them than I am. He is with them as I leave. And as he brings my heart near to theirs in weeping and rejoicing, he is near to me. I know more of his ministry as he ministers to me as I attempt to minister to them. I know more of the power of his presence in the tension of the already and the not yet, the victory won and the battle raging on.
I am encouraged most of all that in joy and sorrow, both of these beautiful women treasure Christ above all else. His promises are the cause for their joy, in good times and bad. The birth and death of the daughters of my two dearest friends are a foretaste of glory and an aftertaste of the bitter fruit of the fall. Both of them leave the same phrase on my lips "Come Lord Jesus, come. Come and make all things new."