God Speaks Through the Storm, Part Eight
If you’ve missed any part of this series, click on any post directly below.
Part Two-My Storms in a nutshell
Part Four-More Depression
Part Five-Even More Depression
Part Six-Guest Post, Dan Blanchard
Part Seven-The Last Depression Post
Part Eight-Death of a Child
Part Nine-Death of a Child
Part Ten-Guest Post, Holly Good
Part Eleven-Death of a Child
Part Twelve-Death of a Child
Part Thirteen, Death of a Child
Part Fourteen, Death of a Child
Part Fifteen, Death of a Child
Part Sixteen, Conclusion
I’m going to shift gears here a bit for the remainder of this series. Instead of talking specifically about God speaking through the storm of depression, I’m going to discuss the other major storm in my life: the death of my son.
(To read the circumstances surrounding Noah’s death, click here.)
I know most of you have never suffered this particular loss. But all of you have endured, will endure or are currently enduring a major life storm. Storms far, far worse than anything I’ve experienced.
The truths God spoke to me through my loss and since my loss changed me so profoundly, I sort of feel like I have a “Before Noah’s Death” life and an “After Noah’s Death” life. You Storm-Survivors out there know what I’m talking about. And because God spoke to me so specifically and changed me so radically, my prayer has always been that God would use my pain to benefit as many people as possible. And today, that means YOU.
So don’t worry that I’m going to drone on and on about the details of our loss. I won’t. But I will use my experience as a launching pad to communicate to you, what I hope to be, very practical truths you can apply to any major storm of life.
And as you know, I always lighten up for Fitness Friday. So if this is too heavy for you, by all means, enjoy your day and I’ll see you Friday. No problem. 🙂
Oh, and here is my shameless plug…the following posts in this series are adapted from my manuscript Defining Moment: Deciding to Live After the Death of Your Child that I pray, pray, pray will be picked up by a publisher at the She Speaks Conference this summer. Your feedback would be very valuable to me. Thank you!!!~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
“The greatest frustration is knowing that He created the entire universe by simply speaking it into existence, and He has all power and all understanding. He could rescue. He could heal. He could save. But why won’t He do it? This sense of abandonment is a terrible experience for someone whose entire being is rooted in the Christian ethic. Satan then drops by for a little visit and whispers, ‘He is not there! You are alone!’
~Dr. James Dobson
So there we were, walking out of the hospital, with an empty car seat, a bag full of baby clothes and aching arms. I recall stepping into the family counseling room and feeling as if I were on the verge of insanity. For the first time in my life, I was a mother with no child. Where do I fit? What am I? I remember speaking to no one in particular, “What do I do now?” My brother answered, “I think it is okay for us to go home.” That wasn’t what I meant. I meant, what do I do now that Noah is dead? How do I do this? How do I handle this? How in the world am I going to get through this?
Driving to my father-in-law’s house with an empty car seat tumbling in the back, Jon and I remained silent, shocked at what transpired, unable to verbalize the surge of emotion we both felt. My family gathered at the house to offer comfort and support. I sat in the corner of the room with Noah’s blanket pressed against my face. It still smelled like him.
The next day we began the craziness of funeral arrangements. Since we were away from home on vacation, neither Jon nor I had any appropriate clothes for our son’s funeral. So we shopped that day for a new suit and a new dress. At the mall, I looked down at my watch and noticed my battery was dead. A strange confirmation that time had stopped for us.
We ordered flowers, and we chose pictures and video for a presentation at the funeral home. We chose a grave site and a tiny coffin. It was all so painful yet so mechanical. It was like someone had strapped my wrists together and nailed them to a moving train. I was trying hard to run, but mostly I was just letting my legs drag painfully on the gravel road. I could not get free, and I could not run fast enough to keep up. I was trapped in a nightmare.
I kept looking at the clock, conscious of every minute that was passing, and wondering what Noah would be doing if he were still alive. Noah liked his schedule and would get very fussy if he didn’t get his bottle or his nap. I remember hoping that Jesus would remember to feed him and put him down for a nap on time. Like Jesus was simply babysitting for the day and I’d return home to find my son fed, bathed and safely sleeping in his crib.
The seven-hour viewing and the funeral the following day were the two most bizarre events I’ve ever “hosted” in my life. It seemed like some kind of cruel joke that society plays on the grieving. We had to get all dressed up and greet hundreds of well-meaning people as they came to look at my dead child lying in a casket that resembled a cradle.
Most people were very kind and comforting, but did not know what to say to us. Some people felt the need to comment on the fact that I had lost so much weight since they had seen me last. (Stress has a way of doing that.) Some people attempted, unsuccessfully, to explain the “purpose” in Noah’s death. Others felt totally uncomfortable talking about Noah at all, and instead, decided to discuss the rash of wild fires that had hit Florida that week.
I was numb. Many times throughout the long two days I found myself retreating to the women’s rest room to stare at the wall and not talk to anyone. I could not wait for this part to be finished.
After a few more days in Toledo, we finally packed up our suitcases and headed back to Jacksonville. As we walked through the Detroit airport, pushing an empty stroller, we often caught people peeking around the canopy to see the baby. But there was no baby in our stroller. Some people even asked with large smiles on their faces, “Where’s the baby?”
Everything in me wanted to scream as loud as I could, “He’s DEAD!” I wanted to drop the same bomb on them as had been dropped on me. I wanted everyone to hurt as badly as I did.
Arriving home, I was blindsided at the door by a house full of memories. Before I entered, I stood at the threshold and took a long deep breath. I didn’t want to go in, but I knew I had to.
There in the kitchen were the bottles I had rinsed just before we left. The living room had toys and blankets still on the floor. In the bathroom was the sleeper I took off Noah before getting him dressed the morning we left. I was not prepared for the surge of grief that hit me when we arrived home. It was actually worse than his death. The shock and numbness of the loss was over, and I was now faced with my “new life.”
I stood in my house that day, realizing that Jon would need to return to his job the next morning. Nine months earlier I had quit a full time job to stay home and be a full time Mommy. Now I had no job and no child. My entire family lived over 1000 miles away from me. I felt alone and terrified at the thought of waking up in my empty house. I had no idea how to cope or survive.
I sat on my couch that night, talking on the telephone to our dear friends and pastors, Rusty and Leisa Nelson.
So angry, so confused, so irreverent, I yelled and cried to them.
Why did God let him die? What is He trying to prove by letting this happen? What does God expect me to do now? What did I do wrong? Why didn’t God answer our prayers for healing?
On and on I screamed. For the first time in my life, I didn’t care what anyone thought of me. At this point, I felt I had nothing left to lose. I might as well be brutally honest about my feelings.
Rusty, a man of great faith and great compassion, listened patiently for a very long time. After I was finished, he gently said,
“Sandy, God is not offended at your questions.”
To my relief, this godly man also confessed that he had the same questions as me. That he, too, was angry and confused. And he reassured me that God was not mad at us for being mad at Him. What a liberating thought!
Then he put his wife Leisa on the phone. Through her own tears, she encouraged me with these words, “Do whatever you need to do to get through this loss. If that means going in Noah’s room, with one of his blankets and crying all day, then give yourself permission to do it.”
Like two angels sent directly to me that day, Rusty and Leisa spoke gentle truth into my life.
That advice proved to be some of the most important agents in my coping and healing, not only with this loss, but with every single difficult circumstance in my life since that time.
I truly did give myself permission to grieve, however the grief came and whatever the grief meant. And I never feared that God was offended or upset with me.
Armed with Leisa’s advice, I liberated myself to do what I had to do to get through those first few months. Sometimes I just wanted to lay on the couch and sleep. Other times I felt like I had to get outside and walk. Sometimes I wanted to disappear into a crowd of people. Other times I needed the intimate conversation of my mom or my best friend. Sometimes I needed to talk about Noah. Other times I would need to talk about anything except Noah. Sometimes I just wanted to scream! Other times I wanted to sit quietly alone and just stare. Sometimes that entire array of emotions would come in a five-minute period.
Gerald L. Sittser tells the story of his loss in his moving book, A Grace Disguised. In one horrible car accident, he lost his mother, his wife and his four-year-old daughter. He was left to raise his other three young children (ages eight, seven and two) alone. Despite this tremendous challenge, he was able to grow emotionally and spiritually through his pain. He says:
“Denial puts off what should be faced. People in denial refuse to see loss for what it is, something terrible that cannot be reversed. They dodge pain rather than confront it. But their unwillingness to face pain comes at a price. Ultimately it diminishes the capacity of their souls to grow bigger in response to pain.”
Thanks to Rusty, I could honestly face my pain. I now knew that God wasn’t going to throw me out of the Kingdom for honestly bearing my heart to Him. I realize not everyone agrees with me on that, but I strongly feel it is vital to speak freely and frankly to the Lord about your feelings.
Now, if you are anything like me immediately following my loss, God is probably the last One to whom you wish to speak in the midst of your storm. You may be feeling pain beyond description and turmoil beyond comprehension. You may be angry, confused or depressed. Maybe you even feel betrayed by God…perhaps even question how you could ever serve a God who is apparently standing back to watch you suffer.
I completely understand that, and have felt all those things, too. Please understand that when I suggest that you speak frankly to the Lord I’m not talking about beautifully scripted prayers and eloquent phrases. And I don’t want to sound like I’m giving you a trite answer to your awful mess by saying, “just turn to God.” The journey toward emotional and spiritual restoration is a long one…I’ve been on mine for eleven years, and counting! But an essential first step is allowing yourself the freedom to say (or scream!) to God everything you are feeling right now. God already knows what you are thinking, and He still loves you. You need not fear that He will rebuke you, silence you or ignore you.
The Bible gives some great examples of people who grieved freely and without reservation toward God. I took comfort in the book of Psalms where I found the most graphic displays of emotion aimed directly at God. Many times David questions God, wonders where God is and why He hasn’t delivered David from his enemies. He complains about being tired of calling out to God for help. He declares that his eyes are failing from trying to look for God. He cries that his heart is wounded and he is poor and needy. (Sound familiar?) On and on he describes in detail why he is in turmoil. And what is God’s response? Does God rebuke David? Does he silence David? Does he ignore David? No! Instead, God says of David,
“I have found David Son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.”
God is bigger than anything that you can throw at Him. He can adequately handle your outbursts of anger, sadness and confusion. You do not need to fear that He will turn you away for bearing your heart to Him. The key is keeping your heart directed toward God, not turning from God.
As you read through the book of Psalms, notice that in all his heart-wrenching passion, David never once turned his heart from God. While David spoke very freely to the Lord, he also praised God and glorified Him in the very same chapter. In the midst of the storm, praising God is nearly impossible. I get that. Honestly, my only motivation in turning to God in the early days of my grief was to see Noah in Heaven. I knew that if I ever wanted to see my baby again, I had to make it to Heaven…and to do that, I had to turn toward God.
If that is your only motivation, then take that and hold on to it for now. The important thing is that you keep the lines of communication open with the Lord. The “praising God” part won’t happen overnight. I gave God the silent treatment for weeks following Noah’s death, and I didn’t praise Him from my heart for months.
But I knew deep inside that God was my only hope…and today He is your only hope, too. If the one thing you do today, after reading this post, is admit that God is your only hope in getting out of your pit or through your storm, then you’ve accomplished more than you realize. This decision will define you and ultimately determine your outcome.
Oh Sandy…what is so strange is that I well know what it is like to grieve like that. But for me it was grieving over the loss of my identity. Over finally understanding that who I was and had been all my life meant nothing because I did not believe in God. And I was at the place because of my horrible sin. But in the end, we both had someone to look to..we both had a God that was still there holding us, even when it was hard to see.
I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a believer and have that kind of pain threaten the very foundation of your faith. And I have always, and more so now, admire you willingness to show that it is not always an easy path to take when following God through everything thrown at us, but that it is so worth the eternity we will have with Him when we die.
You are truly an inspiration, and I am praying mightily that God will allow this She Speaks to be the moment He allows your dream of helping others come true.
A wonderful post and one I am passing on to a friend.
You have the kind of faith and inner fortitude that only comes by first walking through hell. It is easy to envy the faith you show, but no one on earth would envy the valley that got you there.
I’m just humbled to read your story. I truly hope your publishing dream becomes reality for you soon, and I want one of the first copies.
You are a blessing!
Beautiful post. I read it through tears! Thank you so much for sharing this – you are touching each and every one of us.
If I can quit crying long enough to leave this post — I’ll tell you how sorry I am for the loss of your beautiful baby Noah. I CANNOT imagine losing a child. There can’t be another pain like it.
I am so thankful God brought you through and I pray that He will use you to help others through the deepest despair to the side of LIFE and JOY again.
Thank you for sharing with us.
Thank you for giving us your heart in your words.
Oh Sandy, I can relate to so much of what you write here. My story involves a death of a child too, but not my own–my parents. When I was eleven years old my best friend–my nine year old brother–died at summer camp. Someday (maybe at “She Speaks”?) I’ll tell you the rest of the story.
But for now, I want you to know I am so glad you have seen God’s strong hand in all of this and that you have chosen–CHOSEN–to remain faithful to Him. All glory to God.
Once again, thank you for your honesty and transparency. Pain is PAIN and there is something that transcends circumstances that brings about the pain that only God’s hand can heal!
While I have not experienced your loss (and hope I never do), I do know PAIN. And I could connect with your writing at that level of gut wrenching pain, the rawness and realness of it.
Your ability to articulate your heart were very moving (actually heartbreaking) and profound. I found myself in the prose looking at life through your eyes.
Here’s putting in a positive vote for your book! I’ll buy it (and not just because you’re my friend).
I am sorry that Noah was taken from you so soon. A pain that no mother should ever experience. But I am also encouraged to see how God has used something that was meant to destroy you for good and in the end He is and will be glorified.
Big hug Amiga!!
You have shared the unthinkable with grace and wisdom from your Father….I admire your courage and strength so much and just know your book will bring comfort to others, blessings to you and your family, and most importantly, glory to God.
Bless you, Sandy!
SANDY,WHAT A BEAUTIFUL POST.SUCH A BLESSING!HAVE A GREAT DAY! BLESSINGS, FAYE
Thank you for rehashing all the emotions and struggles from that difficult time. I know that God is using your pain in losing Noah to help someone else. I love you!
My throat is tight from holding in tears. I love how you let God's love for us pour through your broken heart.
Love to you.