During a church worship service we watched a video that told a remarkable story. A pregnant couple learned horrible news at their first ultrasound: their baby appeared to have severe deformities. Specialists in nearby Philadelphia were consulted and more tests administered but the situation went from bad to worse. If their baby managed to survive to term, they were told that it would die shortly after birth. Doctors advised abortion but, citing their faith, the couple refused. Regardless of the outcome, God would sustain them.
Four weeks before the due date, a fast track job transfer to Houston required that the family move. A local obstetrician was found to handle the delivery and this doctor ordered new ultrasounds. Then, a miracle. Inexplicably, the images showed that the baby now appeared to be completely normal. To everyone’s astonishment and delight a perfectly healthy, beautiful baby girl was born.
As the video concluded with scenes of a beaming family, my eyes were wet and blurry. Others also reached for tissues. Later I learned that for some, like me, our tears were not for joy but because the couple’s story highlighted a shadow in our lives. Miracles are scarce commodities. God had not given one to me despite my own crushing circumstances and desperate prayers. Was God’s love withheld because I was unworthy? Was my faith too weak? My guess is I wasn’t the only one with these thoughts.
My husband had tragically died from cancer at age 47, leaving me alone with three children to raise. During his illness I remember thinking that a miraculous cure would be an incredible testimony to God’s merciful provision for a faithful believer. My husband had been active in our church, put God first in how he lived, was prayed over by the elders who anointed him with oil, and had been the recipient of thousands of prayers for healing. In the end, our prayers for healing were answered, but not on this side of heaven.
In the ensuing months after the funeral I questioned everything I thought I knew to be true. At times I did not want to be alive but day upon day I kept waking up. Two hard years passed. Then I saw the baby video and the happy family. Comparing my outcome to theirs, I lifted my face to God and wept from that empty, aching place deep within my soul.
Losing a beloved spouse is one of the most painful experiences someone can have. Yes I truly want to “rejoice with those who rejoice” but my humanity notices the disparity between my life and those of others with intact families. Sometimes when you are grieving, the work of it is all you can do. There is no leftover energy for being able to celebrate another’s good fortune. When that’s the case, it’s perfectly okay to step back. I’ve come to realize that allowing myself to notice the pain, to have the courage to name it and to share that pain with a few close friends who listen without offering advice is all the comfort I need to take a baby step forward. These steps do not heal the pain, but they help contain it so I don’t get stuck in a place where bitterness might flourish.
In reality few people can relate to a miraculous intervention after all hope is lost. That’s not how life generally works. The story I now can tell touches lives precisely because of unanswered prayer. Mine is a testimony of perseverance. Perseverance in life and perseverance in faith. Perseverance is a choice to stick with a task despite difficulty or pain, usually with an eye toward a desired goal. By deciding to pursue two different goals, I have been able to find a way back to a life that is fulfilling even though different from the one I had wanted.
For those who are interested, here are my goals. First, I have chosen to find purpose in my life through actively honoring my husband’s memory. I do this by living in a way that reflects his adventurous spirit. Second, I have also chosen to believe in God’s goodness and love for me despite my husband’s death. Though I was devastated by our family’s loss, ultimately I can choose to set my feelings aside to focus on Jesus’ death, rather than my husband’s, to answer the question of whether God loves me.
My story is one that includes suffering grief. Through that story I am able to connect with hurting people and be a source of encouragement. This is a blessing for which I am grateful. It is one that grew from the stump of not getting a miracle.