Happy Birthday, Anna

Today is Anna’s birthday.

I woke up this morning, thinking, “What if I were going to get her out of her crib?  What if I were able to tell her happy birthday?”

The past year has been a journey.  I wish I could package it neatly and say that I’m all better.  But I’m not.  It’s been months since I looked at our bank statement.  I make essential to-do lists and then get distracted by dusty floorboards or a bookshelf that needs straightening. I will find a thousand things to do to avoid making a phone call that requires me to make a decision. The nursery is piled high with a year’s worth of disorganization, which only reflects my clouded, fuzzy brain.  My thoughts are often jumbled.  I still find myself staring into space sometimes; my eyes cross, unable to focus.  Sometimes it happens when people are talking to me, sometimes when I’m alone.  A scent, a baby outfit, a song, a look in the mirror–any of these–can send me spiraling emotionally into sobs and into a sense that something is heavy on my chest and I can’t get a full breath.

Sometimes I think this is what depression feels like.  But I don’t feel this way all the time or every day.  Some days I feel quite normal, functioning with high energy, checking things off my list, playing hard with my kids.  Other days, pushing Josiah on the swing sounds exhausting and I can’t even imagine having the strength to cook dinner.

I keep hearing people tell me I’m amazing, that I’m so strong.  Here’s what they don’t know.  I have learned through this loss and through my effort to grieve that I process the pain, for the most part, alone. I cry alone.  I get my most angry alone.  I feel most deeply alone.  I don’t get my best friends together and pour my heart out.  That’s just not me.  Maybe that’s unhealthy, but it’s the only way I’ve found that I can honestly release the pent up feelings.  If you ask me how I’m doing, I say I’m okay.  I don’t know how I’m supposed to be doing.  I don’t know what’s normal.  I just know that some days I feel weighted and some days I feel lighter.  It’s hills and valleys.  It’s sweet and bitter.  It’s my new life.

Today is Anna’s birthday.  A year ago, we were holding her.  We were rejoicing.  I will never doubt that God was there in that moment, taking away our fear so we could enjoy our time with her.  I will never doubt that He breathed life into her, giving us longer than we expected.  I will never doubt He gave me the energy and the presence of mind to soak that child up as if I were a sponge soaking up water. But have I doubted His presence in our pain since that day?  Yes.  And if you can point me to a mother who has lost her child and not experienced any doubt, please do.  I need her wisdom desperately.

Today is Anna’s birthday.  How I wish I could have that day back, go back and do it all again.  How I wish she were in my arms right now, my family complete, my family whole.  How I wish I could be looking down at her, feeling her skin, her hair, her fingers. And while I’m wishing, here’s another one: I wish there were no tears to end that day, no separation from her, no giving her up.

I want to give it all to God, I really do.  And some days I’m successful with that.  But other days I just want Him to explain Himself.  I just want to understand why our family had to say goodbye so soon.  I know He is good and loving and that He cares for our Anna.  I know her life was meaningful and important.  I know she touched so many.  But I don’t like it.  I don’t want all that.  I just want her.

A grieving man named Asaph recorded his wailings in Psalm 77:2-9:

“In my day of trouble I sought the Lord. My hands were lifted up all night long; I refused to be comforted. I think of God; I groan; I meditate; my spirit becomes weak. You have kept me from closing my eyes; I am troubled and cannot speak. I consider days of old, years long past. At night I remember my music; I meditate in my heart, and my spirit ponders. ‘Will the Lord reject forever and never again show favor? Has His faithful love ceased forever? Has He in anger withheld His compassion?’.”

That’s pretty raw.  Basically, I hear Asaph saying, “Hey, I’m hurting here.  Where are You?  Are you going to show up or what?  I need to know you are here.”  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Bible, it might be surprising to see that God allowed men to record such unfavorable views of Him in the Bible.  For me, that is reassuring.  When I am weak and my faith is slipping, I know I’m not alone.  Asaph was a psalmist!  His writings were recorded in the Word of God!  Even such a man as He struggled with God’s will in His life, God’s seeming lack of compassion and favor and love.  Guess what?  I am no better than Asaph.

When I read words like these, I feel a little less lonely.  I know that there are plenty of believers who would suggest that I should just have faith and never question God.  But I read what Asaph says or how Jacob wrestled with God (Genesis 32) or how Jesus asked why God had forsaken Him (Matthew 27), and I think, “Well, at least I’m in good company.”

I’m going to question Anna’s death for the rest of my life.  To boldly compare myself to Jacob, there will be a limp in my walk for the remainder of my days.  Some people will see that limp and be comforted that they are not alone in their faith struggles.  Some will see it as a weakness, a mark against me.  I am not responsible for explaining my handicap.  I put one foot in front of the other, feeling the limp and the pain but also feeling the assurance that somehow He will lead me in this journey.

Asaph, the grieving man who questioned his Lord, chose to lean into Him. His grief did not end, but he bore it remembering God’s faithfulness and His power. He knew that his pain was deep and real but that his Lord was still there and in control, even when He did not sense His presence. He continued his psalm in verses 10-19:

“Then I said, ‘It is my grief that the right hand of the Most High has changed.’ I shall remember the deeds of the Lord; surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will meditate on all Your work and muse on Your deeds. Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders; You have made known Your strength among the peoples. You have by Your power redeeemed Your people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph. The waters saw you, O God; the waters saw you, they were in anguish; the deeps also trembled. The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth a sound; Your arrows flashed here and there; the sound of Your thunder was in the whirlwind; the lightnings lit up the world; the earth trembled and shook. Your way was in the sea and your paths in the mighty waters, and your footprints may not be known.”

Visualize that.  The world was filled with storms–tumultous, crashing waves; loud, cracking thunder; flashes of lightning throughout the sky; the earth trembling and quaking. Where was God? Your way was in the sea and your paths in the mighty waters, and your footprints may not be known. He was there, but His footprints were not known.  His footprints will never be known.  If I am waiting for Him to show Himself, I may as well walk away from the faith.  He does not show us His footprints.  We have to take Him at His word. Easy? No. Impossible? No. If I am willing to listen, to see, to feel, to trust what I know to be true, based not on my own musings but on His Word, I will find myself walking toward Him. And my feet will fall into those invisible footprints He left before me.

That is all I have.  What I have learned this past year is that there is no magic bullet.  No faith pill I can swallow and be confident that I will never doubt again.  That’s not the kind of God I would want to serve, anyway.  He requires more than that, as should be expected from the Most High God.  He expects me to come to Him with my pain, to tell Him when I doubt Him, to ask for strength, to depend upon Him for my next blessing.  I get it right sometimes, and sometimes I don’t.  Thankfully, He is patient.  He is kind. He does not take into account a wrong suffered.  He bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. He never fails (1 Corinthians 13).

Anna, we miss you today.  We hope that there’s a birthday going on in heaven.  You are one of the few whose birthday on earth is the same as your “birthday” there in heaven.  That, and so many other things, make you very special.  I selfishly wish you were still here.  It’s hard to imagine going for years and years and years without seeing my children all together again. But somehow I know God will give me the strength to keep making it.  Your brother and sister were excited this morning, excited about your birthday.  They want cake.  Any reason for cake, right?  I will eat a piece for you, but I’m sure that the banqueting table in heaven is filled with goodies I cannot even imagine.  I love you, sweet Anna.  I miss you and love you with everything that is in me.  I will never regret having you, only losing you.  You are a treasure, a gift.   I am thankful that God made me your mommy.  I just wish I could have held you longer.  Happy birthday, sweet girl.