“All people suffer loss. Being alive means suffering loss. Living means changing, and change requires that we lose one thing before we gain something else.” -Jerry Sittser
I have come to realize that I am really bad at suffering. Losing Lucy was the first time I have ever suffered a tragic loss and it has been hard to learn how to live with suffering. I know it will get better, but this pain will never go away. It’s such a foreign concept to me. I think one reason I love Elisabeth Elliot is because she is so good at suffering. Her first husband was murdered and then her second husband died of cancer. She also had a granddaughter who was stillborn. She isn’t bitter or drowning in self pity (although I’m sure she’s had her moments.) She is strong and joyful. She writes amazing things like “Fear God and fear nothing else,” and “The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.” I want to bear my suffering like she does.
My childhood was wonderful. I wouldn’t change anything about it. My parents reminded me over and over again that I would always be number three in their lives, which was incredibly comforting, believe it or not. My Mom would tell me that God was number one in her life, my Dad was number two and I and my siblings were all number three. Honestly, what could be better?
When I think of my childhood I picture myself climbing one of the mango trees in our backyard while eating a mango at the same time, the juice running down through my fingers all the way to my elbow. I never wore shoes. I always felt loved, I was disciplined consistently and I knew about God from babyhood. I always had four playmates with me wherever we lived. I was happy and confident in who I was. I knew God’s love and I felt Him smiling down on me.
I got my college degree in Early Childhood Education and Elementary Education. I feel like I’m good at teaching and I absolutely love it. I never had to worry about what I wanted to do when I grew up. I knew when I was 5 years old. I married the perfect man for me. He is my best friend. He makes marriage easy. He is the best Daddy I could ever dream up for my children. We got pregnant the very first month we tried. We had a healthy, blonde baby boy 9 months later and we had his healthy, gigantic blonde brother two years later. I knew God’s love and I felt Him smiling down on me.
Then my baby girl died and so did my dreams for a large family like I had grown up in. The shock of the pain was incredible, like nothing I had ever felt before. Excruciating pain. I felt like I was writhing. I wished it was physical pain so at least it would be familiar. Then at least I could take some pain medicine, although it would probably have to be straight morphine to touch the pain. Then, right when our hopes for another baby were rising at the sight of that positive pregnancy test they were dashed so quickly by the loss of our Jude. I felt unprepared for suffering. The most suffering I had ever experienced was breaking up with boyfriends and my three ankle surgeries and one knee surgery (sports injuries, long story.) But that doesn’t come close to the pain of losing my baby and my ability to have safe pregnancies. It suddenly felt like a different world and it did NOT feel like God was smiling down on me.
Sometimes I wonder if I had suffered more in my earlier years would I have been more prepared for this most terrible suffering of my life? Then, I wonder if there is any way to prepare my boys for suffering that is sure to be a part of their future. I know that my job as a mother is to protect my children, but how do I do that while preparing them for suffering at the same time? I’m still not sure how to do that. I do think your childhood is the foundation for the rest of your life. My sons’ childhoods are something that demand protection and love and security. When they look back on their childhoods I want them to feel the magical purity of it, to remember fun and innocence and safety. But I also want them to be prepared for real life when it hits.
When Liam was a baby I was surprised by the intensity of pain involved with teething. He cried for hours, didn’t want to eat or sleep and was obviously in a lot of pain. It was pitiful, but when that tiny, blindingly white tooth finally broke through he felt so much better. It was a sad realization when I remembered that he had a mouthful of teeth to break through in the coming months and years. I wondered why God made teething so painful. He could have engineered it a different way so that it was pain-free like when our hair grows or our bones grow. Maybe He made teething so painful so that babies could prepare for a world that includes pain. Maybe it’s one of His built-in suffering training exercises.
As unprepared for suffering as I felt, what would it have been like if I hadn’t experienced the small sufferings that I did? I was always the foreign girl with a weird accent. In Africa I was the weird American and in America I was the weird African girl with a British accent. I had to start lots of school years at a new school (often in a new country) without any friends. Those surgeries I had in high school and college humbled me in lots of ways and taught me a lot about suffering. Being on crutches for weeks, being in intense pain and having to relearn how to use your foot through hours and hours of physical therapy are good ways to humble a person and acquaint them with suffering. I know that all of the small pains I went through did help with my suffering now, but I still felt very unprepared. I still don’t know how to live with this pain and be ok with it. It is so unnatural for me.
During the month we lost Lucy, my boys stayed with my parents many nights while we were in and out of the hospital. The week after Lucy died, Liam’s behavior was horrible, but we just assumed it was because he had been away from his parents and the fact that his baby sister just died. The morning of his birthday party, one week after Lucy died, he woke up with blood running out of his ear. A lot of blood. And his pajamas and his blankets were all stained with blood. We later found out he had had a terrible ear infection for a while and it got so bad that his eardrum burst! I felt SO bad, I couldn’t believe I let that happen. I felt like such a bad mother. My Mom felt bad too, but she reminded me that, “It’s just making him tough, and preparing him for life.”
A lot of times I feel so guilty that my sons have to go through this tragedy at such an early age. They will grow up knowing that their baby sister is dead. Sometimes, Liam says sad things like, “I love Daddy so much. Does that mean he has to go up to heaven now?” Or “When Lucy went up to heaven we still loved her so much.” And he looks so heartbreakingly confused. I know it’s hard to see your Mommy cry every day and struggle to do simple things like go grocery shopping or go to church. Asher often randomly comes up to me and asks, “Mama? You miss your Lucy?” This is how they are starting off their childhoods, but I can’t change it and I know God is in control. I find comfort knowing that when they are older and they lose someone else they love they will have some experience suffering such a loss. They won’t be floundering in disbelief like their Mommy is now. It will be a bit more familiar to them and they will be better sufferers. It is sad to see your children suffer, but if they are, remember that it is making them stronger and it is preparing them for a future in a fallen world.
Romans 5:3-5 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.