faith, grief, Infant loss, love in loss

Sentenced to Life

Today is the Spring (or Vernal) Equinox, a day when there is exactly as much light to the day as there is dark. On the Vernal Equinox of 2017, I went in for the 20-week anatomy ultrasound of my growing baby boy, Elliot. We’d endured four months of uncertainty in my awful pregnancy, and finally felt we could fully hope our little boy had made it to a safe zone. But we were teetering on the precipice between light and dark that day, that tiny sliver of chance that divides life and death. The anatomy scan revealed blood in my amniotic fluid, and my water broke that very night three years ago. Ten weeks later I delivered Elliot, his miraculous stay in my belly an anomaly in the medical world. Five days after his birth, I held his little frame as he died. Light had filled me completely in his life; darkness engulfed me in his death.

equinox

The sun’s rays are hitting the earth today with equality for both hemispheres; no difference in light and dark divides us. How fitting to think of this when right now much of the world carries the same questions, the same fears, the same challenges. I think it’s fair to say most of us alive today in the United States have not witnessed anything quite like COVID-19 and recent societal responses. Perhaps a few of the aged wise recall something similar during wartime or Depression. I’m not criticizing the moves of health and public officials; they’re doing their best in light of information and observation. I’m not even criticizing the general public who’ve panicked and hoarded; they’re nervous of everyone else panicking and hoarding. Many of us who enjoy middle and upper-class American life have never worried where our next meal might come from. Lower-income individuals and most the rest of the world face this uncertainty daily. Maybe, just maybe, it will move those of us cushioned in our spacious houses and stocked pantries to give more freely after this is over. If you were scared for a few weeks of how you’d eat, what can you do in the future for your fellow human beings who face this uncertainty as their normal way of life?

 
I hate that this virus is disrupting the normal flow of life and an aura of fear is settling on many people. I especially hate that beloved creations of God’s are suffering and dying due to this illness. I hope it gets better—the illness itself, the fear surrounding it, and the disruption it’s been to daily life.

 
I don’t know how to say this except just to say it. I’m struggling. I’m trying to articulate something so deep and painful in my soul, words don’t seem to fit. The term “sentenced to life” came to me in the early days after Elliot died. I just could not, could not grasp that I would never see him again for the rest of this life. It was a life sentence of missing him, aching for him, living without him. Something about the effects of this virus has been reawakening that phrase in my mind, in a sort of contrast between the two. For myself and the people like me—the people with houses, jobs, security, access to healthcare—the effects of this virus will get better. It won’t get better for everyone; some have lost loved ones, others may watch businesses and dreams die because of this. It’s not something to take lightly. But for many others of us, we will tell stories one day of this unusual time as we go about our life which has gotten back to normal.

 
It just keeps hitting me again and again…the death of my little boy will not get better. Not ever. Not in this life anyway. It is a fact which challenges my sanity still, three years later. I want somehow, some way to CHANGE this awful, awful fact. I want to make it better. I don’t want this life sentence.

 
When challenges face us, we try to make things better. And we should. I think we can imagine a light at the end of this tunnel in which travel bans are lifted, school is back in session, and toilet paper abounds. I wish I could say there was a way to make things better for all the suffering and loss in the world. Because once I can find everything I need at the store, there will still be people starving across the globe. When I can go to a movie theater again, there will still be children trafficked daily. When I can take an airplane wherever I want, there will still be orphans waiting to be adopted. When I am able to send my kids back to their school and other activities, I will still have a little boy buried at Fairmount Cemetery whom I’ll never take to Options or piano class or the library. He will still not be here. He will still not be here. And I can’t express how much it hurts. Within that hurt, I feel the hurt of all the suffering which remains when pandemics pass. Something painfully beautiful my little boy taught me causes me to see humanity more in its wholeness: an equinox, as filled with the beauty of day as it is the pain of night.

 

 

I’m teetering on a precipice again today as light shines equally on us all, realizing I have a choice in the light and the dark. It’s strange though; I don’t think my choice is either light or dark. I think my choice is to cling to hope amid both.

 
I just finished the book The Inescapable Love of God by Thomas Talbott. This quote near the end really grasped my heart. It spoke to me of my struggle being sentenced to a life without Elliot.

 
“To the contrary, hopeful thinking—insofar as it expresses our loftiest desires and deepest yearnings—is far more reasonable, given what we know (or do not know) about the universe, than Russell’s “unyielding despair.” For whereas hope is compatible with the absence of certitude, despair is not; whereas hope is compatible with a healthy skepticism concerning the nature of the universe, despair is not. Despair requires that, like Russell, we regard a host of dubious propositions as “nearly certain.” It emerges only when we know, or think we know, that our condition is hopeless. So even if there were no such thing as revelation, and even if we had no positive grounds for believing in God beyond a vague sense that the power responsible for bringing the universe and, more specifically, human life into existence must be wondrous indeed—even if all of this were true, we would still do well, I contend, to stake everything on hope rather than upon despair.”

 

It spoke to me of the daily choice I have to “stake everything on hope rather than upon despair.” I don’t always believe justice and mercy will come to the suffering; I hope for it. I don’t always feel assured the love of Christ overcomes all evil; but I sure hope for it to be so. I am not always certain God and heaven exist; but I hope, I hope, I hope. “Hopeful thinking…is far more reasonable…than despair.”

 
Deep breath. Okay.

 
What if, what if…in my hope I can see a different side to this fact of being sentenced to life? I mean, what if life is REALLY what Jesus meant when he said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full”? What if John wasn’t lying when he wrote, “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was LIFE and that LIFE was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”?

 
Jesus’s life is the light of all mankind. Isn’t that interesting? And different than we think of and often treat our fellow man. If His life is the light for us all, and his life is everlasting, then the light will win. Darkness pervades much of reality now. Babies shouldn’t die. Pandemics shouldn’t occur. Human beings should not be trafficked, abused, or suffer of starvation. Children should never grow up without loving families. Yet these things are present and very real.

 
And Jesus lives. This is my hope, my choice against despair: LIFE. I have to work this out frequently as an antidote to the weight grief lays on my chest. I realize there is a different way to think of being sentenced to life. I am sentenced to abundant life in Jesus, forever. I can’t escape him even if I tried. He is everywhere, loving every atom of us. He is not far, and he has not forgotten you. I am awakening to a light that can’t be overcome by darkness, one in which suffering, disease, and death don’t have a home.

 
One little boy taught me this, and he keeps teaching me. Look at his little face, his little hands,  his little chest. He is every child, those who live in loving homes and those who live in fear. He is every mother’s tears, for the children she worries about, the children she’s fighting with, the children she’s buried. He is every stressed citizen of every country, wondering what tomorrow will bring.

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Don’t you see? Jesus’ light shines in the little boy in this picture, doesn’t it? Despite the tubes and cords? Despite knowing this little boy was to die? Nothing can snuff out the light that shines in the life of our Savior. And it shines in you and me if we’ll let it. We can choose today to be sentenced to a life so abundant, we really can keep going.

 
I picture our world floating in space at this very moment with the sun shining exactly half the day on every man, woman, and child. It silently spins, oblivious to every frenzy we’re feeling. Then darkness, too, will fall. Some people will suffer much more than others. But no matter the light or dark, Jesus WILL be there. In his life is the light of all of us. We’ve got to try to live like it.

 
Being sentenced to life in Him means the darkness may take up half the day for now, but his light will overcome. I must have hope in that. I want you to have hope in that. I hope in the light of his life for every ounce of suffering which has occurred across millennia for countless billions. And I must hope for my one broken mama’s heart and the boy I am determined to hold again.

 
In the space between light and dark, on the precipice of life and death, I cling stubbornly to hope. Christ has sentenced me to abundant life, and that life is the light of me. So, like my Elliot did and does still each day, I’m gonna let it shine.

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