Every once in a while, I wonder what I’ve learned so far in this whole experience. In the spirit of the world of lists, I thought that would be an easy way to put some things together. Over the course of this past 361 days, I think I’ve learned these things. Sort of. Or something.
1. This happens. You can do everything 100% correctly, and still mourn a dead baby. It doesn’t mean that anyone did anything wrong. It’s just a part of living in this world. Bad things happen, and that includes stillbirths and all the other assorted ways that our children die. I never paid attention to this before, but now I understand that this happens.
2. There often is no discernible reason. I’m still not sure if I envy people with answers or not, but there often is no answer at all as to a cause for a baby’s death. I think I’m OK with that, but it’s a really strange thing to know that I won’t likely have an answer or know a cause for Doria’s death.
3. Faith isn’t a magic wand or Captain America shield that protects a person from this kind of event or this kind of pain. I knew that life could be hard, but I didn’t know about this. I know that it isn’t a lack of faith that brought about Doria’s death. If anything, my faith was probably a lot stronger before her death than after, even while it rebuilds. I already knew that things went wrong routinely when a person lives out their faith. This showed me a new level to that understanding. More on that in a little bit.
4. Nothing could have prepared me for the suddenness of Doria’s death. We talked with some good friends once, and one mentioned that we should educate people about this before they’re pregnant. I still don’t think I would have listened, because it wouldn’t have happened to me. For over 99% of parents out there, it won’t happen to them. I would have assumed that I would join that group instead of the lethal lottery winners. I just don’t know what could possibly have prepared me for that sudden moment of silence that should have been Doria’s heartbeat echoing again through the room. I don’t believe that anything ever could have.
5. Nothing just takes the pain away. There isn’t a bridge stretching over the valley. There isn’t a bypass through a nice pleasant meadow. The only road that’s open and goes forward leads right through the valley, and the valley is filled with pain. There just isn’t another way. Here in America, we like to think we can erase a lot of those things. We cannot. Pain is a part of real life.
6. Peace is not an instant thing. As Christians, we often feel like we’ll pray once for peace and have the peace that surpasses understanding. In the process, we neglect the fact that we’re called to a continuous pursuit rather than an instant result, and that God never specified when peace happens. I don’t know exactly what it looks like at the “end,” but I know that it isn’t just a nice smile or warm fuzzy feeling. It’s going to be a peace that knows the other side: where I came from and what I went through. It isn’t just a neat gift that takes everything away quickly and nicely.
7. It’s tough to tell the difference between resignation and acceptance.
8. Here in America, we live in a real fantasy world. Not that everything is perfect, but we don’t face problems like invasions or the kind of poverty that cripples an entire nation. We don’t experience rampant disease epidemics or any of the problems that so many people face. Instead, we argue over politics, we pray for safe travel or getting over a pesky flu (that we would probably have without praying anyway), and we complain that the AC in the car takes 4 minutes to hit its full stride. Things like this “don’t happen here.” We’ve developed past these old-time concerns like babies dying. I wonder if that makes it extra difficult for us here when reality makes its cruel appearance. We just assume that things are better than that. I know that I took Doria’s living for granted. I just assumed that she would live, because babies after 20 weeks don’t die.
9. In American Christianity, we often assume that God is in the business of giving us a nice, steady, comfortable life, and that’s what His blessings look like. I suspect that’s a real American thing, because that’s how we roll. In terms of Biblical evidence, I would point out that the New Testament writers certainly didn’t see things that way. Paul started 2 Corinthians talking about trials and troubles. James started that way. Peter started his first letter that way. A person can just keep going and going and going to see this in the New Testament, and then there’s the whole Old Testament. It kind of points to something important: No matter how much we want God to do that for us, He really isn’t in the business of comfortable living. That’s our idea, but not His. He does His teaching through the hard times.
I’m a big man typing this behind a keyboard, but people who know me know that I’ll ask it to a person’s face if they want it (or if they don’t): If you never experience any inconvenient troubles as a Christian, who are you living for? You aren’t really getting the chance to learn anything. All you end up with is an artificial surface knowledge of a God who never promised what you’re looking for.
I believed this before, and I believe it more deeply now: If you want to live for God, things go bad (or that’s how they look). That’s kind of the idea. Read the New Testament. Read the promises that Jesus made. Read any of the prophets. When you’re seeking the best thing, the worst things will happen, and that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be. I don’t usually like that, and I’d rather have Doria than the lessons, but that’s how it works.
10. That said, life is still a gift. There are few guarantees, and it’s important to appreciate the moments that we get and the days that we get. This isn’t an “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” sort of hedonistic thing, but instead the idea that I don’t want to take today for granted. I want to make the most of the days I have, however many or few they may be.
11. It’s good to have a team. This is not something a person can beat on their own. There’s no “put your head down and plow through.” There’s no “suck it up, be brave and march on.” Instead there’s, “Round up your team and walk through the valley.” This is one of the rare times that I’ve seen effective help from people, and I don’t want to stop being grateful for that.
Listing 11 means this is a strangely numbered list. Some of these are things that I’ve mentioned before. A couple are things that may tick people off. I get that. That’s fine. These are simply some things that I think I’ve learned so far.