“Do your best,” the apostle Paul writes to protégé Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God has one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Paul is promoting a kind of eager, committed persistence for the...
Feeling my first baby in my arms, all 7 pounds and 7 ounces—I had previously held no weight like hers. These were precious pounds, but entirely still. In that moment, I experienced that death is an enemy.
Remaining on a Fallen Earth
For months afterward, I could not bring myself to say the word, “death.” More, I called her gravesite her “marker” in the ground. In the intensity of those days, I was beholding the grave painted upon the landscapes around me; I saw decay—even decrepit buildings brought remembrance that this earth is wasting away, and in it, my baby was born without life at all.
Failing buildings and structures appeared often along the roads we traversed on the route to her marker. I would gaze to the skies on our travels—to that relieving blaze of golden-blue when my eyes had already met their fill of less-than-scenic evidence of Adam’s historic fall. I was comforted to lift my sight with hope of the joy of my daughter in glory.
But that joy alone could not deliver me through grief—for in the days when I exclusively thought of her gain, I also exclusively wanted to join her. I would tell God that if he wanted to take me to heaven where my daughter lived, then yes, I would desire to fly ahead too. But after every similar prayer, I was still on earth, surrounded by each death-foretelling shadow.
Enlivened by Heavenly Good
When my hospital nurse wheeled me out of the delivery room without those most precious pounds, she told me and my husband that she needed to re-evaluate her life based upon the strength she had witnessed in me. I had never felt closer to death than when within those four hospital walls—in fact, within that room I first envisioned that I might soon reside heaven-side. The strength this nurse witnessed was most certainly not my own.
This conversation was my first experience of the heavenly good God can bring from this kind of devastation. And so, from that early hour, I knew to my core that closeness with my daughter was in our joint union to the Lord whose purposes enliven us both.
Yet, when two people share a life-altering experience, a nearness can develop. In some sense, that is what I felt with my daughter; we had both endured a life-altering experience together, her earthly life ending within me and my life carrying her death. To venture into recollection of that grief was also to revisit my bond with her. If I could not join her through death, I could still “join” her in the magnitude of my sorrow over those last moments. But in time, I gained the full impetus to surrender to God the sorrow of the loss, should that be his will—content to remember my daughter outside of the pain.
United in Christ
Since the day her body went devastatingly limp, I have gained more time and capacity for the inner reception of Christ’s love. This I know: What could possibly draw any two people closer than the Lord himself—and the shared eternal love of the almighty One, which produces the most life-altering experience of all?
My nearness with my stillborn daughter does not come from thinking her “spirit lives on with us”—for I believe she is literally with the Lord (Luke 23:43). Closeness is not out of a belief she looks down on us from above—the Scriptures do not reveal her activities at present. And I do not sense a bond with her because I somehow see appearing in the world around me signs or symbols that I interpret to be from her—for it is the Lord, not my daughter, whom I can be sure communes with me. Rather, the Lord and his love unite us—his love forever evidenced by the cross (Romans 5:6-8).
Death, an enemy, separates relationships; physical death separates us from each other. But closer to the core, spiritual death has already separated us from God—the source of life and love. Being joined one day with my daughter will happen as a result of a more primary truth: reunion with fellow man is the result of being fully united together, one day, to Christ.
Our Belonging in Him
Under the present shadow of death, without hope for life, I am powerless to unite myself with him (Romans 5:6); but from one death comes reconciliation with God, and life (Romans 5:10). Mankind’s otherworldly reunions are first spiritual in nature—spiritual joy in Jesus Christ, the necessary first cause for joy and unity with each other.
For there is one body to which all who are in Christ belong:
Let it be considered that the church on earth is the same society with those saints who are praising God in heaven. There is not one church of Christ in heaven, and another here upon earth. Though the one be sometimes called the church triumphant, and the other the church militant, yet they are not indeed two churches. […] they are all united: for there is but one body, and one spirit, and one Lord Jesus Christ. (Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. II)
Presently “militant” amidst a wasting-away world, I am soon to be resting “triumphant,” glorified in Christ with his people.
Continuing Life in His Perfect Love
But even this day, my hope in the One I have yet to see does disappoint. For I already have his love—evident in history, and poured by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the gift of faith, into my soul (Romans 5:5).
When my daughter became triumphant, while I remained militant, the theme of spiritual reconciliation with God was the source of my continuing life—the bright renewal of my inner spirit when earth seemed all decay and when sorrow was a connection to my daughter I could not envision my life without.
Though loss brought my strong and true motherly love for my daughter into focus, his love is perfect and incomparable. I have the great hope that my daughter and I share his love in forever-unity. His love came mercifully to us first. And his love does not ever disappoint.
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. (Romans 5:5)
By continually receiving of his sacrifice, the cross could regain more predominance in my view than earthly loss, and my life on this fallen ground could soldier forward for his heavenly purposes.