This memorial guest post is written by Rachel Patten. Please note that this contains sensitive material that may be a trigger for women who have lost a baby through miscarriage.
A letter from a peace-filled grieving mother: Oxymoron? To most, it would seem, yes. Grief and Peace? Can they possibly be felt together? But the truth is, we serve a God who’s peace surpasses understanding.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”- Phillipians 4:4-7
Rejoice? In a broken, hurting place? How? Where do we even begin? We begin in eucharisteo- a place of realization of the grace we’ve been extended. Eucharisteo, in the original greek, is to give thanks in all circumstances. How do we thank God for the broken and hurting places?
Let’s start from the beginning of the story- of our story.
Two pink lines: life given. Rejoicing comes easy here. Another blessing, another girl. Three girls, each 18 months apart. Looking to the two we’ve already been given: thankfulness. Eucharisteo. The joy of another little lady, all the pink, the giggles, the tea parties, the dresses, the floral crowns. Pure bliss. Listening to the giggles of the two that have been given: joy unaltered.
We own two small businesses and my husband is in the Air Force and everything is prospering. My husband is declared best in the squadron at his job. We’re selling hundreds of dollars of product a week. We close shop early for the holidays because things have been going so well. Too well. In all areas, in all of our businesses and work we’ve become overloaded and overwhelmed by the weight of it all. Rest. It comes like a wave- rushing over. All of our orders are shipped out and finished and the holidays come and we rejoice in a Savior who was born for our Help. Sweetness. But also, a looming angst. A deployment on the horizon. The loneliness of a season coming soon. The question rises: do we reopen shop? Yes, no. The answer seems uncertain.
Celebration. The husband surprises with a trip to Colorado. A time to reconnect, to rekindle, to celebrate. Kid-free for two nights, we are young and in love again. Joyful and celebrating, resting in God’s promise to be near this year. Growth. The word we were given over the year. It seemed so easy, so understood. Of course growth would mean leaning on Him more in the deployment to come. It couldn’t possibly mean the death of a seed, broken open to bring forth life.
That first night in Colorado, after a day full of laughter and love, back in the hotel room. Pink on the cloth. Just a dab. Hardly enough to even notice. But enough. Worry, worry to the core. Never have I seen pink in pregnancy. Immediately I knew: this child was going Home. Tears. So many tears. Tears of guilt. Tears of anxiety. Tears of the unknown. Tears of anger. Tears of brokenness. The husband tries to comfort. Tries, and fails. “It could be nothing” he says, well meaning. “It might just be altitude” my doctor encourages. My soul knew otherwise.
We were told to “take it easy”. To rest. Does rest come to the weary?
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” -Matthew 11:28-30
The bleeding continued. My body was crying for the brokenness of it all. Weeping to the point of blood. We wait a day more, try to be present and joyful, but the weight is too heavy to ignore. We decide to head to Albuquerque, where our two girls are being watched by family. Head there, go to the emergency room. “It’s probably nothing, but we need to see what’s going on” our Doctor says. So we drive. Three long hours. The longest hours of my life, it seems. Through the beauty of the mountains, awaiting the news: do we get to keep her? 16 weeks along, too far to write it off as being a “scientific mishap”. She had fingers and toes, even eyelashes and eyebrows. Trapped in the car, surrounded by beauty, trapped in the horror of our circumstances, there’s nothing left to do: we worship. Because what else is there? Many would denounce God, walk away from faith, disappointed and hurt, put their walls up to ‘protect’ their hearts. But when you’re truly desperate, where else can we turn? Is God still faithful, even when it all seems to fall apart? Our souls cried yes, even when we didn’t understand. We placed her on the altar of our hearts. We made the choice: if you take her, she is Yours. You are worthy of our praise, even still.
You, God, are worthy of our praise. You, God, do not need to give us good gifts for us to praise you. You, God, created the heavens and the earth and the mountains and the seas and the lion and the lamb and who am I to do anything but praise you? How dare the pot say to the claymaker “Why have you made me for this purpose?” We trust and hope, and He is faithful.
We pull into the ER and the husband drops me off. Busy. So busy. Not a parking spot available. I walk in and am overwhelmed. Almost every seat is full. How long? And then a thought: what if? What if God walked in here. What would his heart be? I’m walking into a room full of broken and hurting people, if God did the same, what would He do? I feel courage bubbling up within me. I politely give the lady my information and sit down. I’m next to a man who reeks of alcohol. He’s middle aged, darker skinned, covered with tattoos. I turn to him and I see with eyes that are not my own: beloved. I ask him why he is here.
“Well, to be honest, I am an alcoholic. I was in remission for four years but this New Years I thought I could handle myself and have been drunk since. I drank too much last night and slipped on some ice and twisted my ankle, and I think I may have broken something.”
Before I knew what I was doing I asked if I could pray for him. He conceded. Words flowed through my mouth that were not my own, and the Spirit dwelt heavily. The physical presence of an electric energy that flowed through my body through the tips of my fingers wrapped around his ankle. I didn’t know what I was doing. The amen came and I opened my eyes. I was stunned. What just happened? Did that really happen? I know he’s healed. Do I ask? Of course he is. I knew it within me. We sat quietly for a minute. He turned his ankle round and round, his face disfigured with confusion. He looks at me, baffled. “How’s it feel?” I asked meekly. “Better! It feels great! I don’t have any pain!” he says, still in bewilderment. I find myself just as shocked, but not surprised.
During our pregnancy someone prophesied over this baby in the womb. She would have an Esther-like spirit. Full of faith and courage. Courage and faith. Evident in me through her. Miraculous, powerful, and sweet.
We talked to and prayed over that man in the emergency room for 3 hours. His name is Bryson. He opened up to us about his struggle with faith, the constant calling of God, and his desire to know Him more. We loved. We served. We prayed. We cried. And there was a moment in which I realized: For such a time as this. What if we were here, for such a time as this? Will we be faithful to be the hands and feet of God, whatever our circumstances? Will you let God use you in a place where you could be consumed by your own worries? What would have happened if we hadn’t been faithful to pray? God is big, and He would have brought about His purposes through someone else, no doubt. But we said yes. In our hurting place, we chose to glorify Him. And in doing so we got to come alongside God and His purposes. What an honor.
We are called back into our own room. A pelvic exam is done. Bleeding, they say. There’s bleeding, and we don’t know from where. An ultrasound is ordered. More waiting. 3 more hours of waiting in the silence, unsure of the outcome. Finally, the ultrasound. We see the sweet little girl that we’ve sowed tears over. But there’s something missing: a heartbeat. Shock. Confusion. Is this real? God, we literally just healed a man in your name, brought freedom in your name, spoke truth in your name, where are You now? Entitlement. It’s so deep within the marrow of our souls. We deserve this baby. We did the right thing. We honored You. Where are you? Honest, heart-wrenching prayers. Heads hung low, we go home to our family with this news.
But even in our sorrow, there was this comfort. In the moment of the news I saw Jesus at the foot of my bed, wretched and scarred on my behalf. Pain. Sorrow to the point of bloodshed. He knows this pain. He’s lived it. And He is here. Comfort. Peace, surpassing understanding.
The next day we drive home to Texas, an 8 hour drive with two littles in the back. Tears and tears flow. Our hearts are hung low, despair that grips us to the core. Grief comes in waves, but underlying is the peace. God sees. God knows. God is near. So very near.
Next is fear. Realization of the looming deployment: must I go through this alone? My husband is meant to leave in two weeks. How can I possibly do this on my own? And then the call comes. “The Squadron Commander has heard the news. You are released from your duty to deploy with the squadron. Rest. Comfort your family.”
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” - Lamentations 3:22-23
More tears. Hearts flooded with a thankfulness that cannot be described. He is full of mercy. His love never ceases.
On the drive home to Texas, the Lord gave me a vision : Walking into our home being met by flowers. Flowers overflowing, so many flowers, too many to count. I love flowers. I love flowers more than anyone I know. I knew that this vision was God’s way of showering me with His love. Love that overflowed. He comforted and showered us with love. Little did I know the reality of that vision. We get home, it is late, so late. Dark outside. Expecting to open the door to a dark and lonely house. We open the door, and the lights are on. The house has been immaculately cleaned. Turn the corner and there they are. Flowers. So many flowers. And food. And chocolate. And french macarons. Covering our kitchen table. A community of believers that had heard the news and wanted to do whatever they could to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Another flood of emotion, this time: joy. Rejoicing, truly. Overwhelmed, honored, humbled. Seeing the hands and feet of Jesus in action.
We sit in this blessing for a few days as more and more of our community comes and meets our messy broken. Meals. Flowers. Love. A listening ear. A hug. Tears. Many shared tears.
Monday comes: another ultrasound. Our OB confirmed: no fetal heartbeat. Dread. In some ways we had held onto hope, praying for the impossible, believing that He is faithful. And he is still faithful, even when He doesn’t come through in the physical. More weeping. More grief. Floods come, waves that crash over, seeming to drown. Difficult decisions need to be made and I’m not ready to make them. This all seems to be too much. Drowning.
The doctor strongly urges a D&C. 16 weeks is too far along to labor her out on her own, she says. Risks are listed; hemorrhaging, extreme blood loss, death. Death. It seems almost a grace. And yet there are still the two- the two graces given and not yet taken. Two sweet little girls whose faces shine with life who desperately need their mommy. And so we press on, nod yes and schedule the D&C. This time peace eludes. Tossing and turning the night before, pleading for some sort of peace, receiving none. I felt like I was giving up. Like if only I would hold onto hope a little while longer, I would see the miracle. I felt defeated.
We went into the hospital early the next morning, 5am. We sit in the waiting room of the outpatient pavillion. Tears flow and there’s not stopping them. The waiting room is mostly empty, only a few lone people waiting for their procedures. A nurse comes out and calls the name of an older gentleman. He walks to her, stops and turns back. He walks to me, stoops low, cups my hands and with tears in his eyes says “I saw you crying”. I cry more. I explain. Tears well up in his eyes, a compassion that is not of this world. “I’ve never been married or had children, but I do know loss. I am so sorry for your loss. God is with you.”
God. God is with me. Peace. Flowing through every fiber of my being. Looking into the eyes of this man who had compassion, it was like looking straight into the eyes of Jesus. He went on to say that he was there to have a quadruple bypass surgery. A QUADRUPLE BYPASS SURGERY. All of the thoughts and worries that he must have been feeling, and he saw me. He had compassion on me, and he took the time. After this I resolved to be present. To notice. To take time.
I went in for my procedure. We requested to take the body, the mangled, broken, lifeless body, home with us. This was new to them, up until this encounter the remains were always simply considered “medical biohazardous waste”. This is a child we are speaking of. Paperwork. So much paperwork. The busy-ness of the nurses. Just another day for them. “It will be a quick procedure. Practically painless, just some cramping. It will be over in an hour.” They put me under and I awoke in pain. So. much. pain. Pain that made it hard to move. Pain that made it hard to breathe. The nurse is trying to reassure me “we’re getting you more pain meds, you have been in and out of lucidness, I’m not sure why you’re experiencing so much pain…” She puts an oxygen mask on me. “Breathe, honey. You have to keep breathing” as the monitor next to my bed beeps loudly. Why am I having such a hard time breathing? Why is all of this so hard? I can’t help but feel like my soul is slipping, and that feel so peaceful. A fight within me. Leave this hurt? Or stay here and be Jesus to the hurt. I resolve to stay. I breathe intentionally, pain searing with every inhale. Jesus be near. After a little while the pain starts to fade, ever so slightly. Just enough that I can breathe without thinking so hard. They send me home on heavy pain meds, I can’t even walk. I go home and the only thing I want is sleep. I want to sleep until forever. The quiet, dark, forever of a sleep never ending. I rest while the husband takes the girls to grab the medicine from the pharmacy. Lots of rest. For several days I can’t hardly move on my own.
That week we purchased a live olive tree. We buried her within a tiny wooden heart shaped box, buried under the potted olive tree. From death, comes life. Our pastor had preached a sermon this past summer in Psalms 128, and a verse had stuck out to me:
“Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.”- Psalm 128:3
Our pastor went into some depth. Why Olive shoots? Why not fig or grape or lemon? Olives. It turns out that olive plants take years and years of cultivating, pruning, tending to, before they ever produce any fruit. But then once they begin to produce fruit, they produce it for generations to come. Wow. How true is this of our children? In the moment we can grow weary, pruning and cultivating, not keeping our eyes on the harvest that is to come. But if we take heart and continue in perseverance we will reap a harvest.
“And let us not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. “- Galatians 6:9
In the weeks to follow, as the Lord restores my body, grace after grace follows. More people coming in to be the hands and feet of Jesus. All pride falls to the wayside as people come and serve me. It’s a humbling place. It’s a beautiful place. God restores all things, he gives hope, he renews our strength, he is our peace, our comfort, our joy.
In comes Nyssa, from Deck and Oar. As an online small shop who strives to sell unique, quality small shop items, she had reached out to us in November wanting a unique product to sell. She purchased 50 teethers to be made in the shape of a duck- exclusive for her shop at Deck and Oar. We designed, cut, sanded, routered. The busy-ness of the holidays consumed us. And then the miscarriage. The day I came home from the hospital after the procedure she reached out to check on us- not demanding (though she very well should have) simply asking how things were coming along. In my broken vulnerable I expressed to her everything that had been going on, and she so graciously released all pressure to send them quickly. Patience was extended and more peace poured over us. When the waters began to settle we sent out the teethers, relieved to finally be able to get them out to Nyssa, hoping they were everything she had wanted and praying that she truly understood our place of hurt. Our prayers were surely answered as we got an email when she had received them. “Rachel, I so love the way these duck teethers turned out! They’re everything I could have hoped for. And I wanted to let you know that you’ve been on my heart and as I’ve been praying for you the Lord put it on my heart to donate 100% of the proceeds to a charity of your choice in honor of Annelise Florence.”
Reading those words, I was floored. Shocked. Stunned. At first, bewildered. And then, overwhelmed. Tears flowed once again as I praised God that He would bring beauty from these ashes. I continue reading, “I’d also love to give you a space on my blog, a platform in which to share your testimony in this as an encouragement to others”
More tears. How is God so gracious? Immediately I told my husband, and immediately I thought of a local place: Pregnancy Resources of Abilene. I had heard people talk about it being a place that had free healthcare for women, a place that was non-profit, a place that loved women, even abortion-minded women, right where they were. I wanted to know more. That week we invited a friend from church over who personally volunteered for the PRA. Hearing her heart for these women just validated what I already felt. They give women information on all of their choices concerning pregnancy. They do not do abortions, in fact they don’t do abortions anywhere here in Abilene and you must drive 3-4 hours to the Dallas/Fort Worth area in order to go through with an abortion, which in itself is a great deterrant. But even women who do choose to abort their children are loved and shown grace and prayed with without judgement. And women who choose life are given free supplies- diapers, wipes, formula. And these aren’t just free handouts with no relationship- every time a woman comes for supplies they sit down and talk with someone who works with the PRA to talk life and to receive counseling and prayer.
We lost our sweet Annelise Florence. Her name means God’s gracious gift, full of Life. If we had the choice we would have chosen life. And in light of her death, we hope and pray that others too would be given the information needed to want to choose life. And even when they don’t- we want them to be so loved, right where they are. So in partnership with Deck and Oar all proceeds from purchases made of our Annelise Duckling teether will go to the Pregnancy Resources of Abilene to help further their efforts in informing women in pregnancy. Our hope is that her death, in some ways, will bring life to others. Blessings to you and yours.