It was 12 years ago in October that Reuben was born—stillborn. I would not wish such an experience on anyone, and I hope never to go through anything like that again. I would not, however, erase it from my past.
When we discovered I was pregnant, I took my vitamins, but I also I made sure to eat plenty and frequently in order to avoid the extreme nausea which had overtaken me in other pregnancies. However, despite my gallant efforts, the nausea and vomiting began. We quickly packed up, leaving behind language-learning and other ministry tasks, freeze-framing that aspect of our lives. We headed down to the capital, and it was not long before I was so sick that I had to be hospitalized. After I was released, we remained in the capital for three months where I lay prostrate most of the time, trying to distract myself by reading while sneaking anything possible and passable into my mouth. Sometimes that sneaking turned into force-feeding by friends. Schooling and childcare of our three children were wonderfully covered by others in our mission during that difficult time. At my 12-week checkup, we heard the baby’s heartbeat, which was an unexpected gift! As the nausea subsided around week 15, we began to make plans to return to our home in the mountains following the 16-week check. Finally, we could get back to living our lives.
It was at that 16-week routine check that the midwife could not find a heartbeat. I sensed the Lord saying “I have this under control.” I assumed that to mean that the midwife was wrong and that the heartbeat would soon “appear.” It did not mean that. She was not wrong, and the heartbeat did not appear. The ultrasound proved her assessment: the baby had died.
How in the world is that under Your control, God??
I was so angry that God had “tricked” me into believing Him. Angry over all that time lost out of our ministry area, time lost from language learning, money lost in all the extra medical and housing expenses—not to mention all that time throwing up with nothing to show for it. I suffered all that time for the life that was growing in me, and what did I get in return? It was worse than nothing. Everything was meaningless. God had betrayed me.
Mixed in with the anger, I felt a sense of shame and embarrassment, going from one doctor to another, one test to another. Not only that, but then we had to tell all our family and friends who knew—and explain it again and again. Then we had to tell our children. How do you tell your seven-, four-, and two-year-olds that their brother died? How do you explain to them that, even though they had been praying that the baby would be healthy and that Mommy would get better, then thanking the Lord that Mommy was better, after all that praying, God let him die? One of them said, “Why did God let our baby die?”
As I lay in the clinic the next day waiting for the pitocin to do its job, I had a lot of time to think and let my mind wander. I wondered why I had to lose this child whom I loved and wanted, when countless others around the world choose—CHOOSE—to abort their children out of convenience. Why? It was not fair.
Then I was struck by the reminder that the Father had ONE Son, and He chose—CHOSE—to give Him up for me. He made the decision that He would give up His One and only Son, willingly, watch Him suffer, and allow Him to die, in order to be the sacrifice to pay for MY sins, because I could not pay the penalty myself. I gained a much deeper appreciation for that sacrifice and His love for me than I ever could have otherwise.
If my grief was so strong over a child I had not yet gotten to know, how deep must the Father’s grief over Jesus’ suffering have been? And how deep Jesus’ grief must have been over the sense of being forsaken by His Father! And if depth of grief is a reflection of the depth of one’s love, then how deeply must the Father love us that He allowed such a thing to happen to His Son, knowing the grief.
Lying there, listening to music, I was reminded that Jesus was a man of sorrows and grief. He knew what I was suffering. I was not alone. He knew a worse shame than what I experienced, and He too felt forsaken by His Father.
When the child was finally born, it was bittersweet. I felt that God was letting me in on a little bit of a secret. I got to see and hold something that most people will never see or hold. I held in my hands a perfectly formed little boy at that stage of development. He had beautifully-formed hands, fingers, feet, and toes. He fit right in my palm of my hand. His hand was the size of my pinky fingernail.
We decided to name him Reuben Nehemiah. Reuben means “look, a son,” and Nehemiah means “God is my comfort.”
People came out of the woodwork to help us during that time. One person crafted a beautiful wooden cross with Reuben’s name and birthdate engraved in the wood. One person had a little coffin made in which to bury him. Yet another gave us a beautiful white cloth in which to wrap him. Someone else purchased a very thoughtfully-made arrangement of white roses for us to put at his grave. Someone else arranged for a place to bury him and had the hole dug for us. Countless others brought us meals, watched our children, and provided for many other kind and thoughtful details.
I do not tell this story so that you will cry and say, “Oh, she went through such a difficult time,” or, “That is so sad.” It was sad, yes. I tell it, however, so that you can know what I learned, that God’s love for each one of us is great. He wants to have fellowship with us—and can we even begin to imagine what He went through just so we could? He loves us. Just as I wanted to keep my Reuben with me, God wants to have a relationship with me. He wants to keep me! He shows His love for us first through Jesus, but He also shows His love for us by the way the Body ministers to us in our difficult times.
I did not come to most of these conclusions during that difficult time, but as I have healed from my grief, these lessons have been unveiled.
Do not trample lightly on God’s great love for us. “Jesus loves me, this I know” is not just a cute song for little children. It is a great truth that we must all remember. He loves me enough to give up His Son to pay the penalty for my sins. He loves me enough to want to draw me to Himself, and He will use even difficult things in our lives IF that is what will draw us to Him. He showed me a glimpse of His great love for me through that difficult experience, and I would not erase that from my past. I still have a precious little Reuben; he just happens to be waiting for me in heaven, one of my treasures there. I cannot wait to meet him!
Question to consider: What lessons have you learned from grief?