He hand paints sunsets for us, his brush all aglow with light from the sun. The wind shakes the leaves from the trees and small yellow hearts fall through the air, cascading towards the ground. My feet pound the black pavement in rhythm as I push the baby stroller as evening wraps around us slowly shrouding the sky in grey that will turn to night before me. I watch these scenes unfold before me, as my baby sleeps. She squirms and pushes her hands around her mouth, and settles again. I don't get out much like this anymore since I've become responsible for other little people. But I long to see this---that hand print of God in creation, the evidence that He is real, He is there.
The morning we talked of the boy's Christmas presents I'd been working on with my Mom since July was strangely, the day when I would begin to feel it: the all-over itch and evidence that something wasn't quite right. Yet I'd already canceled my OB appointment on Friday since I had come down with a cold. That same evening, I'd get a call saying she was gone. I'd sit in shock wondering why I couldn't cry, why the tears wouldn't come, and wondering if it was really true. If a cat had nine lives, Rachel had eleven. She survived a very difficult pregnancy and was born at twenty one weeks and several difficult and intensive surgeries. The next morning I'd call the doctor because of the itch and because I needed to travel at 33 weeks pregnant.
“You don't want to see her,” he told me. “I've seen lots of dead people. Remember her as she was, as she was in her good days. If you look and see her now you will always remember that and that isn't who she was,” my firefighter brother warned me. And so I decided to remember her for who she was, who she is now, which is nothing like what she had been in the last 15 years.
While helping write her obituary, I am able to cry about who she is in the presence of Jesus and how she is living, holding my brother, and welcomed by my Grandparents. Her lungs, windpipe, eyes, legs and brain all perfectly healed. She is able to understand things she couldn't on earth. She is no longer broken. The gospel eliminates no one from understanding God's love for us. The weak ones, the rich, the strong, the poor all meet together as the status quo that our world defines is totally and completely annihilated.
Nothing prepares one for standing over the casket of a younger sibling. Her guide dog sniffs the casket, we look at pictures, remember funny (and fond) things. We watched it be lowered into the ground, and I remember her as the sister who would love to sit in my lap and be read to. No, I would not wish her back. I know she still is, that she has not ceased in her being. My grief is that I will see her no more on this side of Heaven. Eyes have not seen, and ears have not heard all the wonderful things He has prepared for us. Her fragile little life wrapped and held in the Father's hands.
I come home to phone calls and answers, the kind no one really wants to get. “You've developed cholestasis of pregnancy, and the doctor will have to deliver at 36 weeks. We'd like to schedule it now.” I choke out a “What?” and the tears come from lack of sleep and disappointment, and I put it off by telling them I need to consult my husband. I know what this means for my baby and for me. My womb has become a unhospitable place for her and to keep her in would not mean keeping her safe. There is the possibility of a NICU stay, and for the next 3 weeks the baby and I are monitored 3 times a week. I know my baby and I are held in the Hands of Him who created the universe, who breathed life into that first Adam, and sent the second so that I might know the power of the Gospel, the love of a God who would bridge time and space to bring all men to himself. Our fragility is cradled by Him who holds and gives life into all things.
There is an induced difficult labor and delivery, and loud cries when the baby meets the air. I know we will not have a NICU stay when I hear her and after the last three weeks I'm incredibly grateful. I don't get to see this very often, but I long to see it, the handprint of God in creation, the evidence that He is there. I am held even as I gently fold my baby against my chest, her chest rising against mine as she takes her breath into her lungs.
We don't get to chose how we die, but we do get to choose how we will live. He gives and He takes, and His name is blessed. It's the in between time of life, when we are stuck living and being that we get to choose whether to bless or curse His name, to live and believe that what He has said is true—-He is relentless in His pursuit of us, and loves us with an unstoppable love. And still, my heart comes back to 'In life in death oh God, abide with me.” There have been times I have been mad, but I have never been able to walk away from the God who has held me in my pain, comforted me in my sorrow, and loved me before I loved Him. In my own brokenness, He has and continues to cradle me in joy and sorrow.
I will not chose to walk away, but walk with Him as I see Him paint his glory in creation, bear witness to His tender love and miracles in life and birth, and His unrelenting love and mercy in death.