There are Times when it’s Hard to be Optimistic

I’ll be honest.  I’m not always cheerful, content, happy, peaceful or thankful.  I’m usually optimistic, but sometimes that feels impossible.  There are sounds and pictures locked in my brain that sometimes sneak in and haunt my dreams.

For example, if you’ve ever held your child down while doctors or nurses administer their immunizations or have to start an IV, then you will understand that those cries of pain have been seared into my very molecules and I cringe when I remember them.

Or when I’ve looked into my older children’s eyes and see pain reflected there–emotional pain from break-ups or betrayals–and know that all I can do is listen and sympathize/empathize with them.  That there are no band-aids to cover this kind of pain and make it better.

But the day my optimism took the biggest hit occurred in 1996 when I gave birth to a full-term stillborn baby boy.  He was physically perfect: 7 lbs exactly, 21 1/2 inches long.  No flaws, nothing to suggest a problem except for his gray color and dark red lips.  It was an umbilical cord accident–he had a “true knot” in the cord which had pulled tight earlier in the day and cut off his oxygen supply.  I’d only realized something was wrong when he stopped moving for over an hour and by then it was too late.  If the cord had tightened while I was in labor his heart rate would have dropped and he would have been delivered by emergency c-section and probably still be alive today.  How can anyone be an optimist in a situation like that?

At the time, I couldn’t.  I’d never experienced emotional pain like that before.  I was amazed every day when I woke up that I was still alive.  Our bodies can withstand an awful lot and keep going.  The part of my brain involved in keeping my body alive seemed to be unaffected by the part of my brain that was grieving.  Or maybe it was affected, but kept doing what it was supposed to do anyway.

Every evening, as the sun began to set, I would sigh with relief that another day was over.  I had gotten through it somehow.  Twilight became my favorite time of day.  I could quit pretending that I was okay.  I could put the kids to bed and let the tears flow freely.  But the middle of the night was the worst part.  I would awaken at regular times through the night, almost as if my body knew it was supposed to be feeding a baby.  And I would feel so horribly alone; my arms so painfully empty.

If you don’t know me well, you don’t know that my favorite season of the year is spring.  It has been for as long as I can remember.  But Stephen’s death was in April and for the next five years I couldn’t appreciate spring.  I dreaded it instead.  It brought another anniversary marking another year of living without a part of my heart.

What got me through it?  My husband was my rock.  He listened to my rantings and held me when I cried.  And, most importantly, he didn’t let me keep quiet about my anger at God.

I was very angry at Him.  I felt like He was the only one who could have changed the outcome.  When Jay made me express my outrage, it was the beginning of the healing.  My mom helped too, by asking me gentle questions about my faith and getting me to think through the implications.  Could I still trust God?  Did I still believe that everything He put me through was going to ultimately work out for my good?  Why did He take my son?

Every week, in church, we prayed the Lord’s Prayer.  Now the words “Thy will be done” took on extra significance.  Was it His will that Stephen died?  I found out, through the many sympathy cards I received and conversations I overheard, that Christian people have differing views on this.  Some believe that God had nothing to do with Stephen’s death.  That He was just as surprised as we were when he died.

Believe it or not, that made me even madder.  Where should I direct my anger if God didn’t have anything to do with my son’s death?  Does what happens here on earth matter to Him?  Or is it insignificant–our lives.  No, I couldn’t accept that.  I believe we matter so much that He sent His Son to save us.

Which left me with the fact that God knew what was happening and He still let it happen–or made it happen–depending on what you believe about predestination.  Either way, Stephen was dead.  And I had to deal with that.

I could go on and on about my struggles during this time and for the 15 years since then.  But I don’t want to lose anyone who’s trudged through this post until now.  I’ll cut to the chase.  For me it came down to a battle of the wills.  I wanted things my way.  God said no.  And now, this might sound really stupid since my decision wasn’t going to change the outcome in any way, but I had to decide whether or not to submit my will to His.  To accept that His decision was the right one and trust that His reasons would make sense to me sometime (probably in Heaven) or deny Him and walk away from the faith entirely.

Truthfully, there were days when I thought I was going to chose the second option.  I was that angry.  I kept going to church though.  And one day we were singing a hymn, “Jesus Shall Reign,” with a verse that said “Infant voices praise His name” and I broke down.  Why wouldn’t God want infants in heaven?  They are the purest of us, aren’t they?  That made sense.

But when I got to that line in the Lord’s Prayer I stopped.  Was I going to accept God’s will even if that meant He chose to take my son?  Yes, I still believed that He had a purpose to everything He did and does.  I still do.  And, incredibly, accepting it brought peace.  And hope.

I believe God has Stephen with Him.  And I believe someday I’ll see him again and get to hold him in my arms.  The answer was tied up in faith and trust and acceptance.  I had to let go of the anger and believe that what the scriptures say is true.

1.  He didn’t give me more than I could handle because He gave me the grace to get through it.

2.  He knit Stephen together in my womb for His glory.  He shared Stephen with me for those nine months and I will be eternally grateful.

3.  Christian’s don’t grieve without hope.  When it comes to death, we are cock-eyed optimists, knowing that things aren’t what they seem.  Our loved ones are still alive, in a spiritual dimension that we can’t see and experience until we get there.

4.  He works out all things for our good and for His glory.  I am changed since Stephen’s death.  But I’m changed for the better.  I have a new capacity for compassion that I’ve never had before.  I have a desire to help others who have experienced/are experiencing the aftermath of a stillbirth or infant death.  And I have more patience for those who are suffering through the torment of questioning their faith.  I pray they will come through it with a stronger faith, as I have.

For who better understands the pain of losing a son, than the Father God who gave up His only begotten son for me.  For us.

This is a part of my story.  It’s my story and may be completely different than yours.  That’s okay.

I’m not really sure why I’m sharing this with everyone.  I keep re-reading it and not pushing the publish button.  I’m afraid to open up like this.  Afraid I’ll be criticized or dismissed or considered one of those “religious nuts.”

But maybe my story will encourage others to become cock-eyed optimists along with me.  So I thank you for reading.  I hope you feel you know me just a little more.  And please feel free to comment, but be kind.

2 thoughts on “There are Times when it’s Hard to be Optimistic

  1. Cindy,
    I’ve just read your story, like I’ve read many of your FB status updates over the years now, including all the ones on the anniversaries of “Stephen”. Every time my heart hurts for your loss, and at the same time, I stand in awe of your faith and steadfast hope. (optimism?) Do not second guess your writing……it is for a purpose. You may not even know what that purpose IS, but God does, and that’s all that matters.

    • Thanks so much, Cindy. I always second guess myself and my writing. (And third guess and fourth guess…) Jay teases me that I take forever just to write something short. He’s right, of course, but that’s who I am. =) I really struggled to post this. I finally said a prayer, took a deep breath, and said to myself, “Just do it!” I guess only time will tell if it was wise or stupid.

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