Thursday, April 17, 2014

this is not the end (thoughts on Easter)

A couple of weeks ago, Matthew and I and some friends went to hear the band Gungor play at a Benson coffee bar. I think Melissa described the show best by saying the music was "stunningly beautiful". They put on an amazing live show, and I was swept away by the beauty of the evening. Going in to the show, though, there was one song that I kind of dreaded that they'd play, but also hoped with all my heart that they would.

First, some back story. The summer of 2012, Matthew and I went on a vacation to New Hampshire and Maine. Days before we left, we found out I was pregnant. My first miscarriage that spring was still very raw in my heart, so the news of this second pregnancy was laced with trepidation. So I went in to the doctor and had my blood drawn before we left. And we prayed and prayed and prayed and hoped and hoped and hoped... "Please, God. Please let things go better this time." And we flew to New Hampshire and tried to enjoy our vacation anyway, even with hearts full of fear and anxiety. I'm not saying we were right to feel that way, but I'm going to be honest and say that we were oh so nervous. And there I stood on the street in picturesque Portsmouth, listening to that voicemail from my nurse practitioner, "Your numbers aren't where we want them to be"... and then instructions for filling a prescription, and a follow-up appointment, blah blah blah... All I heard was bad news. I fought back tears all during our fish and lobster dinner along the river. We passed a shop window full of onesies and other cute baby paraphernalia on our drive back to our hotel and I lost it. "Not again, God! Not again!" In our hotel room we prayed and cried and tried to hope... The news didn't for sure mean that we were going to lose this baby. So we made a choice. We decided to hope. It was so hard, but we were going to choose to enjoy our vacation and hope anyway.

The next morning, we got in the car and somehow our smart phone managed to automatically sync with our rental car's audio system, and the song that came on, "randomly", was Gungor's "This is Not the End". Whether I should've or not, I took the song as a sign. The baby was going to be okay. This wasn't the end of the story. Everything was going to be okay. And so we prayed and hoped while walking the streets of Portland, Maine, while riding on a lobster boat, while taking in the Portland Head Lighthouse. We fought to hold on to hope while exploring the breathtaking beauty of Acadia National Park, while playing mini golf at Pirate's Cove in Bar Harbor, while eating fish and lobster in countless little restaurants. And the trip was absolutely beautiful in every way. The refrain of my heart throughout was "this is not the end."

But the hard truth of it was that it was the end, at least in the physical sense. That pregnancy didn't have the happy ending we were hoping and praying for. We got back from our trip and went in to the doctor and the baby was okay. But then two weeks later, he wasn't, and we were absolutely devastated. I was angry and felt betrayed.

I struggled with my faith a lot during that season. I just couldn't make sense of why things had to end the way they had when I had felt so sure that God was telling me in the midst of it all that it was going to be okay. Not just in that song, but in so many other ways as well, I repeatedly heard "it's going to be okay". I was angry and confused, and couldn't listen to that song without crying.

This season of grief was so hard. But I look back at it now and see it as one of the most spiritually rich seasons in my life. You see, over time, God showed me that the promise of "this is not the end" hadn't been broken at all. True, the promise didn't mean what I'd wanted it to mean. We lost the baby. But God's promise of redemption? That still stands. And I'm not talking about Noelle. Sure, the birth of our sweet little girl has brought a lot of healing to this mother's once-broken heart. But that's not what this is about. The redemption I'm talking about here, the happy ending even buried under layers of painful circumstances, is Easter.

The Resurrection is always the end to the story for those who believe. No matter how scarring the loss, how tumultuous the trial, how confusing the doubt, that empty tomb brings hope, healing, and redemption. I cried tears of joy at that concert on that rainy night in Benson. Yes, part of the joy was in thinking about my little girl, but even more so was the joy that I'll see my other babies again some day, too. The Resurrection joy is so much more than once-a-year Easter. No matter what the circumstances, the Jesus followers can sing and rejoice every day that this - this broken heart, this broken world, whatever "this" might be for you - is not the end.

This is not the end
This is not the end of this
We will open our eyes wide, wider

This is not our last
This is not our last breath
We will open our mouths wide, wider

And you know you'll be alright
Oh and you know you'll be alright

This is not the end
This is not the end of us
We will shine like the stars bright, brighter

(sunrise over Acadia National Park, July 2012)

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