Throughout this week that we call Holy, I've invited a few friends who have companioned with Christ and His people in suffering to share a bit of their stories with us. Today's guest is so very dear to me, and her story one I've mourned from much further away than I'd ever hoped to be when one of my siblings suffers. Even with my ten years advance, I often find myself learning and leaning into my sister's wisdom. Watching Alicia and my brother-in-law, Richard, continue to nurture hope in the middle of so much pain, and watching the Church come around them, time after time, has changed me for the good. Would you read their story with me, and listen with an open, prayerful heart for any words Christ might be speaking to you through them?
Retrieving lament with the family of Christ
Only a third of the way or so into the hill, I could just feel it all drain from me. Any motivation to keep pushing up the hill, gone. Weird, considering the one strength I bring to running is the ability to keep moving. So, I walked. Defeated. I noticed this same pattern in other areas, as well. Like when I was laboring in the birth of my son a year ago. No emotional reserve to work from.
Because this wasn’t typical of me, it stood out and made me ask, why? It became apparent that it was undealt with grief draining my soul.
Driving home a few weeks after my 2017 New Years’ resolution to allow myself to feel my grief whenever it came up, I was overcome with anger and wept out: Why couldn’t God just have answered in a relational way? Yes, I know we got the answer “no” through the death of each of the four babies we miscarried, but why couldn’t He have had the kindness to be present with us in that “no"? Just silence. Like He didn’t have the nerve to speak the answer to my face. I just had to wait for His “no” in the bleeding out of each of these lives.
My almost four-year-old daughter has a deep, pondering mind and the ability to ask questions that I have no idea how to answer. It really bothers her that she can’t hear “God and Jesus.” She often asks about this, and part of my reply is that God speaks to us in a variety of ways, including through His people.
He is present through His people.
Oh, the abundance and tangibility, the extravagant solidness of the community around us in the waiting and hoping and grieving, in the throes of each loss.
For example, two years ago when I found out that the cause of our miscarriages was a chromosomal abnormality, the feeling that each of my cells was broken consumed me. I hated my body. In fact, I could feel myself trying to pull away from my own body, which caused as much internal conflict as you can imagine. I turned to a few friends and asked them to pray with me. So, in my living room they sat as I ranted and wept, and they listened to God with me. And with their strength of presence, we together poured my anguish into the cross. They spoke to me truth and grace and forgiveness and release. They were God’s presence to me, such tangible presence.
At that same time, I shared with our small group and the women gifted me with a massage. A massage is usually a good idea (am I right?) but - God made us body and soul. The first group of women helped me find God with my soul and the second helped me find God with my body. They were God’s tangible presence to me.
I could tell you about my sister-in-law showing up quietly with a quiche the day we came home from brutally miscarrying our first, or the time she responded to my frantic text and watched my daughter as I started to miscarry our third. Or the time she and my brother showed up a year later with beer and cookies, just to say they were with us as we processed understanding the brokenness of my body. Or I could tell you about the verses of encouragement persistently showing up in the mail during the season that I was miscarrying our fourth, statements of truth to assert and limply hold on to when my heart was not there. Or the flowers given from family to say we’re here and we honor this life. Or the meaningful necklace from my good friend, because she knew this would stay with me and always be close to my heart, and physical remembrances help. And her gift of asking me how I was doing months later when it would be easier to hope I had moved on. Or the gift of listening friends who had experienced great loss who could validate my pain with the words “I know” with a kind of weight only they could offer.
Arms and ears and gifts and words; the tangible kindness of God so present with me.
Emmanuel in grief.
And, the number of people who pleaded with the Father for my son (who is currently healthily crying upstairs. His life may be an answer to prayer, but that doesn’t mean he wants to take a nap). When I visited my sister’s church in Austin, TX in January of 2016, nearing 7 months and clearly great with child, the woman who came up to me and put her hand on my belly and said, with boldness, “I am invested in this child!”, I knew without a doubt she and so many others were.
God present through His people in life, too.
Alicia Nichols lives in Gaithersburg, MD with her husband, daughter and son where she spends her days chasing her children through various parks and libraries and engaging with the diverse community around her.
(You can read all of the Retrieve Lament stories from previous years here.)