In March of last year my wife, Kim, opened up a letter that would shape our lives for the next four years.
It was “Match Day” and along with thousands of other medical students across the country she was finding out which residency program she had matched with.
To our great surprise, we discovered we be moving from Tennessee to Connecticut.
Around this same time we had another surprise – Kim was pregnant.
Needless to say, that time was a whirlwind of emotions. We were thrilled to finally be expecting a child after years of trying, shocked that we would be moving across the country, and excited about the prospects the future held.
Within a day or two of finding out we were making the trek to New England, we contacted a real estate agent in the area and made arrangements for a frantic search for a new home in Connecticut. Kim may have matched to a new program, but medical school was still going strong. At the same time I was busy at work, preparing to take my youth group on an international mission trip that summer, while also getting ready to start my own program at Yale. So our house hunting trip had to be brief, not much longer than an episode of House Hunters on HGTV.
The plan was to travel up the first week of April. We would attend an Admitted Student Day at Yale, then spend a couple of days frantically trying to find a place to live, before rushing back to Tennessee in time for Easter Sunday (since Easter isn’t really a day you can take off when you work for a church).
As I said, as crazy as it all was, we were really excited. Kim had matched at a program she really liked, I was thrilled to have the chance to study at Yale, and we were finally expecting after years of waiting, trying, and praying for a child.
Unfortunately, our excitement faded quickly.
On our flight to Connecticut Kim began to experience back pains. Our minds immediately jumped to the worst. During our layover, the pain got worse and I could tell from the look in my wife’s eyes that she was seriously worried.
The double edge sword of being in medicine is that while you may have the confidence and ability treat all sorts of ailments, you are also keenly aware how quickly things can turn, and how even the best doctors can sometimes do nothing to stop the inevitable.
Seeing the worried look in her eyes and watching her struggle in pain I felt helpless.
Hundreds of miles from home all we could do was check into our hotel and wait at see what would happen.
The next morning we were scheduled to attend the Admitted Student Day at Yale. To our great relief Kim was feeling much better than she had the day before. The back pain seemed to be gone which meant we could finally concentrate on the business at hand – finding a place to live.
The day started off well, but it didn’t stay that way for long.
The pain came back. It wasn’t at constant at first, but it kept coming back stronger and more frequently each time. Worried that the worst could be happening and unable to reach Kim’s doctor in Tennessee, we decided to make the short trip across state lines to Massachusetts where my wife’s sister was a midwife and would be able to get us in to the midwifery clinic she worked at.
During the two and a half hour drive there the pain just got worse, while my sense of helplessness and our hopelessness grew.
After picking up my sister-in-law we finally made it to the clinic where they had been kind enough to stay late so one of the nurses could perform an ultrasound on Kim and find out exactly what was going on.
I don’t know if you’ve ever found yourself sitting in a doctor’s office during a time like this, but it is a completely surreal experience. Everyone in the room knows the gravity of the situation and yet we all inexplicably feel the need to uphold a sense of decorum and professionalism.
It’s almost other worldly.
But we quickly came crashing back down to earth once the ultrasound began and learned the news we had been dreading to hear.
There was no heartbeat.
Our dreams of having a child would have to wait, snuffed out before our very eyes.
As the reality of the situation was beginning to sink in, the nurse warned us that the miscarriage would probably kick in full swing soon as the body began the natural and painful process or ridding itself of the failed chance at life.
She was right.
It happened almost immediately after the ultrasound was over.
I’ve never seen my wife in so much pain before.
I’ve never felt so helpless before.
Neither of us had ever been so heartbroken.
And in the midst of our personal hell we were supposed to find a house. We had to find a house. This was our only chance to do so. We didn’t have the time or money to come back to Connecticut to look again and we certainly didn’t want to blindly rent a place we had only seen pictures of.
So, we decided to head back to my in-laws apartment to try and figure out what to do.
It didn’t take long to come to the realization that Kim wouldn’t be able to do anything that weekend. She was in so much pain she couldn’t even get off the couch, let alone make the drive back to Connecticut and search for a house. But we had to find a place to live.
Which meant I had to leave and go at it alone.
Yes, Kim told me to go and, yes, she was in great hands at her sister’s apartment with a sister and brother-in-law who could not have been more supportive throughout our ordeal, but leaving the apartment that night was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do and the prospect of driving back to Connecticut alone only to get up and feign normalcy with a real estate agent I didn’t want to drag into our hell was another nightmare I wasn’t looking forward to.
The drive back was the loneliest two and a half hours of my life. My emotions were so raw I couldn’t even bring myself to turn on the radio. I didn’t want to hear anyone experiencing any sort of joy when I was hurting so much. So I sat in silence with nothing but my thoughts and the constant reminder of a wife wrenched in pain on a couch that was getting further and further away with every mile that I drove.
By the time I crossed the Connecticut state line I was at the end of my rope, drained completely of all emotions, when words I had not thought of or even heard in years began to flood my mind….
When peace, like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Horatio Spafford wrote those words after learning that his family whom he had sent ahead of him to America from Europe had died when their ship sank during the trans-Atlantic voyage.
Before that moment alone in my car in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere, I had never really understood how painful it must have been for Spafford to write those words or how strangely comforting they could be when your worst nightmares come true.
Without even knowing why or really being able to stop myself from doing so I found myself doing the last thing I ever thought I would do only hours removed from learning of the death of what would have been my first child.
I began to quietly sing.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come
Let this blest assurance control, that Christ has regarded my helpless estate
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
It is well, it is well with my soul.
If you know me at all, then you know this is not the sort of thing is not me at all. I’m not a sappy person. I avoid cheesiness like it’s the plague and mystical encounters with God are not something I ever claim to experience.
And yet God is the only source I can point to tell you why I found myself breaking the silence of a lonely car ride with a hymn I hadn’t sung in years.
I wish I could tell you that it felt like God was sitting next to me. It didn’t. I wish I could tell you that these words of peace made everything better that night. They didn’t. I only slept that night because I was completely exhausted.
But it was a simple gift of grace I will always be grateful for.
The next day wasn’t any better as I glossed over my wife’s absence by telling the real estate agent that she was feeling under the weather and decided to stay back at the hotel. Things only got worse as we visited the potential houses and the real estate agent took every opportunity to show me how the extra bedroom in each one could easily be converted into a nursery, not knowing we no longer had a need for one.
After the house hunting trip from hell, I arrived back at the hotel to find my wife was back and, thankfully, feeling better. We talked about the houses I saw and she was even able to get out to see one for herself, the one we eventually decided to rent.
But our long slow nightmare wasn’t over.
We still had to go home and face a church on Easter Sunday that didn’t even know we were expecting, let alone that we had just had a miscarriage.
As many couples in our situation choose to do, we decided to remain silent about what had happened. Not out of embarrassment, but because we didn’t want to blindside everyone and drag them into our personal hell.
If it had been any other day but Easter I would have called in sick. But it was the biggest day on the church calendar and I had to be there, no matter how much I dreaded it.
For me, it was as awkward and draining as I expected it to be. By the time the service was over I was emotionally numb from pretending everything was ok.
But like He did for me in that lonely car ride home only a few days earlier, God spoke a word of peace to my wife during the service. This time the words of peace came our associate pastor Lora Jean who, though unaware of our plight, delivered the most perfect sermon an expecting mother could hope to hear after enduring such a nightmare.
Like preachers everywhere that Easter Sunday morning, Lora Jean preached on the resurrection, but she brought a point of view to the age old story that I had never considered and which my wife will never forget.
She talked about Mary and what she must have been going through as she walked to the tomb that first Easter.
Only days earlier, Mary had stood at the feet of the cross and watched her first born child die in front of her very eyes. When we talk about that first Easter today it’s framed in expected celebration almost as if Mary knew what was about to happen. But she didn’t. She wasn’t coming to the tomb to celebrate, but to mourn.
When my wife went to church that Sunday morning a year ago, just like Mary, she wasn’t going to celebrate, but to mourn the loss of what would have been her first child.
But like Mary, she was met with unexpected hope. Our child did not come back to life, but God met Kim during that service with words of peace and a reminder that she wasn’t alone. Countless women had endured the same pain she was experiencing – including the mother of God. But God did not abandon Mary in her despair, nor would He abandon Kim.
Like He had for me in that lonely car ride home only a few days earlier, God brought peace and hope to my wife during the darkest days of our marriage. The peace of knowing that she was not alone and the hope that one day new life might spring again.
It didn’t make things go away instantly. There were countless difficult days afterwards that in which we both found ourselves once again in tears, wondering how God could have let it all go so wrong.
To be honest, there are still plenty of days when I get angry with God over what happened.
But despite our anger and despair, that weekend God had given us enough peace to see another day and sufficient hope to join with Horatio Spafford in singing,
And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend
Even so, it is well with my soul.
One year and another miscarriage later, our faith is finally becoming sight.
This November, if all continues to go well, we will welcome our daughter into the world.
As excited as we both are I can’t tell you that the pain of last year doesn’t still linger. The tears still flowed as I wrote this post and remembered that hellish Easter weekend.
I also can’t tell you that all stories have a happy ending. Many times they don’t.
But from my own experience I can tell you that no matter what happens, God does not abandon His people.
I can tell you that God is faithful even when the all the evidence says otherwise.
And I can tell you that God is a God of peace and of hope and that God generously showers that peace and hope on us often when we least expect it.
He did for us.
And I hope God does the same for you.
And however you need it.
Grace and peace,