Burying Luke made it final; he was no longer with us. I came home with empty arms, to the still bareness of our bedroom.
There was no rocking our child in the wee hours of the night or cradle bed to lay him down to sleep. There was no gentle rhythm of baby’s breath or plaintive cry for a midnight feeding. There was an absence of baby smells—the lotion, the powder, the diapers, empty or full. I missed simply being able to hold the velvety skin and rest his cheek against mine. To pat his small frame, having my heart swell with motherly love.
All these losses added up and left me feeling restless. That night, after the funeral, sleep became elusive to me. As I lay in bed, I felt like holding something or someone. I grabbed a small pillow and cradled it in my arms. It calmed my restlessness a little. It was as if I were fooling my heart into believing my baby wasn’t gone.
The next morning, Billy and I woke up with a high fevers, chills, and aching bodies. We could barely get out of bed, let alone get to the doctor. It turned out that we both had come down with a bad case of strep throat. I figured grief must have taken its toll and wreaked havoc on our immune systems.
We started a regiment of antibiotics and tried to rest. With pulsing head, I lay down on the recliner, and Billy was sprawled out on the futon. People from church brought us some soup, but neither of us had the strength to heat it up in the microwave.
My stomach growled, and I knew I needed to eat something soon. “Could you heat up dinner, honey?” I croaked.
“Can you do it? I can’t get up,” groaned Billy.
We went back and forth, each trying to coax the other into making dinner.
Finally, Billy spoke up with frustration in his voice. “You’re gonna have to get it. I’m too sick.”
“But, I’m sick and still recovering from having our baby,” I cried out emphatically. “Why can’t you make dinner?”
Billy buried his face deep into his pillow and moaned. April looked worried and upset that her mommy and daddy were arguing.
“Well, if we’re both too sick to even make dinner,” I lamented. “Then who will take care of April?”
“Let’s call someone,” answered Billy.
It didn’t dawn on me that we could ask for help. Billy got up and gave my aunt a call, and she agreed to watch April for the night. Forcing myself out of the recliner, I heated up the soup and made us dinner.
A few days later, we were on the mend, but something had shifted between us. It’s like our grief was so heavy, our deep love for each other got buried beneath it. It set our relationship off course and we seemed to drift further and further apart.
At the same time, something like a shadow crept over me. Even when I went outside in the bright sunlight and pushed April in her swing, it brought me no joy. All I could feel was the heaviness and the shadow.
It was a few months later, when Billy and I went to a conference held by our church that I felt challenged to go on another mission trip. It was a very intense time for me. I felt so overcome with grief, I could barely lift my head. As the worship music played, I began to feel closer to the Lord. I literally bowed down in awe of Him and felt like a heavy burden was lifted off my shoulders.
We partook of communion and a church elder handed me the bread and the wine and spoke a verse over me.
“The old has gone, the new is here.” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)
That particular verse resonated with me in my grief. Everything was different now, but I couldn’t get used to this new normal. I wanted things to go back to how they used to be, before Luke died.
I didn’t know how I could be happy again.
There were many speakers that night. One friend got up and asked for people to consider coming with him to Poland to help teach English to the Polish people.
Something in my heart began to stir with compassion for the people of Poland. It was the same compassion that drew me to go to Ukraine to minister to the people there who didn’t know the love of Christ.
At the same time, I felt a twinge of hesitation. It had only been a few months since Luke died. I was still grieving and wasn’t feeling close to Billy.
It was the second time that Billy had the chance to go to Poland. The first time was when April was a baby, and he felt unsure about going. This time he had a strong desire to go, and he wanted me to join him.
To see Billy want to serve the Lord on a mission trip with me gave me the motivation I needed to go. I set my reservations aside, and we both prayed and committed to go to Poland.
The night before the mission trip, the whole mission team prayed and fasted. Shifting the focus from myself and my pain to the Lord filled me with hope. The Lord revealed to me that even though He was leading me out of my comfort zone, He had a plan and a purpose for it. He was the One who didn’t change, even though everything else in my life seemed to be turned upside down.
From the moment I set foot on Polish soil, I felt the presence of the Lord with me. It was cool outside, and it started to sprinkle. As the refreshing rain tapped upon my face, I looked up to find a misty rainbow stretched out over the city of Poznan.
Like in the days of Noah, the rainbow reminded me of God’s provision of salvation. Though God destroyed all life on earth, by His grace, He provided Noah, his family, and the animals a way of salvation through the ark and made all things new. The same is true in Christ. Like the ark, Christ saves us from perishing in the judgement of God against sin. In Him, we have new life, eternal life, where all things are made new.
On the first day of English Club, Billy and I kept arguing over seemingly trivial things. We couldn’t seem to work together as a team. It made me wonder. If we can’t get along here, what does the future hold for us?
The next day, during class, we read Jesus' parable of the Lost Son (from Luke 15:11-32). Each Pole took turns reading a few verses, and we asked about their feelings toward each of the characters in the parable. The students shared a deep respect for the father in the parable who showed compassion toward his wayward son.
We explained that the word compassion meant to "suffer with" someone as if you felt their pain. Then we went around the room asking each student how they had been shown compassion. Everyone had a different story to share.
One Pole, named Micah, had a heart-breaking story. He told us about a time he was in an accident, and his car flipped over several times. He was stuck in the car, and kept seeing people walk by, but no one stopped to help him.
He waited twenty-five minutes before someone helped. He said he didn't feel like people showed compassion like the father in the story.
By the end of the week, we felt close to all our new Polish friends. Some of them came with us after English Club to a park to play American sports.
On the way to the park, we rode a tram (similar to a trolley) and passed by a woman who was in a car accident. Micah's story went through my mind, and I hoped someone would stop to help her.
At first, her back was facing us, but as we drew closer, I could tell that she was bent over and holding her stomach. Then, someone who looked like a nurse rushed across the street to help the woman.
By that point, I could see the woman was pregnant. I burst into tears, because I wanted to help her, but I was stuck on the tram. I buried my face into Billy’s chest, and he held me and prayed with me for the woman and her baby. It took me a long time before I regained my composure. I think seeing the pregnant woman in need of help was a trigger for a new wave of grief.
The whole mission trip was bittersweet. It was hard to reach out to others in our pain, but at the same time, it was healing. I was thankful the Lord had led us to Poland. He was teaching us how to lean on Him as we leaned on each other.
This is Part 6 of my story, Journey of Loss. Here is the link for Part 7.