We had an obviously really sweet ending to 2016, but when Noland and I sat down on New Year’s Eve to process our year and dream into a new one, it was kind of crazy to remember how hard this year actually was. For the last month I have just been weeping joy tears over our beautiful baby girl, but in the 11 months prior to that, there was heartache and loss and all sorts of confusion — and all at the same time, hope, life, and the provision of God in the most impossible places.
We entered the extremely intimidating process of adoption, and I wrestled with fear and anxiety the entire time. Yet every step of the way, God reminded me how much He was with us and for us. We asked Him for a house; He gave us one. We moved forward with adoption even when we didn’t know where tens of thousands of dollars were going to come from; He literally opened Heaven and poured it out on us.
We were surprised by a sort of miraculous pregnancy in July, and we grieved the loss of that pregnancy at around 8 weeks. Less than two weeks later, another August 8 came and went, and it all felt like too much — questioning the loss of and longing for our boy Judah all over again, and still healing from miscarriage all at the same time. The entire month of August just felt like death to me.
We grieved with others this year, too. We spent two weeks in Europe over the summer, learning the stories of Syrian refugees and allowing our hearts to break with theirs in their longing and loss — emotions that are all too familiar to us. We saw a brokenness in our world that we can’t un-see, and our hearts will never be the same from it.
We walked with other friends of ours through the loss of babies, broken marriages and other wounded relationships. We watched as a really hateful election cycle unfolded, polarizing our nation and leaving a lot of people we love deeply heartbroken. All of these experiences made 2016 a really confusing year for me, personally.
I spent a lot of the month of November just grieving. I felt grieved over and tired from our three and a half year journey to family. I felt grieved over the brokenness in our nation. I felt grieved over the brokenness in the Middle East, over the friends I made in refugee camps in Europe this summer and their longing to be back home.
And then on December 1, this precious baby girl was placed in my arms. And it was so sweet and I will never be the same, but even her arrival wasn’t without grief and heartache. It wasn’t necessarily mine and Noland’s grief, but we were deeply touched by the grief of her birth parents that we saw so up close.
Something happens when you share such an intimate experience with strangers — they quickly become the opposite of strangers. In one night, these two precious people became so dear to our hearts. We laughed with them. We cried with them. Gosh, we had a baby with them. That sounds weird but there’s not really any other way to say it.
About a week after Ellie Joy was born, we took her by her birth parents’ place to say goodbye. It was one of the most holy moments I have ever experienced. We all stood outside, and some of the neighbors crowded around to see the baby they’d all been watching grow in their friend’s belly. We all ooh-and-ahh’d over her, most of us with tears in our eyes.
One of the neighbors asked if he could pray over her before we left, so we all gathered around, a bunch of misfit strangers quickly made brothers & sisters, as we laid hands on our girl and asked God to bless her and keep her. In my mind I sort of zoomed out on that scene — a scene I never in a million years would have placed myself in — and I thought about how sweet it is the way God weaves life into all of our dead and hopeless places.
We finished praying and we walked away to have a more private goodbye with Ellie’s birth parents. Her birth dad hugged Noland and with tears still welling up in his eyes he said, “Go be a daddy.”
Her birth mom walked us to our car, both of us awkwardly prolonging a goodbye we weren’t sure how to say. She kissed Ellie and handed her back to me. I hugged her and through my blubbering tears all I could say over and over was, “Thank you.” She thanked me back, for giving her girl a hope that she couldn’t, and told us both she loved us dearly.
As we drove away, I thought about how we would be celebrating in the weeks and months to come, and they would be grieving and healing. And oh, the ache of grieving your babies — I know it so well. In those couple of weeks in Arizona, I had no idea how much my heart was capable of grieving and celebrating all at the same time.
And that’s kind of how this year has been. Deep, deep grief coupled with extravagant celebration. Even this baby girl in our arms who we are so crazy about doesn’t take away the grief of losing Judah last year or the loss of our pregnancy in July. I still think about both of those babies when I rock her to sleep at night.
The truth is, there’s no real cure for longing on this side of Heaven. We’ll never be complete on this side of eternity. We will always experience grief even in the presence of life — and I’m learning to be grateful for that.
I know Jesus better because of it. Because He was a man familiar with suffering and acquainted with grief — and all in the same breath, He is Life. He is Victory. He is Hope. He is Peace. In His Presence is FULLNESS of Joy. And that is because for the joy set before Him, He endured suffering and death on the cross.
Sometimes when death sings melody, life sings harmony. And somehow the two together end up being a really special kind of beautiful.
In 2017, I hope we are all better at this dance of letting those two things exist alongside each other. When our hearts are breaking, I hope we let them — there is gold in being broken and allowing God to move and comfort and heal, even in our questions. And when we experience victories, I hope we are brave enough to claim and celebrate them, not allowing our previous losses to steal from our current breakthrough.
When we see injustices unfold before our eyes, I hope we really see them and choose to allow our hearts to be moved in such a way that our actions follow. I hope we let our own heartbreaks grow empathy for others.
I hope we’re all a little more uncomfortable this year — willing to be inconvenienced and interrupted for the sake of someone else.
And you know what I think fuels all of those things? Being willing to be heartbroken. There is something about experiencing grief that makes us all a little more hungry and willing to make sacrifices in order to bring forth life. And I think our world could use a little more of that this year.