Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Reality: Burying an Unborn Child

Today we buried Tereo, our child who died at 8 weeks gestation. 

Burying a miscarried child isn't something most people talk about.  There are many reasons for this, and I believe that one is because it boils us down to facing the ugliness of death.  It is horrible.  I have just lived through the death of a human being inside my body for the second time in my life.  People don't talk about burying miscarried children because they can't really wrap their mind around the idea of a body at such an age.  

I wish I didn't feel the need to talk about it myself, honestly.  When people have asked me how I am doing one week after our miscarriage, I usually respond with, "I don't really have many words yet."  For those that know me, words are not usually hard for me to find.  I love words.  But I share my rawness and lack of words with you today to show you how one family is facing the ugliness of death.  I pray these words somehow reach those who might need to hear them.  And if you are reading this following the death of an unborn child, know that our family is praying for you.  Your child's life matters, and we mourn with you.

There are so many sobering and humbling aspects of miscarriage, but one of the largest I faced this time was loneliness.  My husband and I are extremely close, and we have an amazing marriage.  He was in tears over the loss of this child, but even he could not face this death with me.  

There is a feeling of shame, doubt, and ugliness that cannot be described, and they are feelings you must face as a woman almost completely on your own.  

In the pit of despair, I was reminded again of the first commandment - You shall have no other gods before Me.  When God allows all other helpers and comforts in your life to be stripped away, you are left with nothing but your God.  As I sat there alone and scared, I was brought to a great peace with the loneliness.  A loneliness that made me realize that I am not capable of holding onto God in my fears.  He reaches down and bears this loneliness Himself.  He watched His only Son die, blood dripping from His veins, and He knows what that pain and loneliness is like.  
The Son's loneliness in death.  
The Father's loneliness in watching His Son die.  
Women facing miscarriage are not alone in the blood and tears.  
They are upheld by a God who truly feels the pain of this particular loss.  

When you see the body of a child at 8 weeks gestation, you think to yourself, "What do I do now?"  The ugliness of death is almost too much to bear, but the thought of discarding your child in the trash or the toilet is far too much to bear. 

We are the kind of people that march in the March for Life in Washington, D.C. 
We are the kind of people who adopt. 
We are the kind of people that welcome God's gift of life.
Life begins at conception. 
Every life matters. 
And then we see our tiny child's remains...

Death is ugly.  It is gory.  It is bloody.  It is not how God intended. 
But it is how God now brings Christians to Himself. 

When I see my child there, I know his or her soul is with Jesus already.  I know that God can and will raise the bodies of all the saints on the Last Day, no matter whether they were discarded or not.  I know that our first child's body, who died at 10 weeks gestation, will rise on the Last Day even though I have no clue what the hospital did with Jovi's body after my surgery.  I don't place undue burden or blame on anyone who chose a different option than burial for their unborn children.  In these moments, there is so much fear, anxiety, and innocence.  So few people talk about what they do in these moments that it is hard to make a decision.  The first two graveyards we called wouldn't allow burial without a death certificate, and you can't get that for an unborn child before 20 weeks in our state.   Medical professionals often speak of these unborn children as "its," and don't have good answers for how to proceed after death.  Having been through miscarriage once before and having four living children who are also mourning the loss of a little brother or sister moved us to this decision.  Since we were able to protect this child's body from being destroyed unlike our first miscarriage, we knew we wanted to respect this tiny person.  Tereo, as we named our child, was a person, and we believe all people who have died deserve a resting place. 

Tereo's body was created by God.  God cares about that body.  He made it. 
Do I know what God plans to make of that tiny body in the Resurrection?  No. 
But I know it will be glorious, and for that reason, Tereo deserves to be preserved. 

"...till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:19 

"For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
Psalm 139:13-16

We were blessed to be given a small burial site in a local LCMS church's cemetery. We are so thankful for such a beautiful gift from our fellow Christians. 
And so today, our whole family went to the cemetery. 
My husband dug a small hole at the site. 
He led us in a service for the death of an unbaptized or stillborn baby. 

We sang, "I am Jesus' Little Lamb." 
The children covered the tiny burial box with the dirt. 

And we laid sweet Tereo to rest next to the saints of the last hundred years. 

Tereo, pronounced Tay-REH-o, is Greek for "to keep, to hold, or to guard" as in John 8:51, "Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death." 
This is most certainly true.

Until the Last Day, our child.  

Sunday, February 19, 2017

My View from the Front

Tap. Tap.  "I want to sit with Ms. Sue.  Can I have my notebook?"  Five-year-old son runs back to his favorite pew with a couple who have adopted him into their pew on Sundays.  They snuggle him, bring him little gifts, and all around love on him as if he were their own grandson.

"Mommy?" followed by a silent point.  "Ms. Cyndee!"  Off the three-year-old daughter runs to her adopted pew with two couples and their elderly mother, whom they provide care for.  There she is cuddled, led to Communion, and all around loved on as if she were their own granddaughter.  

Glance forward to the front pew.  The two service helpers are standing in the first pew dressed in white robes.  Two adult members of the congregation with developmental disabilities (the woman has Down Syndrome) who are given the role of acolytes so they may serve the church in an important way each Sunday.  
They fill the role with pride.  
You can see it in the way they carry themselves, with the respect to which they step up to the Altar, with the joy in their faces as they sing.  
The man is not able to read or find the correct number in the hymnal.  Each week, the woman with Down Syndrome lovingly takes his hymnal, and trades it for hers that is already on the right page.  He can't read it, but he takes it with joy and sings along to a surprising number of hymns that he knows by heart.  

More times than less, a tear finds it way down my cheek about now, while I watch them interact.  My mind wanders off to our culture's hatred of people with disabilities, particularly shown through the way they fight for the right to kill people with Down Syndrome before they are born.  I thank God that this woman is in my life and in this church, serving her neighbor by caring about him in the pew.

Christ's love shown through this very important and very joyful person.  She loves her life and I do, too.  As the service goes on and they both quote it without missing a beat, I thank God for the historic Liturgy.

My husband begins his sermon.  I grab the milk cup to appease the 17-month-old for a few seconds...maybe a minute.
Oh, that law hit hard.  A sermon about weakness.  I got a lot of that.  My children show me my weakness everyday.  I glance at our six-year-old, who spent his toddler years kicking, thrashing, and spitting at me during church.  There he sits quietly looking through his new book from his Godparents, quoting the Liturgy during some parts, off in his own wonderland during other parts.  How God's grace has been sufficient in weakness during his six years would blow the mind of most adults.  

OK, mind, back to the sermon you go.  

The sincerity by which my husband speaks of weakness catches me off-guard.  "...felt weak..."
My mind flashes to some friends of mine who have just lost a child in miscarriage.  Lord, have mercy on Stephanie, I say in my mind.  
Mind wanders to our miscarriage - our child that is not with us in our pew or an adopted pew throughout the church, but with our Lord on the greatest pew imaginable.

Flash back to real time.  
The soothing Word of Gospel.  
My husband preaches it so boldly.  
I am free.  I am clean.  I am forgiven.  I am righteous.  Thanks be to God.

A constant rolling hum and occasional scream of children is heard constantly through the service.  Children are here.  Thanks be to God! 17-month-old rolling around on the floor beneath my feet.  The thought of "how could she possibly be getting anything out of this" flashes through my mind.  "Why do I bring her in here and fight her every week?"
The Lord's Prayer.
I look down and she has crawled onto the pew next to her oldest brother, hands folded.  "Amen!" she says at the end.
I smile.  OK, God, I hear you.  She is getting it.  She belongs here.  Thanks for the reminder. 

"Solomon, time for us to go up for Communion."  
"OH YES!  Time to receive Jesus' BLOOD!  My favorite part!"
Smile.  Yes, son.  The confession of children is bold and accurate.

Glance over during Communion and see a family next to us, bringing their children to this place to receive Christ's gifts together.  Sad thought of them moving away soon, followed by a fun thought of rejoicing in the WHOLE Christian church gathered around at Communion, and how that will connect us over many miles.

Back to the pew, and I watch our other two children walk up to Communion with their adopted pew friends.  Joy in the family of Christ.  People pass by, and thoughts of the beauty of the Christian church flash through my mind.  
I watch children pass by who are brought to the Altar by their faithful grandmas and grandpas. 
I see children who grew up without a father but have been taught about their Heavenly Father through others around them.
I see the disabled.
I see the elderly.
I see babies.
I see children who were babies when my husband baptized them, and now they are walking around talking about Jesus.
I see husbands.
I see wives.
I glance up and see my husband's eyes catch mine.  He grins at me, and a few chills run down my spine.  My husband still gives me chills...even in church...even in a collar...even while serving Communion.  God has been gracious to me.
I see widows, and I remember to pray for them, as I am sure they miss those chills.
I see the young man who was baptized on the same day as our youngest daughter.  He was a teenager and she was a newborn.  I flash to a memory of him holding her that day.
I see people who are poor.
I see people who are wealthy.
I see people who are black.
I see people.who are white.
I see people who are mixed race.
I see people.

I see the masks of Christ in this world.
This is Christ's flock.  

Church isn't about a feeling.  I don't need to feel the Spirit move to know God is present in His Word and Sacraments.  I don't need to be brought to tears to know my heart is changed by the Word.  I know these things because He promises these things in this place.

But when the Lord gives the feelings, the memories, and the tears, I am thankful for that, too.