It was meant to be a night of celebration. We were to don our wedding gowns, bridesmaids dresses, veils, thrift store finds, whatever. We were to take pictures at a beautiful fountain, then part for dinner with our comgroups, then return together at our church to eat wedding cake, look at wedding albums, and watch a chick flick. It was meant to be a night of laughter and joy.
Today, a beautiful, talented, precious woman named Stephanie found out that the baby inside of her no longer has a heartbeat. She is in the hospital now and the doctors will induce labor and tomorrow she will deliver and hold a baby girl who will not breath the air of this earth.
There was still some laughter and joy as a few women from our comgroup gathered for dinner. At her house, Kim showed us her wedding gown, which she had opened for the first time since her wedding, along with her bridal portrait and her veil. I bought Girl Scout nut mix from her daughter. But as I rode with her to the lovely restaurant in downtown Bryan, I sensed an underlying sadness so I asked her how she was doing with all of this. She's heartbroken for Stephanie, but also grateful for her three children. She told me of the complications that she had during her final pregnancy, and how thankful she is that her youngest son is well, how thankful she is that her family had no real problems creating children, when so many other families from our church have experienced inferitility, miscarriages, and now, a stillborn delivery. "This is worse than a miscarriage," she said, "I don't know what to compare it to. The only thing worse that I can imagine is losing a child that you already know."
Dinner was delightful, and fell on a special evening in downtown Bryan where all of the shops and art galleries stay open later and have life music and special events. We walked around after dinner, stopping by our friend's art crowded art gallery to look at paintings and jewelry and pottery and to listen to jazz music. A few blocks down Kim's husband and his best friend were playing music outside of an old hotel, so we stopped to listen to them. Earlier that evening, we had passed her husband and his friend setting up, and I had asked if she wanted us to go by and see them later. "No, it's ok," she replied, "This is really more his friend's gig, and I've seen them many many times." But towards the end of dinner, I noticed Kim growing more silent. By the time we left he gallery, she just simply stated, "I need to go see Adam play." When we arrived outside of the hotel, I watched her greet her husband with a kiss while his hands were still touching his drums. They spoke briefly, and then Kim turned to catch up with another friend who was watching the show. In many ways, this husband and wife sometimes seems so strong and independent, both of them able to receive strength and confidence from the Lord on their own, but they're still interdependent in a beautiful way, and I feel like tonight I witnessed her receive comfort and strength from her husband in a simple way, in a kiss, a few words, eye contact, and his presence.
We still gathered at our church after dinner. There was still wedding cake, three tiers of chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla. But instead of wedding albums and romantic comedies, there was prayer and scripture. When we arrived, the women were already in a circle, tears in every eye, reading scriptures of comfort and love and hurt and trust. I was soon informed that all of the scripture being read was being recorded, and this recording would be played for Stephanie tomorrow. I heard someone read the scripture, Isaiah 43:2, that I likely would have read for her . . .
"When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze."
The scripture continued to flow, until a woman spoke a blessing to Stephanie and her husband and stated that she would dedicate this song to them. A long silence followed, eventually broken by her voice singing out clear and free a beautiful song about coming to the river, letting the waters wash over her, dancing in the river. After we concluded the recording, we prayed for the other pregnant women who were among us, prayed protection for their babies, and prayed against fear and guilt. Eventually, we moved into a more casual time, and did eat the wedding cake, as we wrote on blue cards words for Stephanie to be built into a scrapbook.
I spoke with Ari, a woman from my old comgroup, a dear, wise, wonderful woman who has been with me through some of my toughest times this past year. Ari is pregnant with her third child, and experienced two miscarriages before her first child was born. I told Ari that I'd been praying for her pregnancy and praying for her baby since I found out that she was pregnant. She told me how she scared her husband today after hearing about Stephanie's baby when she told him, "I haven't felt the baby kick today." She was frightened, so she drank some cold water, laid down on her bed, and prayed for her baby's kick. Eventually, she felt her baby kick inside, but somehow this wasn't enough, so she pleaded with God to feel her baby kick one more time. Eventually, she felt the second kick, and she knew that God was answering her prayers, and giving her these signs to show her that her baby was ok, that she could trust him, and not be afraid.
It was a strange, beautiful, tragic blessing of a night as the women of this body, my family, mourned together. But our grief, deep as it may feel, was not without hope, not without hope of the resurrection, of the Christ who has taken away the sting of death, of the hope that God has not forsaken Stephanie, that she will be protected and healed and restored, and the hope that one day Stephanie and Mia will be reconciled together again.