Several years ago, I had a fight with God. There were turned backs, words, tears, crossed arms and clenched fists. It was raw and not what I wanted to do. In the end, the fight changed me. Vulnerably, I am choosing to share a part of my story. I do not pretend to know the journey you are on, and while it likely looks different than mine, maybe you’ll connect on some level.
Twelve years ago, I gave birth to a beautiful daughter, Zoe Dawn Smith. She was my first. Through years of infertility, we had dreamed, hoped, and prayed for that day. She had brown wavy hair like mine and deep blue eyes like her daddy. Her skin was soft and 100% kissable. She had 10 fingers, 10 toes, thin lips, a cute button nose and squishy ears. She squeezed my fingers and we looked into each other’s eyes like you only do with those that completely know you. She’d regularly reach her tiny arms out in front of her in a manner that looked like she was trying to fly. When she’d do that, daddy and I would refer to her as “Super Zoe”.
At 17 weeks gestation, David and I learned that Zoe had a genetic condition called Trisomy 13. If you are unaware of this condition, know that “severe physical abnormalities and mental abnormalities” and “incompatible with life” were some of the words the doctor used to help us understand the diagnosis.
For the 18 weeks that remained in my pregnancy following this news, I spent most of my days holding my breath…unable to process the weight of her diagnosis. At times, fear would violently pull me out of my avoidant breath-holding state. We’d attend OB appointments every week. Sometimes we’d receive positive feedback of organs developing and water decreasing from her brain. These moments were what allowed me to come up for air just long enough to go back to holding my breath again.
In all honesty, through the remainder of my pregnancy, I was a shell…only sustained by God’s grace, faithful prayers of friends, and hope that at some point, I would have the chance to touch my daughter.
On September 13, 2005, I DID get to touch Zoe. Seeing her and touching her were as precious as I had imagined. Her physical presence awakened me and for a time, I breathed again.
Three days following Zoe’s entrance into this world, I prayed over, sang over, and held my baby girl as she took her final breaths. David and I wept over her, cradled her, kissed her, changed her diaper and clothing and eventually called for the doctor to roll her and her bassinette to wherever it is they take the babies that have forever left their mark on their parent’s hearts in this devastating way.
And then, I went back to holding my breath.
Life went on.
Nightmares and sleeplessness.
Unanticipated tearful breakdowns in public places.
Blank stares in the middle of conversations with friends.
And attempts to pick up the remaining pieces in an effort to move forward.
We’d go to work. David a pastor. Me a counselor. Somehow trying to pastor and somehow trying to counsel. Because life goes on and the work of grief and the work that pays the bills often have to happen at the same time. Emptied of ourselves, I humbly hope that people still grew under our care.
The years following Zoe’s death were filled with ups and downs. Grief changed me. For quite a while, I felt significant numbness. At times, numbness seemed like my method of conserving the remaining energy left due to the toll loss had taken on me. My husband, friends and family were left with remnants of me.
I’ve been a Jesus girl for a lot of my life. Praying, reading scripture, singing and looking to His life as the example. But let me tell you…there was a definite coldness between me and God for quite some time following my daughter’s death. However, because I’m also a bit of a rule follower, I kept pushing through the “good Jesus girl” motions as best as I could. I eventually learned that reluctantly doing the “right things” with my arms crossed was not connecting me to my creator.
For as long as I can remember, I have always trusted in God’s sovereignty, believing that He has authority over all things. At some point, along the way, I applied this by thinking “Who am I to question God!?” I mean, if God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and ever-present, “Who am I to question Him?!”
In my grief, my response to that self-shaming question was this…
Just keep pretending that you are “okay” with how everything is going down.
Do the good things.
Smile when possible.
Trust in His sovereignty and move on.
But here was one of the major problems. I wasn’t actually trusting in His sovereignty. I was just pretending to trust because that’s what I thought a “good Jesus girl” was supposed to do.
It wasn’t until years after Zoe’s death that I realized what I had been doing. I was sometimes crossing my arms in anger afraid to question Him. And I was sometimes hanging my head in discouragement because I started to believe I was no longer a “good-enough-Jesus-girl” to figure out a way to feel okay after the pain. Truth is, I was a broken-hearted daughter who had some unanswered questions for her Father. I needed to uncross my arms and open up about my coldness. I realized that unless I stopped being controlled by the “who am I to question God” belief, I was going to remain stuck between the disconnected anger and the self-shaming discouragement.
There were lots of conversations that followed, but I want to tell you about the one that stopped me in my tracks. The one that finally caused me to uncross my arms and lean in close enough to listen.
It was her birthday…a day that usually involves deeper aches and more tears. This would have been her 5th. I was sitting in the chair in my bedroom. As I write these words and remember that day, I can feel my lips tightening like they do when there is something you really want to say but you don’t think you should and the only way to keep from saying it is to literally clench your jaw and press your lips together so that the sound doesn’t accidently slip out. Yep, that’s what it was like on that day.
Sitting in my chair…
Clenching my jaw…
But then, I opened my mouth and said it…OUT LOUD.
(Arms crossed.) “God, how could you let this happen?”
(Louder.) “God, HOW could you let this happen?”
And then I heard Him. As clear as you hear these words in your head as you read this article…I heard Him…full of compassion…full of love…free of frustration…free of judgment.
I know what is best.
(Arms crossed tighter.) “God, HOW can Zoe dying be ‘what’s best’?!”
I know what is best.
(Fists in the air.) “God, HOW can Zoe dying possibly be what’s best for me?! Don’t you see how hard this has been?!”
I know what is best for her.
I Know What Is Best For Her.
Ugh. That’s when I paused. That’s when my arms fell down to my sides. That’s when I started to weep. That’s when I imagined Zoe safe in the arms of Jesus. That’s when I imagined Him caring for her in all of the ways that are best for her. That’s when I felt Him calming this mama’s heart. That’s when I actually began trusting Him again. That’s when I believed that He does know what He is doing and He does know what is best for her. That’s when I realized that the pain I experience in this life does not equal a God who doesn’t care. That’s when I realized that believing I have no right to question God only kept me distant from knowing His comfort. And while my heart still aches at times, I do have a solid peace that has led me back to trusting Him. As I have released other loved ones into the arms of Jesus, I am reminded of those words that He whispered to my heart that day and I can rest in trusting that He does know what is best for them.
My standoff with God could have continued. I felt like I had every right in the world to be mad. You might feel that way too. I didn’t realize giving Him my anger and my questions would actually allow me to connect deeper with His love for me. But it did.