She was far enough along to know it was a boy. The softening of her figure and the growing roundness of her belly made her look more like a girl than a woman who had endured the slow passing of a childless womanhood.
They named him, this little Isaac-baby, conceived after she had stopped hoping, years after she had realized that motherhood would be the thing that separated her from all the other married women she knew. Motherhood, she had come to realize, was something she would never have.
But then, there was a strange illness and a doctor’s appointment and the most marvelous, incomprehensible news of all—after all this time, a baby was growing inside her barren womb.
Her father—Grandpa!—could not hold back the grin. The proud Italian immigrant called the baby Primo, meaning “The First.”
It was this grandpa who called to tell me that the doctors had seen something. There was a problem with the baby’s heart, they thought, and he wanted us to pray.
But we didn’t get very long to pray. A second call told me it was too late. The baby had died.
This father’s voice broke on the phone because he was going to have to take his grown-up baby girl in to the hospital to labor and deliver a baby that would not cry or kick or nuzzle to her breast. He would be born, this miracle baby, and she would hold him and memorize his face and marvel at his fingers and kiss his toes just like any mother would, but then the nurses would come and softly ask her if she was ready, and they would take her baby forever away.
I wept. I wept for the little baby and I wept for my friend. I wept because I didn’t understand. This was not how the story was supposed to go. How could God do something like this? How could He open a womb, make a woman into a mother, and then take it all back except the part of her heart that could never be put back
“It would have been better if…,” I cried.
But I couldn’t finish that thought because to finish the thought would be to say something that wasn’t true.
It would not have been better if he had never been created because it is no small thing to make a woman into a mother.
So I sat in the church looking at the flowers the baby’s mother had made for her own son’s funeral, and I had no words. Nothing I could say could make it right. How desperately I wished God would show His hand, would reveal the sweet redemption behind this awful cross. I wanted her to have the decency of an answer to the excruciating question of why it was okay for God to open her womb to fill heaven.
Even now, as I write the story, I long to tell you how it all came out right in the end. But I haven’t written the story before now because there is no happy ending, not yet. And the un-doneness of it rubs my heart raw because I want to be able to tell you how my God fixed this.
Only He hasn’t.
My pen trembles to write the words, as if it is sacrilegious to say so, but there it is, all the same. It is a great mystery, a question I can’t answer. I do not understand why God did what He did.
But the more I read of the Biblical struggles of life and death, the more I have come to believe that it’s okay to say so. It’s okay to write in the midst of the confusion and to pen the stories that don’t tie up neatly in the end. It is okay to shout, “I do not understand!” and to ask the questions that don’t seem to have answers.
Because that is life.
God is silent, sometimes, and mysterious and incomprehensible, and we write fiction if we write away all the tension that comes with that unknowing. Some things in life are a mystery, and hurting people need to see that we get it, that we can look pain square in the face without numbing it with platitudes.
Life can take the breath right out of you because it is terrible-hard, sometimes. We should not pretend otherwise. If we do, we miss the opportunity to minster to another mother who needs to know that her baby mattered. She needs to know that his life was not without meaning and purpose on this side of eternity. She needs to know that somewhere, another woman understands what is like to be forever changed by a person she never met. She needs to understand that her baby is worth grieving over like a real person, because he was.
She does not need the why.
It helps enough to know that someone else has grappled with the mystery.