A year later, after receiving permission to begin thinking about having another child, we were thrilled to learn I was pregnant again. Ten weeks in, at a routine ultrasound, we saw the baby on the screen - without a heartbeat.
A few months after that, we learned we were pregnant again. This was early 2007. That sweet baby was Copeland.
I don't write any of this to say that my story is unique, special. I write it for two reasons. One, because I want to remember. There's a loss in the forgetting. And, two, because instead of being unique, it's universal. And it's not just the idea of suffering. Suffering is a part of life, and we hear its refrain from the time we are young. But it is repeat suffering - loss after loss, sorrow after sorrow - that takes us by the scruff of the neck and demands we decide: will we fall on our knees or rise to our feet? Will we bow before a God who allows us to come to blows - again and again and again - or will we stand and walk away, convinced that it's impossible for such a god to exist?
I learned, tonight, of parents who recently lost their second child to a genetic disease that robbed their first of life only a year before. A disease that didn't show up in their eldest until she was nearing two and wouldn't appear in their youngest until after his older sister had been buried. Another mother lost a set of twin girls last summer at 20-odd weeks of pregnancy; just a few weeks ago, she and her husband learned they were pregnant again. "Redemption! Here's the plan God had all along!" This is the common Christian cry. Why shouldn't it be? But just a few days ago, that same young mother faced yet another heartbreak: miscarriage. Again.
We are such wonderful, beautiful creations. We look for redemption in everything around us. We can't help it. We look for the reason, the purpose, the story. The turning point. Every good writer knows that each story has to have two things to make it "work" - a climactic point where everything suddenly becomes something different, often something better, and a character who changes and becomes something different, often someone better. We like better. In fact, sometimes we don't mind trading in our present mediocrity for future elation, even if suffering is often strewn along the path. But we want the future elation to come soon. Now. Because the mediocrity doesn't look like mediocrity until it's eclipsed by elation. Until then, mediocrity looks like happiness. Let's be honest: it is happiness! We just begin, in the hour of suffering, to convince ourselves that what we believed would make us happy - the thing suffering took away - was really a trick, or a trap, or something we'd begun to make into an idol. That, eventually - soon, now - we'll see how that happy wasn't happy at all. What's really happiness is to come. It's better.
But what if better doesn't come? What if better just keeps taking its time or never even shows up? What if what everyone says is going to be the "blessing around the bend" keeps evading me? Why did I have to let go of my past joy to stand in present sorrow? When's the future going to make it feel worthwhile? What's the sense in all of it? Where's the redemption?
I heard a pastor say once, in a sermon I doubt I listened to at all, that "history is going somewhere". I doubt I listened because most of what he said was beyond my comprehension. But I caught that line. I like karma. I'm sort of built to like karma. We want to know that "what goes around, comes around". Strangely, this is the breath of the Gospel. Jesus came. He died. And good won. But we don't see the manifestation of that win in its entirety yet. Our life story isn't circular. It's not "do-good-get-good, do-bad-get-bad". David laments the prosperity of the wicked time and time again in the Psalms. Our story - God's story - is linear. It's a fine line going directly, pointedly, toward one end. And that end is His glory. In Jesus, "our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18). Do we compare them? Of course. We wouldn't be human - and God's great love - if we didn't. But one day, we'll laugh. We'll realize in full that He was right. They weren't worth comparing.
As Conor and I sat in the ultrasound room last week, watching the little heartbeat of this, our fifth child, flutter on the screen, all I could think was, "How senseless. Why in the world am I lying here, seven months after I delivered a beautiful little girl, looking at the same screen that revealed her tiny heartbeat a little more than a year ago? Why isn't she here?" Suffering, in our most basic - and most understandable - estimation is senseless. Even though I know thousands of lives were impacted by Copeland's life, I still grieve her loss. Nothing, nothing will redeem that loss for me. Not even another baby. Nothing. And yet, I look for it everywhere - the redemption. I crave it, I need it, I reach out for it. And thus I reveal within me the great, gaping void that can only be filled with the truth of Christ. He makes sense of the senseless. The fine line - my story, and yours - began and will end with Him. Every moment is Him. He is Redemption. He's the only Redemption.
I don't know what is around the bend. I know God has something good. But something good is not promised to be something perfect. Or something happy. Copeland was the best thing that ever happened to me. And the worst. How can such contradictory statements be true? Only in Christ. We know that road to Heaven is narrow. Perhaps this doesn't just mean man will find the world enticing, its ways distracting. Perhaps it means that the road is certain, and set and unwavering. That it doesn't meander about. The road is a line, a delicate but unaltered course taking us Somewhere - to see Someone - certain and set and unwavering. On our knees or on our feet, may He lead us Home.