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Only a couple weeks remain until the birth of Stern baby boy #4. February 18th marked the one-year anniversary of the loss of our baby girl, Bergan. These last two weeks have been bittersweet as we prepare for new life and grapple with death. For those of you who might not know, Jossie was eight months pregnant with a baby girl when the doctors noticed something terribly wrong. The fluid levels in the baby’s body were too high and the prognosis was terminal. Two weeks after the diagnosis, Jossie delivered Bergan stillborn and a week later we had a graveside service to remember the life that was never lived.
This last year has been one of the most painful and difficult we have endured. What we experienced is something no parent should ever have to – putting your infant daughter into the ground is not the way things are supposed to be. Bergan’s death pictured our planet’s brokenness and everything wrong with the world. Yet – as is often the testimony of those versed in heartache -- the beauty of redemption has shone. A perfect and loving God intersected imperfect and helpless humanity. Out of the ashes of our pain has risen God’s story. In this horrible and ugly place, we found buried treasure. Of course I would trade it all for my daughter, but I am thankful for the lessons learned which has made the pain worthwhile. These treasures are invaluable. I have listed a few that particular resonate in this season.
God is more interested in me than He is in my feeling good. It is human nature to want to feel good. We realize that the experience of pain, though realistic in this world, is somehow abnormal. We were created to be experience joy but tragedy or trauma comes and we find ourselves miserable. Like physical pain in our chests tells us something’s wrong in our bodies, the emotional pain in our hearts tells us something’s wrong in our lives. And after we are uncomfortable long enough and life is consistently not what we expected, we often pray something like this: “Dear God, I know you love me. I believe you designed me for joy. But right now I am miserable. I know nothing of the joy you promised, nothing of the fruit your Spirit can produce in my life. Please make things better so I can feel good again.” We pray for relief from the strain and heaviness of the situation, but is relief really what God came to bring? It seems God rarely, if ever, answers this prayer! The weight of our pain remains and we find ourselves facing a crisis – Are the promises of God real? Why don’t these bad feelings go away, replaced by the “good feelings” from God? Our misery then drives us to seek feeling better rather than to seek God.
Romans 5:3-4 says “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Pushing through our misery actually produces something better. Character and true hope is worth our suffering. I know I sure don’t like the way I feel during that time but I know the result is worth it. The book Shattered Dreams by Larry Crabb (a profound book that has been a sage companion to Jossie and I on this journey) says, “No matter how bad life may one day make you feel, remember something good is happening that you may not be able to see. Give yourself over to the God who is working out a good plan. Do not settle for rearranging your world merely to feel better (p.153).”
Intimacy with the Father is the ultimate. I am sad to say that my priorities have not always been in the right order. Sometimes we don’t see what’s most important until it is shaken or lost. Intimacy with the Father is unparalleled in value and priority. John 17:3 says “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” The Christian life is not primarily about avoiding hell, living a certain way or feeling good about yourself…the Christian life is about knowing Jesus! God used this last year to cultivate deeper relationship with Him. That makes the heartache worth it.
God’s road to joy is often through the valley of suffering. Martin Luther said, “Only in suffering do we learn to fully delight in God’s goodness.” No wonder our enjoyment of God is often shallow – we avoid suffering at all costs! When we embrace difficulty and, after many dark nights, taste the fruit from allowing Him to know us in our darkest moments, a seed of true life and joy pushes through the soil of our hearts. It is in the times of being alone, disappointed, hurt and confused that Jossie and I experienced God and the true joy of knowing Him and finding Him to be enough.
Jossie and I are so grateful for the countless people who have expressed their encouragement and prayed and supported us through this last year. I don’t know how anyone makes it through a trauma like this without the strength of community. Having friends to walk with you through life’s challenges is vital.
Jesus said, “…in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Jossie and I realize we are likely to have seasons of trouble down the road but knowing God and the peace found in Him gives us courage and hope for the future.