It was dark in the cruel hospital room where I (Lori) was holding her tiny body. Her Mom and Dad were shortly asleep from every kind of exhaustion imaginable. God had spoken His will over Annie’s life, and I didn’t like it. As my eyes strained to memorize her every feature, my heart was wailing in pain. My eyes saw sweet feet and hands so familiar to our family … porcelain skin like her mother and dark hair like her father. She was a tiny beauty whose body was not made to thrive on this earth but whose soul would thrive in heaven.
It has been one year since that moment and at times our pain is still fresh and raw. It has been seared into our memory; it is something that will stay with us forever. Many a night I’ve (Lori) cried out to God. This has not been a journey that we would have chosen for our family. Looking back, we have identified some signposts which have helped us along the way.
First and foremost, we have learned that grief is not an event; it’s a process. We have reviewed the events of that day many times. Even though we cannot change the outcome, we have come to realize that the Lord has been changing us (for the better). Believers have spoken of the “School of Suffering.” It’s the graduate studies division of the Christian life where painful lessons are learned as grace comes disguised as grief. Such learning is a lifelong process.
Not all sickness is caused by sin but is the result of living in a sinful world. How simple it would have been to attribute the cause of our granddaughter’s condition to someone’s sin, anyone’s sin. Like the disciples in John 9 who asked the Lord, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). We must remind ourselves that our Lord clarified the matter by stating, “Neither, this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him” (9:3). The Master knew that sometimes sickness is simply because of our fallenness. Our Lord, in taking our sin upon Himself, counteracted initially the spiritual results of our sin by bringing forgiveness. He will counteract the ultimate physical results of our sin by delivering us from a world of sickness, sorrow, and death. Until then ... we let our Lord reveal His works in us, the ones grieving, in hopes that one day all will be made right.
All life is valuable. Life’s tests often challenge our convictions. Our family affirms the inherent, eternal value of life because of our belief that we are made in the image of God. But let a little life happen, and then we come face to face with the decision either to hold our beliefs more firmly or let them go in the heat of the moment. The doctor had to disclose to our daughter and her husband that abortion services were available. They immediately refused and chose life. Their baby would be loved and nurtured at least for nine months, and hopefully longer, following a miracle. Based on our reading of the Word of God, we know in the deepest part of our being that we are made in the image of God, or, to use the psalmist David’s words: “I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well” (Psalm 139:14). Our value comes not from what we do but that we are stamped with the very image of God. Not that we are God, but we are eternal beings with a body, soul, and spirit: “He has put eternity in their hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
Our purpose is not contingent on what we do but Whose we are. Our granddaughter came into the world for a very brief period. Our time with her stretched to only three short hours. Her last breath here gave way to her first breath there. She stepped into the world prepared for her, for the purposes planned for her from before the foundation of the world. If the Lord knew Jeremiah before his birth (Jeremiah 1:5), then surely He knew our Annie before her birth. However, unlike Jeremiah, His plans for her excluded life on this planet but definitely included life with Him in Heaven for all eternity. Our Heavenly Father designs beautiful purposes, which transcend our mortal existence, even for one whose earthly life didn’t register but a brief span. The Lord knows His plans for His own: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you ... thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). Surely, this promise is not limited to those who reach old age. It includes those who hasten to be with Jesus!
God is faithful. He did not heal her like we wanted. It wasn’t because He’s not powerful enough; He is all-powerful. It was His sovereign will, and we had to yield and submit to it. We experienced, and continue to experience, His abiding presence. He did not abandon us in our deepest pit, He met us there. In the words of Corrie ten Boom: “There is no pit so deep that God is not deeper still.” She knew about suffering and loss. Corrie lost her father, sister, and brother to Nazi brutality in World War II.
Even in the loss there were refreshing glimpses of grace. December 7, the day of Annie’s birth, was also the birthday of Annie Gray Coile, our Annie’s great, great grandmother. We drew comfort that they would be together on that special day in our family. Were they walking and talking together in heaven? Like David, we affirm that “God is good and does good” (Psalm 119:68). His goodness and presence are inseparable in dark times: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you…” (Isaiah 43:2).
Annie is more alive than ever before. We will see her again! We have not lost her; we’re just not getting to enjoy life with her now. We will! The Apostle Paul reminds us that “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). Jesus triumphed over the grave, and He lives that death may die! In the words of John Owen, “He is the death of death!”
Prayer sustains us like a faithful friend. Prayer for us simply became breathing God’s promises back to Himself. Promises of hope, heaven, and help from above kept us going. We knew that God’s people were faithful to lift us up in prayer. Literally, through social media, people all over the world were praying for us. We continue to be reminded of our need to be recipients and practitioners of fervent prayer. There is a wonderful irony here. Annie, whose name means “prayer,” had prompted so much prayer.
Life is lived on parallel tracks. Just eight days before Annie’s birth we celebrated the birth of our second grandson, Trenton Paul Moody. It was a time of undiminished joy. A few days later, Annie came and left. Life comes at us with pain and pleasure. The painful experiences can’t be sifted out. The “double-sided coin” of life can’t be tossed aside. We learn to thank the Lord for both. He sees us through the tough times, and celebrates with us in the happy moments. We see parallel tracks of joy and difficulty in the life of Jesus: “For the joy that was set before him He endured the cross…” (Hebrews 12:2). Why should we expect it to be any different for us?
God is still teaching and blessing. The grace with which Lauren carried and birthed Annie was a lesson for us. God isn’t finished telling Annie’s story. Like Enoch, she still speaks after death (Hebrews 11:4). We had the double grief of losing our granddaughter and watching our daughter go through such intense pain. We wanted to take it away, but we couldn’t. When your children hurt, you hurt, too. Yet, joy is abounding as we have watched her and Chad grow and share their story with others. God has kept His word to use our suffering to comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). The fragrance of brokenness is spreading the glory of our Lord in order to bless others! For that, we are thankful!