My Testimony

The Spirituality Channel at Patheos asked bloggers to post about “Stepping Stones” on their spiritual journeys.  This is my entry, a story of loss and faith.  I offer it as a testimony, and look forward to hearing about your journeys as well.

Scott, my husband of five years, died while I was seven months pregnant with our first child, Sarah.  Ten days later, she was delivered stillborn.  It was, and is, fifteen years later, nearly impossible for me to believe that can happen to a person.

Within a year of their deaths, I became a Jesus Freak.  It was, and is, fifteen years later, nearly impossible for me to believe that can happen to a person.

But it can.  And it did.  And ever since, God has been proving himself faithful to my ever doubtful heart. The primary means of his grace has been through my family, and I never tire of telling people what he did to restore my heart and my life:

Nearly two years after Scott died, I returned to school to pursue a doctorate studying the effects of bereavement on children’s development.  There, I met Jeff, a university chaplain.  He was kind and funny and smart.  He wrote me a song and gave me a scarf to stay warm.  Scott would have liked him, and I fell in love with him easily.

We dated for a few weeks and decided to get married.  It was a joyful, all day affair.  We got married at the beautiful church in the middle of Harvard Yard.  Scott’s best friend walked me down the aisle.  I saw him as standing in for Scott, giving me his blessing as I joined another man to make a life together.  I thought I would cry, but I didn’t.  Instead, I joined two hundred of our friends and family as we belted out hymns, laughed and cheered, and shared communion together.  In some ways, the entire day was one long celebration of communion.

A few months later, on the morning of Mother’s Day, I sent Jeff to the store for a pregnancy test.  It was positive.  We were having a baby.  My pregnancy was labeled high risk, and those next months were filled with as much anxiety as hope.  I never did know why Sarah had died, and I feared each trip to the obstetrician.  I held my breath each time he put the heart monitor probe on my stomach.  Would I hold this baby while it was still alive?

We learned that the baby was a boy.  We named him Zachary Scott.  Zachary means The Lord remembers.  The Lord remembers Scott.  And He remembers all that Jeff and I had been through to find each other.  He remembers us, I kept telling myself throughout my pregnancy.

Zachary was born on December 19th.  I held him all day, but let the nurses take him at two in the morning.  For the first time in months, I slept without waking up to wonder if he was still alive.

At six-thirty, thirty minutes before the sun would rise over the harbor and the dark Boston sky was giving way to daybreak, the nurse walked in with Zachary, who was wailing.  He went to nurse immediately, bobbing his head to and fro as he eagerly sought to latch on. Jeff continued to sleep, lying next to us undisturbed by my shifting elbows and Zach’s impolite slurping.

After twenty minutes of our awkward attempts to latch on, him to my breast and me to the reality of his presence (How is it possible that he and I shared the same body only a day earlier?), my sweet stranger-baby fell asleep. Jeff woke up and brought Zach to the bassinet to change and swaddle him.  Bent over the bassinet, Jeff ‘s mouth hung open and his tongue was pushing out his lower lip, a sign that he was undertaking something that required great powers of concentration, like Michael Jordan driving to the basket or a three-year-old drawing disproportioned daisies.

Looking at Jeff’s silhouette against the dawn sky as he cared for his son, I felt something I can only describe as awe, a powerful awareness of how very big this scene was, and how small.  Surely millions of women had witnessed such a scene.  It was simply a father changing his son’s diaper.  And just as surely I could scarcely believe that any woman could ever be the same after witnessing something so heartbreakingly beautiful.  A father changing his son’s diaper.

Jeff handed Zachary to me and crawled back into the single-width hospital bed.  We lay there silently, staring at Zach and each other. Eventually they both fell asleep.  I lay there with Zach on my chest and Jeff on my shoulder, surrounded by life.  Tears spilled down my face, adding to the mix of fluids and smells.  There was blood from my uterus and c-section incision, two days of sweat, crusty breast milk on the corners of Zach’s mouth, and a bit of unwashed vernix left on his skin.  Still, his newborn smell was intoxicating.

I held him close and tried to take it all in.  I wanted to say something to myself – something powerful and wise to make sense of the five years since Scott and Sarah died.  But my mind was unable to do anything more than register different senses.  What did this look like?  Smell like?  Feel like?

I watched my boys sleeping and I remembered the nights of anxiously watching Scott.  This time I wasn’t anxious.

I remembered the last time I was in the hospital holding a child I had just borne.  This time the child was warm.

I kept thinking about Joyce, the grief counselor sent in by the hospital after Sarah died to calm the woman who was yelling at nurses.

“You may never be as happy as you were.  But I can tell you that you can come through this experiencing more joy than you ever knew was possible.”

Here it is, I thought – joy.  A joy I never knew was possible.  I had had glimpses in past five years, but here it was in full sight.  And to my surprise this rich joy, which bore no resemblance to happiness, felt more like gratefulness.

Certainly, I thought, there must be someone to whom I owe this gratitude.  I had been a Christian for several years at this point, but this was the surest I had ever felt that the God to whom I had given my life was in fact there.  Today, I kindle the faint glimmer of that memory to sustain a faith that is often shaky.

I’ve spent a lot of time since then listening to stories of loss and despair.  I completed a dissertation on the effects of loss on adolescent development.  I worked for two years with middle school students whose parents died.  I facilitated a support group for surviving parents after a spouse died, and taught a class at Harvard on family interventions to address loss.  I often find myself the repository for stories of loss, shared with me in lowered voices at cocktail parties and grocery stores.

I try to listen deeply as people share those stories, listen and nod my head in agreement with how awful it is. I bear their story with them, and in so doing remind them that they are not alone.

In addition to near-silent solidarity, I offer my prayers.  As I sit and listen, as I try to take in the full magnitude of what they are telling my, I pray.  Sometimes I pray out of gratitude, thankful to be in the presence of so much that is real and human.  Sometimes I pray out of humility, aware of how little else I have to offer.  Sometimes I pray for healing words. Often, I pray for the grace to be quiet.

When I am with someone whose losses ring of Job, I pray that my faith would withstand another occasion of what appears senseless and unbearable. I try to remember that, despite my inability to discern otherwise, God’s ways are never senseless.  And I tell myself the story of what God was doing while I was in New Jersey watching my life fall apart:

After Scott and Sarah died, a woman from Massachusetts named Liz, a woman whom I had never met, stood up at her church for several weeks and asked people to pray for me. Liz lived with a friend of mine named Ora, and had followed my travails through her.  She learned from Ora that I wasn’t a religious type and she wanted to make sure that someone was praying for me.  Jeff, who went to the same Massachusetts church as Liz, a man whom I would not meet for nearly three more years, was a member of Liz’s church and would have prayed along with the rest of the congregation that God would take care of my body and heart.

Liz moved to England, and I never met her or heard about her efforts to solicit prayer on my behalf.  Several years later, she asked my friend how I was doing.  Ora told her that I had met a nice guy, a chaplain at Harvard if she could believe it!  She mentioned Jeff’s name, and Liz asked incredulously, “Jeff Barneson?”  Liz told Ora about the times that she had solicited prayer on my behalf, realizing that Jeff would have been there as well.  Ora called to tell us, and we were struck with awe that, without knowing it, Jeff had been praying for me before we met.

One afternoon five years ago, after I finished telling this story to my friend Kathy, she said, “Hey, so was I!”

“What?”

“I was praying for you too.  Liz was in my prayer group, and came to our group so distraught by your story that she asked us all to pray for you.  We prayed for you for several weeks.  But when I met you, it never occurred to me that you were the same woman.”

I was stunned.

Kathy continued, “In fact, Jean and Julie would have been there at church as well, so they were also praying for you back then.”

I spent the rest of the day crying.  Jean, Julie and Kathy are three of the five women in my prayer group.  They are among my dearest friends.  Knowing that Jeff had been praying for me before we met had always touched me.  But hearing that it wasn’t just Jeff, it was these women who had become my spiritual sisters as well, shook me deeply.

Piecing it all together I wept and wept, unable to imagine the grace of it all.  In 1997, when I was an agnostic widow living in New Jersey, a group of Jesus Freaks in Massachusetts had been praying for me.  I moved to Cambridge in 1999, found deep friendships and a loving husband.  Years later I realized these very people with no previous connection to me had prayed for me in my hour of deepest need.  In the process God had shaped us to love one another. He had prepared a place where I would find a new home, a home in him and with his people.

Why so much care to find me new friends and a new husband, but so little care to keep my first husband and baby alive?  I don’t know.  But if I’m honest, I have to admit that the question just doesn’t hold much purchase with me.  Instead, as I did when I first met Zach, I feel humbled and joyful.

It is that same feeling I have when sitting with a teenager whose mother died of addiction.  Awed by how little we control, by how ugly life can be, and by the beauty that seeks us out in the midst of all the horror. So – gratefully, tearfully, and joyfully – I sit with the mourning whenever they’ll allow it.  I pray for God to help me be quiet enough to love them well.  And I pray for God’s love to do what I cannot, for Love to bind up the wounded places, leaving its scar to bear witness to the power of both loss and love.

And then I choose to believe that he will.

About Tara Edelschick

Right now, Tara is on sabbatical in Costa Rica. She is sleeping more, and exercising and flossing every day for the first time in her life. She is enjoying her husband, her boys, and Nafisa (the daughter she never had) more than she ever has. And she is learning to rest in the arms of the one who doesn't rank you based on how many things you can cross off your list at the end of the day. Follow her on Twitter@TaraWonders.

  • Syndi

    I can read and re-read your testimony over and over, and it always moves me. As Jimmy would say, To God be the Glory!

    • Tara Edelschick

      Indeed!

  • LeeAnne

    Tara – your writing is amazing. Your testimony moved me to tears and I feel blessed to know you. xo LeeAnne

  • http://www.tenwaystopray.com Dawn Duncan Harrell

    Thank you, Tara.

  • Ora

    I am in tears, Tara, moved by your courage, grace and honesty. I am so grateful to be your friend.

    • Tara Edelschick

      Oh, Ora. I’m grateful to be your friend as well. In part, because God used you so powerfully – in many ways – when I was a mess. Love you.

  • http://middletree.blogspot.com James Williams

    I have a Zachary, as well, and as soon as I saw you named him that, I knew it was going to be because God remembers. Dang near lost it right then.
    Thanks for this story. It’s not only a reminder that God does, indeed, remember, but also the power of praying, and asking friends to pray for people they don’t even know.

    • Tara Edelschick

      Hi James. Like you, I need reminders of how powerful prayer can be. In fact, I think I write primarily to remind MYSELF what God has shown me. And power to the Zachs!

  • anna

    Just beautiful…

  • Donna

    My friend LeeAnne shared this on facebook. ..and because LeeAnne is my “spiritual sister” I usually listen to her! :) She’s very wise and full of hope and faith…..I love her dearly for that! I’m grateful I read your testimony because I am struggling, not with the loss of a loved one because they died but because I made a choice to leave some loved ones behind so I could move on from the unhealthiness….so in a way I am mourning a loss I guess and I always love hearing how God’s Grace works in our lives because it keeps me knowing I’m not alone….and there is “joy” after the heartbreak……so thank you for sharing. <3

    • Tara Edelschick

      Loss is loss, Donna. And it all sucks. And, yes, even in the middle of it, his grace is available. Hang in there.

  • Lisa Lamb

    Thanks for sharing this, Tara! I had never heard this story…just remember those days long ago when Jeff was pretty excited about someone…

  • Annette Bannister

    Tara, Oh, your testimony is just beautiful. I am still crying after reading it. Thank you so much for putting into words the tension in our faith. Thank you for sharing the beautiful work of God’s hands in the midst of your pain. Seeing this and living in this tension has been a daily walk for me as well after experiencing several miscarriages.

    My husband let me know about your blog just last week, because I am a homeschooling mother of four. I really enjoyed your posts, so I subscribed to your blog (and I’ll have you know that with my busy life, that’s high praise! :) ). Your testimony is just beautiful, and I am grateful to have read it.

    • Tara Edelschick

      Thanks for writing, Annette. A mother who has lost babies and who homeschools – we must be soul sisters!

      • Annette Bannister

        Yes, I think so, too! I don’t have a public blog, so it’s not really fair that you can’t get to know me as I learn more about you through your blogs, but I guess that is the nature of blogging in some ways. I will try to leave little posts as I have time to share how your thoughts are connecting to my world! :) I have really enjoyed how you have shared your thoughts so honestly and thoughtfully on so many subjects. I appreciated you admitting that you yelled at your son for a serious infraction and then questioned whether that might have hurt his soul or helped him. I have been there and done that, too. I am married to an associate pastor of worship here in Indiana, and we used to do campus ministry at Florida State University. So yes, I think we do have a lot in common! :) I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  • http://missionbrand.co.uk bruce

    I know Liz!! I’m married to her!!
    I cannot pretend to comprehend the pain and anguish you experienced Tara with the loss of Scott and Sarah, but I can testify to know the same God who was and is with you on your journey. I have my own walk and only He knows where it will take me, but I’m very very grateful that I’m walking that journey with Liz, and our three kids Adam, Matty and Sophie. Don’t be a stranger Tara, come over with Jeff and Zach and visit with us, it would be nice, as well as through prayer, to actually meet in person!
    Bruce x

    • Tara Edelschick

      That would be wonderful, Bruce. (BTW, inn addition to Zach, we now have an Ezra and a Nafisa.)

  • Bill

    All of this emotion and joy can be achieved without an imaginary being.

    • Tara Edelschick

      Hi Bill, Thanks for writing. I imagine that many people who read the post will agree with you. And there is little question that people who don’t believe in supernatural beings experience joy. Still, that doesn’t answer the question of whether or not such a being does in fact exist.

      I should also clarify that my story is not meant to “prove there is a God.” Instead, I think of it like this: In the year after Scott and Sarah died, I had decided that the weight of evidence and logic pointed to the existence of a God, and specifically to the deity of Christ. And then, like all believers, I chose to lean into that knowing that I would never have “proof.” This story is about a rare moment in my faith life, a moment where my emotions aligned with my beliefs. It is a moment I continue to cherish as I live out my faith, doubts and all.

    • M. Grant

      I think Bill means can happen without an imaginary being, rather than “be achieved”? It’s hard to see how Tara ‘achieved’ any of this. It just happened that people were moved by a common desire to offer supplications for a person they’d never met and never expected to meet. Tara also had some right, one could say, to be bitter – given her crushed hope and life projection, or escapist and not commit to anything, especially (not properly ‘imaginary’ but historical) beings like Jesus – and just affirm his watered down teachings, instead of him. Faith is a risk. But to imagine a situation like hers being orchestrated by nothing other than a common desire to wish others well and hope for the best, stretches credulity more than a faith that posits a Source and affirms a destiny; Something that achieves on our behalf, that believed in Tara’s future in spite of circumstance. Thanks for sharing, friend :)

  • Alana

    Remembering Scott and Sarah.

    • Tara Edelschick

      Me too. Thanks for the company, friend.

  • renee

    Dear Tara,
    My life has not been yours but I share a similar experience in that moment of smelly liquids of a new baby’s life as proof that living again is possible. Your words touched my heart as if you knew me. Thanks for sharing. Thank you Lord that your ways are never senseless. I have seldom added quotes to my Facebook profile but today I added something from yours.
    Blessings on you and yours,
    Renee

  • Susan

    From one healed Jesus Freak to another…. thank you for sharing your pain and your joy. God’s pain and God’s joy. Tears. Amazement. Love.

  • http://sixseeds.tv Jean Kingston

    Your story is so so amazing. God is so so amazing. Thanks for sharing this again Tara. I am very honored to know you and incredibly thankful for your soft heart.

  • Jaia

    Hi Tara,
    I found you via Heather M….I don’t know if you remember me from HGSE…I was only there a year, and you were my TA for Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot’s class. Only the first half of this story had happened at that point, and I was blessed when you told it to me then. I believe it was because of you that I first read C.S. Lewis’ “A Grief Observed” which has informed so much of what’s gone into my heart and mind over the years as life has “happened” – to others and to me.

    It’s amazing – the second half of your story. :) Praising God today for redeeming your sorrows and for the blessings of awe and joy and grace.

    • Tara Edelschick

      Hi Heather. I don’t remember you yet – but my memory is terrible, and it often take a little while for it to come back to me. But you may not be remembering me either. I never TF’ed for Sara.

      Oh well – two women with slightly tainted memories and a love of Lewis. A match made in heaven.

  • Jaia

    Haha, I’m not Heather! But Heather Moret directed me to your website bc we’re homeschooling my oldest son this year and I’m very nearly ready to kill somebody.

    It’s OK…I have a terrible memory too but I definitely remember you and Jeff…just not together which is so weird for me!!! :) Hmmm OK, I can’t remember what class I had with you. I swear I had to do a lot of writing….

  • http://www.whitbyforum.com Carolyn Custis James

    I haven’t read all the comments, so don’t know of anyone has suggested this already. But I think you should submit your post to NYTimes’ “Modern Love” column. They publish a wide variety of articles on the subject of love. Your piece is so powerful, I definitely think it’s worth a try.

    CJ


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