Seven long years passed after we started praying for a baby. Seven years that led us through a miscarriage, a failed adoption, a successful older child adoption—and then, finally, to the moment when we were matched with a birth mother.
We were so excited and so scared and so ready to welcome a baby home for the first time.
Our little family–my husband and I, along with our eight year old daughter–waited in anticipation for the birth of the baby. We did paperwork and filed an updated home study. I sat with the birth mom through the ultrasound when the technician said, “It’s a little girl.”
The birth mom looked over at me and grinned. “Now you’ll have two daughters.”
I remember how my hands shook and my heart beat hard in hope.
Our little Annie was born just a few weeks later. She came way, way too early. Her tiny two-pound body fighting for survival in the hospital while we hurried around trying to get paperwork finished so we could have parental rights.
My prayers were desperate and deep and filled with agony, but still blooming with hope.
When I could get in to see her, I would sit and touch her tiny fingers and the prayers would roll off my tongue and through my lips and it’s possible half the nurses thought I was crazy–but she was my baby and the only thing I could do for her was pray.
- Lord, strengthen Annie’s lungs.
- Lord, toughen her skin.
- Lord, keep her immune system functioning.
- Lord, please, please, please—let us bring Annie home.
- Lord, stop the infection.
- Please stop the infection.
- Oh, Lord, heal this infection.
Annie died late one afternoon while I was too far away to even hold her hand. While we were still trying to get enough paperwork filed to give us access to the baby we had been praying for nonstop.
And the questions burned for days, weeks, months.
Lord, what was the point of all those hours of praying? What was the point of all that hope? What was the point of choosing a name and anticipating a child—and instead, saying goodbye to a baby who was never-quite-ours because the paperwork never did go through?
And perhaps the biggest question of all: Lord, where were You?
Five years after Annie died, we were met with the most astonishing miracle: I was pregnant.
After almost twelve years of infertility there was a baby and I wasn’t miscarrying. In fact, the whole pregnancy went by without a single complication.
We were amazed.
But when labor and delivery arrived, it was long and hard. It lasted days and I slept very little. When the time finally came, I pushed for hours before another daughter, Mary Katherine, was delivered with an agonizing tearing of my body.
Everything was blurry and hard and my prayers for God to help me through the delivery were loud in my own head, even if I barely had the strength to whisper them in the birth room.
And afterward, as the doctor worked on me and my baby was gone getting her lungs cleaned out, everything was so painful it felt like it was another loss—even though I had birthed a miracle.
Later, I was telling the story and I said, “My husband was with the baby so I was there alone,” and both my husband and mother looked over at me in surprise. “You weren’t alone,” they both said. My mother touched my hand and looked at me curiously. “I never left you,” she promised. “I was right there, holding your hand.”
The death of one daughter and the birth of another taught me a deep truth about God, about prayer, about the presence of Jesus. Because once my mother told me she was there, I remembered. I could picture the way her fingers gripped mine as my body was stitched back together and how her voice was soft and comforting.
In the loudness of the pain, I had missed her presence. But when I stopped and looked, I found the truth. I was never alone.
Looking back at Annie’s short life and death—I found the same to be true. Jesus was there. He heard the pouring out of my heart and He was the strength and fortress I needed.
He was trustworthy, even when I was caught tight in grief.
He was trustworthy, even when I forgot Him and blamed Him and questioned Him.
He was, even though I assumed he wasn’t.
There is often a silent place in grief—where the echo of your heart’s sorrow is so loud, everything else is overpowered.
But eventually the echoes quiet.
When mine did I began to glimpse the truth about all those prayers and the hope and the work-that-never-produced-what-I-expected-it-to…all of it had value. All of it was a gift.
I could have gone through those moments without Jesus. I could have experienced the loss of our Annie without prayer or hope. I could have. But I didn’t.
Instead, I was able to—as the Psalmist says, “pour out [my] heart before him” because, “God is a refuge for us.” (Psalm 62:8)
The word “refuge” in this passage is the Hebrew machaseh and it means “hope, place of refuge, shelter, trust”. In other words, it’s the wrap-around presence of Jesus protecting and sheltering us as we pour out our hearts before him.
My desperate prayers at Annie’s bedside, and then later in my home as I paced the floors through the night hours—longing to be with her and dying inside at the thought of my baby suffering alone—none of them were wasted.
They were the pouring out of my heart in the safest, most hope-filled, most sheltering place. Right close to Jesus, who heard me and stayed with me.
As it says a few verses later, in Psalm 62:11, “…to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love”. His love is steadfast, even when loss and heartache shake the foundations of our lives. He doesn’t change or move.
Prayer, then, isn’t about informing God what we want and then sitting back to watch him do it. Instead, prayer is an exchange of presence. It’s saying, “God, I’m here and I need you” and God responding by being exactly what we truly need.
So yes! We should pray the big prayers for miracles that will blow our socks off.
I know about them because I’m raising a miracle baby, and wow! It’s like a brilliant outpouring of the Lord’s kindness that overwhelms me.
But we also offer prayers about the moments that end different than what we expected, and those prayers are just as essential to our walk with the Lord.
I know because every day I see the tiny hand prints from our baby Annie hanging on our wall, and recognize that she never came home despite all the deep groans of my heart in petition to God.
In both the kindness and in the sorrow, I know my prayers were heard.
In both the celebration and in the agony, I know Jesus was near.
In both the miracle and the goodbye, the love of God was steadfast.
We will all face more sorrow and loss. It’s the mark of a world that is dying, and it’s painful and scraping and agonizing. Until Jesus returns and there is “no more mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore” we will continue to face things on this earth that leave our hearts aching.
Prayer, then, is our weapon against hopelessness.
In praying, in the pouring out of our hearts—the questions, the comments, the anger, the excitement—we are establishing our presence with that of Christ. The One who hears when His children speak and is a refuge, a fortress, a defense.
I tell my children the story when I can.
I tell them about how God has been present and how He hears my prayers—
- through death
- through birth
- through sorrow
- through joy.
I tell them, “This is why we pray. So we can remember and know that we are not alone. Jesus came to earth to be Emmanuel, God-with-us, and in praying we are able to experience that gift.”
May you, dear reader, also know this gift.
May you pour out your heart to the One-Who-Is-Present and find that He is the shelter your heart was created to be protected by– your machaseh, your hope, your Emmanuel.