Meaning in Tragedy – A New Life
So often, finding meaning in tragedy surprises us. We’re caught off guard and amazed by what we find. Listen in...
My wife and I were expecting our third child. After three months of pregnancy, a sonogram showed some serious problems with our baby. The sonogram showed fluids around the heart. An amniocentesis was not conclusive, but did reveal even more problems. The following year proved to be the hardest time I have ever been through in my life. We went from hospital to hospital, from heart specialists to geneticists, to high-risk OBGYNs, etc. Some doctors offered hope, others only despair. Some thought our child would probably survive, other said chances were minimal. Some said our baby was a girl (based on her appearance), others said it was a boy (based on the chromosome tests). Her heart was in the wrong position, she didn't have any reproductive organs and therefore no hormone-production, her intestines were partially growing on the outside of her body, and she possibly had problems with her spleen and her respiratory system as well. And all of this because of one single genetic error. There was nothing we -- or the doctors -- could do but wait. And wait. And wait. For the first time in my life I had no answers whatsoever. Not even my usual defense mechanism of pride and anger could take care of this situation. There was no comfort the world could give me.
Finally, after six long anxious months, our baby girl was born in an operating room, in the presence of at least seven doctors and nurses. She seemed to be doing ok and was crying softly. We didn't get to hold her; she was placed in an incubator right away, examined from head to toe, and then transported to the neo-natal intensive care unit.
She had abdominal surgery the day after she was born. Two days later she had open heart surgery, but complications occurred and they had to do another heart surgery, right there in the IC unit -- there was no time to take her back to the operating room. I can't begin to describe the heartbreak of seeing my three-day old little baby breathing through a machine, with nine IVs hooked up and with more equipment around her than I'd ever seen. She stayed in the hospital, in the pediatric IC unit, for almost two weeks. Then we finally got to take her home. She had made it!
Two days later, our baby seemed to have some trouble breathing and it seemed to be getting worse as the day progressed. Our visiting nurse contacted her surgeons, just to be on the safe side. They thought it was nothing to worry about at this time. Nevertheless, I took the day off from work because I was somewhat apprehensive about it. Around 8 p.m. that evening I decided to take her to the emergency room of our local hospital, again just to make sure she was ok. My wife and I got in the car and drove her to the hospital. She didn’t make it there alive. She passed away in her car seat. The hospital staff did what they could, but it was impossible to save her. After all we had been through during that seven months, after we had convinced ourselves that she had finally made it. . .I couldn't believe she was still taken from us. Why?
Meaning in Tragedy – The Search for Answers
During our pregnancy and after our baby passed away, I was desperately searching for meaning in tragedy. I couldn't understand why this had happened. Had all our efforts been utterly pointless? Don't these kind of things always happen to someone else? Why do we have to deal with genetic defects? And if we call these "defects," shouldn't there be a situation that we call "normal"? But then why would we expect a situation that is normal? And why does it require such a high degree of accuracy?
Why do we see such disastrous consequences if only one small mistake occurs in the building plan of our DNA? And I had always thought that changes in our genetic makeup lead to improvements! Isn't that something we were taught in biology classes? Isn't that the mechanism of evolution? And what exactly are reproductive organs? Wait a second, how can a reproductive mechanism which requires a male and a female evolve from a single genderless organism? And how can genetic mutations lead to improvements if it is necessary for both parents to have the same mutation? That's really not possible when you think about it.
My brain was working overtime and I started digging into more questions: where do we come from? Is it by chance or by design? Is there a God? If there is a God, then who is he and what does he want from us, and for us? Why do we even have an expectation pattern of how things should be? How can we call some things right and other things wrong and agree on it? What exactly is DNA? Where "are" your genes and what do they do? It just kept going. I felt like an avalanche of questions was unleashed on me. I was literally reading 100 pages a day -- books on genetics, all sorts of religions, philosophy, science, and so on. Books and websites about anything that might explain what was happening in my life.
Eventually I came to the conclusion that nothing can explain this life and this earth, our feelings and our behavior, our history and our future, except for the God of the Bible! In the world that God's Word describes, all of these questions have perfectly reasonable and credible answers. I started learning more and more about God. I gave my life over to Him, even though I didn't fully understand yet what that meant. Slowly, the pieces were falling into place. I remember when the picture was complete and I allowed the Holy Spirit to enter my life and take over. I shook and shivered for a full day; a full day of revelation of truth in my heart. And I have never been the same ever since!
During my studies, I had run into a very helpful online book about the origin of life, the credibility of the Bible, and the historicity of Jesus. I started translating this book into my native language; I wanted to share my new-found Truth with the people I had left behind -- my friends and family whom I love. But before I knew it, my "little project" had grown into a complete internet ministry proclaiming the Good News to the many skeptics and seekers in my old home country. It is amazing how God used a beautiful life that only lasted 15 days, not only for my salvation, and my wife's salvation, but also for my children who are now being raised in a Christian home and for the lives that are being touched all over the world through the internet ministry.
Our prayers were answered! We got to hold our little girl and we got to know her, even though it was only for a short time. She has affected many lives, not only in our family but far beyond. I now understand what Jesus meant when he spoke of the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13). At times, I still mourn heavily for my daughter, but it is an earthly, parental sorrow and not a desperation or hopelessness -- what a difference the Lord can make! She opened my eyes to the Truth and she melted my hardened heart. And one day I will see her again. What a wonderful promise. She is a testimony of the great things even a tiny life can accomplish in this world, in the lives of many people. She is an example of how we can be tools in the hands of our Maker.
"As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord!" (Joshua 24:15)
Meaning in Tragedy – My New Life
The Apostle Paul wrote in his first letter to Timothy: "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners -- of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life" (1 Timothy 1:15-16). And this is how I see myself, when I look back at who I used to be and who I am now, thanks to His grace alone!
God has truly transformed my thoughts and my desires. My soul has been healed. My life has a purpose. My days are meaningful. I now know that Jesus is always there and He will never leave me. I can always confide in Him. I am not perfect and without trouble in this fallen world, but I am growing strong in the Lord. I know I don't have to do things to make Him love me. His love is unconditional.
I have forgiven others, but more importantly (and more reluctantly) I have forgiven myself. I can see the Truth of the Word being worked out in me. I am a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), I have put on "the new man," made after the image of Him that created me (Colossians 3:10), and I am renewed in the spirit of my mind (Ephesians 4:23). I know that when I encountered Jesus and asked Him to be the Lord of my life, all my sins were forgiven and my new life had started: “‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin’” (John 8:11).
And ever since, I know I can do everything through Him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13). With Him, I know you can too. It doesn't matter where you are, where you have been, or what you have done. He is waiting.
“‘Even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart’” (Joel 2:12).