21 October 2008

Come and Listen II(the valley of the shadow)

The door slammed shut loudly behind us. The Shed is a massive room, with many people, but I know that all of them turned to look at us. That's what you do, when someone walks in to church late. It was quiet, worship was over, and Rob was up on stage talking already. I wanted to be back at home in bed. I don't like rushing, and I don't like being late. So if I am going to be late to church, I just will not go.

I told Shan that, and she replied, "I just really feel like we should go today." It was ten minutes to eleven, and that meant in order to not get caught in the "Mars Hill Traffic Jam and Car Show", we should have left already. Like fifteen minutes ago already. We were still in bed, still in our PJ's. No shower, no toothbrushes. If we're doing this, we need to leave right now. Jeans, a not-so-dirty shirt from the floor, and lots of extra cologne and lotion. We laid there for another five minutes discussing it. Shan wasn't budging, and so, rather grouchily, I put some clothes on and followed her to the car, all the while hating how late we were going to be.

That morning, Shan could not explain the compulsion she had to go to church. Usually what would happen in those situations is that we would not go, and then try to make the evening service. Sometimes we actually did, most times we didn't. We would get to doing something else, and who wants to leave game night or movie night or the beach right when it starts to get fun? Church will be there next week. Little did we know that this particular Sunday was the day that God would force us from our relatively comfortable denial and force us to stare our pain right in the eyes and take care of it.

Because we hadn't yet. It had been a glorious beginning to summer. Spring had shrugged off the last few piles of snow, and new life was sprouting through the dingy, muddy ground. Everything was green, and the air itself seemed renewed, fresher than it had been all winter long. Shan and I, as married couples tend to do, had gotten pregnant. We had been discussing it for a while, and decided that the time was right to start our family. It had taken us a while, but here we were finally, about to be new parents. We were beside ourselves with happiness, and the rest of the world joyfully bounded through spring into summer along with us.

I remember our first ultrasound. It's the one that is supposed to bring joy to new parents, as they first get to hear the heartbeat, first get to see images of their little grub, or gummy worm, or jelly bean, or whatever name you give your embryonic offspring when you first meet him or her on that tiny computer screen. This momentous occasion where all your hopes and dreams, all that you have been working for and thinking about for probably a long while, are shown to you in all the black and white grainy beauty that the machine can render. The first of many times you will see your offspring move and breathe. The first glimpse you will get of new life in the process of forming. It is a wonderful, beautiful thing.

But ours wasn't beautiful, it was ominous. It wasn't wonderful, it was terrifying. The day started with a routine first prenatal visit with Shan's doctor. It was the day we were going to hear the heartbeat. The doctor came in with a handheld machine with an ultrasound wand attached. There was no screen, but the wand was able to detect and then amplify fetal heartbeats. We were so excited to finally hear what we had been wanting to hear since we first found out we were pregnant. The doctor moved the wand around Shan's tummy, placing it at different angles in different spots. As she was doing this, she explained that sometimes the heartbeat this early in the pregnancy was drowned out by other bodily sounds, and to not worry if she couldn't get it right away. Sometimes, she said, you can't hear a heartbeat until closer to the fourth month. We were a week shy of three months along.

After nearly fifteen minutes of trying and failing, the doctor told us that her machine probably wasn't strong enough to detect the heartbeat, and since our first ultrasound was going to be next week anyway, why don't we just move it up to today? We agreed, and made arrangements for the ultrasound visit in an hour and a half. During that time, Shan was required to drink at least 32 ounces of water, and so we stopped at Mancino's on the way and sat and talked. Shan mentioned her concern that all was not well, and I calmed her, saying that what the doctor had said, that the machine she was using was probably just not powerful enough to detect our child's heartbeat.

After we signed in and were led to the room, Shan was feeling less and less optimistic. I was trying to remain so, but in the face of all our fears and worries, it was near impossible. There was this palpable feeling of dread, a heaviness that was sucking all of the excitement out of the room, and I was fighting against it with every bit of optimism I had left. The technician, who I am convinced was maybe a week or two out of tech school, was making Shan as comfortable as possible, and explaining things as best she could to the both of us.

As the first pictures came into focus, Shan knew something wasn't right. She had been reading the books, and knew how big our little one should be. And it wasn't that big. My excitement at seeing new life faded quickly as Shan voiced her concern to the technician.

"It should be bigger than that."

"Well, how far along are you?"

"Eleven weeks."

"I think your dates are mixed up. I would guess that this is about six weeks old."

We could see it. The tiny little bud, with it's yolk sac still intact before the placenta grows. The tiny little bean-shaped blob that was growing inside my wife, and was going to be our child, our future, our dream, was all visible right there in black and white. But it was only six weeks old. We had been pregnant for longer than that, and we knew it. Our dates were not mixed up. When we pressed the technician for more answers, we were met with the reply that our doctor would review the results and let us know.

Which happened about twenty minutes later, over the phone that hung on the wall in the darkened room next to the ultrasound machine. The empty room where the technician had left us. The room where we were supposed to see our family's beginnings. The room where our future shattered. The doctor talked to both of us over the phone, and the phrase that stuck in both of our minds was "...no longer viable..." That's all we heard. That's all we had to hear. Shan collapsed onto me, and we both fell to the floor.

The next couple of months were blurred from tears. Our summer, so hopeful and joyous, was now empty. We didn't talk. We didn't visit family. We were afraid and angry with pregnant couples that we didn't even know. We were angry with pregnant couples that we did know. We were angry at babies and kids and new life and creation and everything else. We were like the Marlon Brando of anger: "What are you angry at?" "I don't know, whadda ya got?"

Until that morning.

Something changed that morning. I'll be honest, it changed for Shan before it changed for me. But if it's that important to my wife to be late and still go to church right this instant, then okay, I'll go.

When we walked in, Pastor Rob was talking about conversations, and the healing that can come from just talking with people. We heard one sentence as we walked in. We weren't even to where the chairs start yet. We had taken maybe three or four steps into the Shed. The door had not swung closed yet, and Pastor Rob said, "....and then maybe these people have a large family and lots of kids, and maybe they're sitting next to this couple, who have been trying unsuccessfully for years to start their family."

And in the silence of the Shed, in the calm before the storm of tears, the door slammed shut.

David Crowder sings about the breaking heart making a sound that is beautiful and loud. Loud, because it cannot be ignored, and beautiful because God will shine through it. No matter how painful it is, how painful it will become, God will shine through it. We will no longer be able to tell where we end and God begins when He takes our brokenness and shines through it. The song is called A Beautiful Collision, because when we come to the end of our rope and are forced to let God take over, it is a beautiful thing, a beautiful instant, a beautiful collision of human frailty and Divine glory.

Forever in my mind, that sound, the sound of a breaking heart, the sound of a Beautiful Collision, will be the sound of that door closing in the Shed.

It wasn't just a door slamming in a church.

It was us slamming into God. Full force, full speed.


1 comment:

Shan Shan said...

Its crazy to me how many emotions I still have reading all of this. I am crying, I am happy, I am sad, I am confused. I remember all of it like it just happened. I lost something during this period, but I also gained something. It is still hard to think about, even with LiLi. I dont think I will ever understand -- but I know I will never be the same for more then one reason. I love you.