The night my dad died my brakes went out on my car. I was driving home from being at the ER all day. I had left him peaceful and restful and very much alive, though still in a coma. But this was our normal, his silence, and it had been for eight months. There was traffic, and as I was driving across the ramp to transfer from one busy freeway to another, I pressed down onto my brake to slow down and nothing happened. Just my foot pressing the pedal all the way to the floor. I was not too far from home, so I managed to make it without incident by using my emergency brake.
I walked into my empty house, ran to the bathroom, and I took a pregnancy test. It may seem like an odd priority to a regular person, but to a woman who is desperate to have a baby, it is normal. When the test was negative, as it had been for several months in a row, I cried.
I don't usually kneel down when I pray. Maybe I should, but I just don't. But on this night, I fell onto my knees in desperation beside my couch. I cried and prayed and begged God to do something, to give us something. I was tired of months of what felt like nothing. My dad was still not awake, and I was still not pregnant. Both of these things felt equally heavy. Life is valuable, and I was feeling the heaviness of all of the life that was missing. My prayer wasn't pretty. Or even intelligible to the average person. Thinking about it now, it was probably a lot like Hannah praying in the temple for a son. I probably looked like I had too much to drink. But both Jake and Jude were still at church, and it was just me and God, so it didn't matter. I'm not sure how long I knelt there. I don't remember what I said exactly. I just needed God to move.
That night before I went to bed, I remembered to turn my phone ringer on. That morning I had given the ER staff my number as the primary contact person for my dad, and even though I was exhausted I had a moment of clarity in remembering that. I hadn't been asleep long when the hospital called. The nurse on the other end of the line thought the family should come back to the hospital. I have to admit that I wasn't really alarmed. We had done this before. I hoped that this night would have the same, that-was-a-close-call-but-ended-okay outcome as the other times had. I got up, got dressed, called as many family members as would answer the phone. No one was frantic. This was becoming a common thing.
But my sister called as I was getting off the interstate at the hospital exit. She had already arrived at the hospital, and my dad had already passed away. I had missed him by just a matter of minutes.
Exactly one month after my dad left this life, I got a positive pregnancy test. I had already taken several tests that were very, very negative. So this positive one left my head spinning. I couldn't believe that we were being given another baby. Not now. I was still deep in grief over my dad, and this? Well, this wasn't the way it was supposed to go. For several months before his accident, my dad had been asking us about another baby. We needed a girl, he said. Out of his thirteen grandkids, nine of them had been boys. That's a lot of testosterone. And the youngest of the four girl grandkids was already almost school age. He was waiting patiently for another grandbaby and hoping for a girl. He had already started scouring Craigslist for a suitable minivan for us. This is what he was good at, hunting down deals and bargains. This was one of the ways he loved us. So this happy pregnancy news was clouded by the sadness of the relationship between my dad and this baby that wouldn't be. Not in this world, anyway.
The night we found out that our girl was a girl, we had a family dinner. I opened up the box with a surprise pink outfit, revealing her girl-ness, and I cried. I loved the thought of another girl to balance out our family. I felt the generosity of God, giving us the thing we needed. But there was a tangible absence. There always is at family events now, and I really felt it that night. All of the sweet things are a little less sweet.
I don't know why God does things the way He does them. I mean, that's kind of an understatement. But when it comes to the life and death things, those feel hard to understand. We have moved and had weird job transitions and there have been uncomfortable times in life, but we have come back from those with a deeper faith, more confident of God's sovereignty and goodness. But death is a tough one to reason out. Even for those of us who firmly believe in heaven, death is still a huge loss, even if it's only for now. There is still grief. I don't know why my dad couldn't have had the miraculous recovery we all prayed for. There are people who get those kinds of stories, you know. But he didn't get the kind of healing we wanted. And with that, lots of future things have been taken from us. He won't get to meet her the day she comes into the world. He'll never put this baby on his knees and sing Shortening Bread, like he did with all of the other grandkids. So many things we have lost.
And I don't know why. But it's not really up to me to figure the why. God takes, and He gives. And all the things that He does are good. All are right, even when it doesn't feel like it. He is God, and I am not. And so I trust and trust and trust some more. I trust Him in the taking and the giving.