Gloria was a well nourished, healthy pregnant lady when I saw her in the hospital last month, all smiles. She was pregnant with twins, already at her due date, with a previous C-section for her first delivery. We made plans to do another C-section for her later in the day. I delivered her babies, one boy and one girl, beautiful children without problems. There was some extra bleeding during surgery, but we treated it appropriately and she did fine. The whole family was full of joy at the blessing of these twins. I got a call later that afternoon. Gloria was bleeding again. I made some recommendations, and the on call doctor also decided to give a blood transfusion. Then around 9pm I got another call. She was not doing well…could I come right away?
I ran up to the hospital. The bleeding had stopped but Gloria was sitting upright in bed, gasping for breath on oxygen. Her eyes were wide and the room was tense. I quickly stopped her transfusion, fearing a transfusion reaction. The team surrounded her bed, running for medications, pulling out all the stops. No change. Finally we moved her to the operating room where there was a better oxygen supply. She lay on the table, struggling, staring into my eyes, so afraid. We intubated her, and pulled almost half a liter of fluid out of her lungs. She was literally drowning to death. Minutes later, her heart stopped. When I went back to tell the family they couldn’t even look at me. They just turned and walked away. I walked home after midnight, feeling discouraged and beaten.
The day before, I had finished the final proofreads on Eric’s book (see here). It’s a terrific book, full of promises and light in the darkness, but also full of stories of real people we’ve seen over the years, many tragic stories of sickness and death and doubts. It left me feeling raw, and with Gloria’s death coming on the heels of my read of the book, it all felt like too much again. Why are you not acting, God? How long, Oh Lord?
But as is often the case, God provides answers that I need to hear at just the right time. Days earlier, I had been listening to a sermon series from my home church in Ann Arbor. The pastor, Brian Gregory, has been preaching a series on Daniel. Honestly, other than the fiery furnace and lion’s den, I’ve never given much time to reading through the book of Daniel, but was powerfully impacted by this message on Daniel 8 (if you’re interested, you can hear the whole sermon here). Daniel has a vision of the future, a terrible future full of the wicked prospering and the innocent suffering. And the summary of Daniel’s response is basically, “How long, Oh Lord?” The response from heaven is: “A long time. But not forever. Because the Lord will act.” So Daniel is very sick and grieved. But then he gets up and continues the work that he has been given to do by the king.
I couldn’t get this message out of my head. It resonated with all my emotions and longings that week after Gloria died. All of creation is crying, “How long, O Lord?” We know that the world is broken. We know things are not supposed to be this way. And I think if the response from heaven was, “not much longer,” it would feel false. It would feel like vain hope, because we KNOW that things don’t seem to be getting better as quickly as we would like. God is acknowledging that the world will not change quickly. Not for Daniel. Not for us. Perhaps we will not see justice in our lifetimes. But the promise is, and I choose to believe it, that this world and its troubles and its injustice WILL NOT last forever. Because the Lord will act. I can’t see how Gloria’s life turned out the way I wanted. The systems are broken, and on some level we failed her. But God promises that even this death, even this sorrow, even this story, will be redeemed. I can hold on to that.
So, as Daniel did, we grieve. I think that’s important, not to gloss over the pain that we experience. As most of us know, one can grieve and have hope at the same time…they are not mutually exclusive. I grieve for Gloria’s family, and her babies that will grow up never knowing their mother. But then I also get up and continue on in the work that God has prepared for me. Longing for the day that he will make all things right, but working in the “not yet” of today, knowing that the sorrow will last for a night, perhaps a long night, but joy comes in the morning.