2 Corinthians 1:9-10
“Indeed in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves, but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.”
We have all had moments in life where we felt the sentence of death. For some of us, it’s the diagnosis of a fatal illness for someone we love or for ourselves. For others, it’s the death of a dream or the future as we watch our relationships fall apart, the loss of a job or career, financial ruin, in some way, our dreams become forever out of reach.
In my own life, I have experienced this feeling at least twice as an adult. First, I felt the sentence of death when we received Sophie’s apraxia diagnosis. We did not know at that time if she would ever speak. It was a heavy diagnosis. A life without speech is not at all what we pictured for our child, for our family. In that moment, everything about our future picture seemed to shift and go dark. Sophie’s future was suddenly so uncertain, once again. Yet, God met us in this moment reminding us of all the he is able to do in the midst of our weakness. God reminded me of the story of Moses who had a speech impediment, yet was used by God to free the nation of Israel from the enslavement of the Egyptians. A speech disorder is no match for God’s power. In our moment of hopelessness, he was able to quickly restore hope. And in fighting for Sophie’s speech these past two years, we have seen him bring so much life and goodness.
My stroke diagnosis also felt like a death sentence. I know, I lived through it, and it was nothing major, truly, but it represented the death of a dream. Last March (2016) when I finished a months-long barrage of testing begun because of lasting episodes of vertigo, there was really nothing clear except that I’d had a stroke, and most likely during pregnancy. So the doctors’ recommendations were all the same: No more children. This was a devastation for me. I battled all through the spring and summer to accept this, to find contentment, to see my very very blessed life with two sweet children was more than enough for me. I found his grace in each moment as I worked to accept our reality. And I truly became content with my new vision of my life, my family of four.
During this summer, I wrote a Sunday school series entitled “Heroes of the Old Testament.” There were lots of manly heroes in this series, but I also wanted to include some ladies, and as the series came to a close, I felt like there was one more lady hero that I was meant to search out. That August I found myself in I Samuel reading the story of Hannah, and I saw myself, the woman longing for (more) children. God’s words to me could not have been any clearer as I processed Hannah’s story: When you give to me, I give back in abundant generosity. I have seen this truth over and over again in my life when I’ve given my resources to God. But in Hannah’s story, it wasn’t just her resources she was giving. It was her pain, her dreams, her unfulfilled hopes that she poured out to God. And God was exceedingly generous towards Hannah. He blessed her with her son Samuel, and with other children after him as well.
I felt strongly as I studied this story that I needed to lay down my dream for more children again, once and for all, and accept whatever way God chose to be generous towards me, believing that he could give me fulfillment as a mommy in so many different ways. We still were not planning for more children, and my heart was very much at peace with this decision. I saw this desire to mother more possibly being fulfilled in another way, maybe through teaching, fostering, or just mothering my kids’ friends. So I once again laid down my dreams, my hopes, and my pain, just like Hannah, giving our Burleigh family future over to my loving Father, believing I would see his generosity.
This was August. And by the end of September, I was pregnant with our splendid surprise.
Why does God do things like this? Why make life look impossible? Why let us feel the sentence of death? Because that way we have to rely on him, on the God who raises the dead. He is the God who can resurrect any dream, any future, any person back to life again.
In our death sentence moments we feel an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. Whatever dream has died, whatever has come crashing down, whatever destruction is taking place, it robs us of hope. But we serve a God who is able to raise the dead — the dead dreams, the dead relationships, the dead future, the deadness in our hearts. On him we place our hope. In hopeless moments, he is the one who can restore our hope. No, he may not choose to resurrect a dream or a relationship or a life in the way we imagined, but he can restore and resurrect life and hope in our hearts.
And so I offer you the story of our Hannah Jean. Our unplanned and much loved blessing. When I laid down my dream for more children before the Lord, I knew in my heart I would have another daughter. I did not know what that would look like, because God creates beautiful answers to our dreams in many different kinds of ways. But this generous gift he has given to our family is truly marvelous. And so in October when we learned another child was coming, I chose her name, confident of a baby girl. Named for Hannah, Samuel’s mother, and for my sweet mother-in-law Jean, as well as another dear family friend, who has blessed me immensely, our daughter’s name means favor, grace; gift from God. Truer words were never spoken in a name.