Today I turn 35.
For the first time in my life, I am not shocked to be here, still spinning on this precarious planet.
I am not overwhelmed by the weight of my own mortality. I am not surprised to find that I have been given the gift of another year, as has always been my birthday reaction in the past.
Instead I feel anchored more strongly to this world than ever. Despite the fact that most of my heart right now longs for what and who lies beyond.
In the days since Abby and Maggie died, I feel as if I have walked through a swirling storm which is now right behind my back. I am standing on firm rock at the edge of a cliff, looking out over a new world, washed raw and bare.
And everything is ahead of me.
I am standing on the other side of terror. The worst that life can bring – because I can’t tell you how many well-meaning people have felt the need to inform us that losing a child is the worst thing that can happen to a parent – has happened. We have held two dying children and we have let them go.
And I am no longer afraid.
I feel for the first time in my life as if anything is possible. As if my ears have been opened to hear God’s voice in a new frequency. As if my life is finally unfolding into the fullness of what it was meant to be.
We could have another baby someday. We could sell our house and move our family halfway across the world. I could write all the books I have been dreaming to write. I could become the more compassionate human I always hoped I could be.
None of these changes will happen overnight, I know. And very likely the truth of where I am called next has not even presented itself to my imagination. I know the road before us will be long and winding and unexpected.
But on the other side of fear, anything is possible.
“…perfect love casts out fear (I John 4:18).” These words echoed in my head throughout my pregnancy. Never before had I dreamed I was capable of perfect love, until face-to-face with the worst fear, I felt this love gather around me and carry me through.
Because do you know what perfect love looks like?
It looks like hundreds of family and friends – and a thousand perfect strangers – surrounding you with prayer. From churches and grottoes, convents and monasteries, kitchens and classrooms, at home and abroad.
Be not afraid.
It looks like weeks of home cooked dinners arriving on your doorstep. Boxes of food sent across the miles from college friends who wish they lived next door. Strangers who bake bread to feed a family they have never met.
Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.
It looks like a kitchen full of fresh flowers from every corner of the country. A mailbox spilling over with cards of loving words. Pastors who envelope your family in embraces when you show up at church late, tired, and weepy.
Perfect love looks like the Body of Christ.
And anything I thought I knew about this mystical truth at the center of our faith has been blown apart by the love that is carrying us through our loss.
There is no room for fear when we are all here together.
I am not naive enough to suppose that my life from this point will be free from anxiety. Worry always accompanies change and any worthy endeavor. I will surely struggle with whatever lies ahead. The ground we are on is still hard and rocky.
But for the first time in my life, I am unafraid. I feel the storm receding at my back, and I know that whatever comes next will be clearer and calmer for the hell we have passed through.
I cannot feel happy on today’s birthday. I have no taste for cake, no thrill for presents, no desire for dinner out on the town. We are thick in grief, and it is grueling work.
But I am deeply grateful to still be here. I feel the newborn strength of being anchored firmly to this life, perhaps for the first time.
And it is a mighty force.