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Empty Arms

How well I understand my friend's grief over her miscarriage.

I stand at the kitchen counter, phone cradled between shoulder and ear, jotting on a notepad, listening. Listening as my friend pours out the sad news of the loss of her tiny unborn baby. I wipe away my own tears, understanding all too well the anguish of this mother's broken heart, as I scribble circles and lines—and the words to a song: "Little one, loved before knowing … Precious one, in dreams so fair … "

Only a few weeks before, my friend had called, ecstatic that a test had confirmed the presence of the little life within her. She even rejoiced when the nausea started. Then the nausea abruptly stopped—and the spotting began. And now the baby was gone. Her hopes and dreams, her plans for new curtains in the nursery, somehow must be laid away.

She weeps, and I with her. Most people don't understand. They smile and pat her shoulder and say she can always have another one. How thankful she should be for her other children. Doesn't she think she has enough children already? Or they don't know what to say at all, so they chat aimlessly about the weather and the kids' ball games. She wants to scream at them, "Don't you see? My baby died! I'll never see him (or was it her?) play ball. This was not an illness. This was a human life—a life I loved—and I am grieving!" I understand. How well I understand.

We share. We cry. I tell her I'll bring supper tonight and we hang up. Memories flood back as I sip my tea.

Three babies (I wonder what they're like?) wait for me in heaven. All were born only a few short weeks after their lives began, before onlookers could even tell they were there. But I knew. I already loved them, and now I understand my friend's lonely grief.

After my third miscarriage—a beautiful little baby only about an inch long, with fingers and toes and eyes—I cried out to Jesus in my helpless, agonizing loss. And the idea of finding some sort of memorial surfaced. (It's tough, losing a son or daughter so early; there's no funeral, no grave, no memorial. Some people act as though there were no baby.) I went shopping, asking the Lord to help me find what he'd chosen. I wandered aisles, not even knowing what I was looking for, then stopped. There, sitting high on a shelf, was a tiny, live green bush with pink miniature roses breathing out a fragrance vibrant with life. I knew I'd found it.

God birthed in my heart a new understanding of the reality of heaven.

Our whole family planted it together that evening in the corner of our yard by the fence. As we patted the soft soil around the little roots, we explained to our children that a rosebud sometimes may swell on this side of the fence, but if the stem grows through that barrier, it actually blooms on the other side. Our baby was like the little rose. He began here, but went on to live with Jesus before he "bloomed"--before we could know him. That seemed to make sense to them, and soon, though they were disappointed, they were content to anticipate getting to know this brother or sister in heaven.

It wasn't so easy for me. My body had sheltered and nourished a new life and now faced postpartum changes with empty arms. A few women who had personally experienced the loss of an unborn child tried to offer comfort (forever endearing themselves to me), but only the Lord could heal my broken heart.

Many times in the ensuing months I would slip away, alone, to sit by the little rosebush, pluck the weeds, and pour out my heart to God. I hated that fence; it represented the painful separation I felt. But it also became the Lord's teaching tool.

I knew my babies lived still, just on the other side. The other side was really there, and only a step away—just as heaven is. As God taught me to accept his will that I should live on this side for now and those babies on the other side, he birthed in my heart a new understanding of the reality of heaven. Within me grew the assurance that one day in heaven I would hug these precious children who now already lived in perfection. And over many months, as I sat beside the little rose in the arms of my Abba Father, my Comforter, my Wonderful Counselor, my Hiding Place, my heart began to heal.

My tea is cold. I shake myself and glance at the clock. My eyes drift to the little pink rosebush in the yard. I walk out to pick one for my buttonhole as I make a mental list of dinner preparations for my hurting friend.

Main dish and salad, treats for the children, sympathy card—and a tiny rosebush. There are lovely red ones at the garden center, and I'll take her one tonight with the song I composed on the notepad. I'll hug her. We'll cry and pray together, and I'll promise to pray for her every day in the coming months. And I'll do it, too. Perhaps it will help her along as she begins her healing journey.

I smile at the jaunty rose on my shirt, and head outside, tearing off the top sheet of the notepad, reading as I walk:

Little one, loved before knowing,
Precious one, in dreams so fair;
My empty arms ache to be holding
My rosebud who blooms "over there."

if you had come to be with us
I'd have shown you the stars and the sea;
But your eyes see them eternally clear …
One day you must show them to me.

Yes, Lord, please tell my little ones that one day they must show them to me—and that that day will come sooner than we can imagine. And that I love them.

Carefully I tuck the song into my pocket, realizing I must get the shopping for dinner underway. And I walk to the car, one foot in heaven.

JENNIFER MAZE BROWN is a pediatrician. She and her family live in North Carolina.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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