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Faith: Surprised by beauty

We had been anxiously anticipating the birth of our sixth child in February and silently dreading it.

We were approaching the three-year anniversary of the death of our third daughter, Maria, and the birth of our fifth daughter, Lucy, just one week later. What would it be like to return to the hospital for the first time since the worst week of our lives?

Lucy has been a light in our darkness, a gift of life in the valley of death, but all I can remember about her birth is the overwhelming sorrow when she entered the world the day we were planning on burying her sister. There was no happiness on that day. We wept constantly, not tears of joy but of terror and fear.

The only positive emotion I felt was relief after she was born. Relief that my wife survived labor. Relief that Lucy was alive, but I felt no pleasure in holding her. I wanted to hold Maria, my precious little girl who breathed her last breath in my arms just seven days before. I paced those hospital hallways like a ghost.

And now, almost three years later, we were going back to have another child. What would it be like to return that place, to deliver another baby where all I remember is darkness?

Life has become more normal and manageable over the past three years. Grief has changed us, but it doesn't consume us like it once did. We've grown. Our children are doing really well. Every day there is far more joy than sorrow in our home. We laugh much more than we weep. We really are doing well.

Yet, when sorrow does come, it comes unexpectedly and can be overwhelming. We have occasional flashbacks of the moments leading up to Maria's death and of the days after she died. These memories are unbearable. I haven't written much about them because I just can't. They are horrifying.

When we have flashbacks to those moments, life looks pretty bleak. The darkness of depression sets in immediately, and the full weight of our sorrow suffocates us like we are drowning.

These overwhelming moments have become less frequent in time, but we still have them. Certain images and memories bring them back to the surface.

So it is with great apprehension that we were going back to the hospital. To walk those sad hallways. To relive the darkest days of our lives.

But a surprising thing happened.

We went to the hospital in February to deliver our sixth child, and it was beautiful. I was expecting sorrow, but what I found was beauty and joy and hope. It was a good day. We had a few moments when we cried and remembered Maria, but even these were good moments. We love her and it's good to remember her.

Her memory did not spoil the day; it reminded us of the goodness of life and the preciousness of all of our children. Her death is part of our life, but it did not overshadow the gift of the new life that has been given to us.

I was crying when Elijah entered this world. Our sixth child. Our first son. I shed tears not of sorrow but tears of gratitude (although sorrow is part of my gratitude). Tears that see the beauty of life and know the tragedy of death. Tears that are grateful for the joy of this child.

As I held Elijah for the first time, I was overcome with one thought. "We are blessed. In the midst of all the sorrow and pain and beauty and joy, God has not forgotten us. He is good, and He surprised us with beauty and life."

Tristan Borland is pastor at Riverview Church in Pine River.