As I held my shaking hands out, palms up, one desperate word formed, “Help!” I knew God understood what I could not pray. Help me open my hands to you, Lord! I sat on a hospital bed, and the steady rhythm of a heartbeat echoed from a fetal monitor. I was twenty-four weeks pregnant, and my placenta had begun to abrupt, or tear from the uterine wall. The delivery of our baby girl seemed imminent.
Up to that point it had been a smooth, “boring” pregnancy as my ob-gyn jokingly and reassuringly quipped. I’d even had less nausea than with my firstborn.
A gentle breeze and gorgeous, blue sky had beckoned us outside. As I pushed Hudson in the stroller, a sharp, knife-like pain suddenly pierced through my lower right abdomen. I doubled over and then stood, breathing deeply for a minute before I could walk again.
Not a rookie pregnant lady, however, I didn’t want to overreact and thought the sensation could be round ligament pain. We walked home and sat on the front stoop to rest. I snapped pictures of my grinning toddler in his muscle shirt and red baseball hat. Still feeling some pins and needles pain and cramping, I thought I might need to use the restroom.
I sat Hudson on the floor in the bathroom (because, you know. . . mom life). It was then that I saw blood on the tissue—every pregnant woman’s fear. I stood and there was so much blood.
Instinctively I glanced to see if my precious girl was in the toilet.
While my nightmare fear (I’m losing her!) crashed around in my mind, I screamed for my husband. “David! David! We need to go to the hospital right now!” Praise God, David had not yet left for work.
He wasn’t crying, but fear etched Hudson’s fifteen-month-old face. I scooped him up and put on my best calm voice. “Buddy, we’re going to get in the car. And Mamoo and Papa will meet us at the hospital. Mommy loves you, and it’s going to be okay.”
I desperately hoped it would indeed be okay.
As we drove I felt Charlotte kick. She is moving. She is alive.
A Familiar Question
When something is critical, hospitals become a flurry of activity. Medical staff moved quickly, starting an IV, giving me a steroid shot to develop the baby’s lungs, starting magnesium to forestall labor, checking vitals, hooking up monitors, calling an ambulance for transport. Thinking of the frenetic pace still brings up residual trauma from my first husband’s death.
Alone in the room of a major teaching hospital, I called out to God. As I prayed, a vivid question sprang to my mind. What if I take her?
The words felt familiar; I had been in that moment before, where God held someone beloved across my mind’s eye. I do not claim to hear God’s voice audibly, but He has asked me that question three times.
Once he “took” a fiancé through a broken engagement.
Once he took my husband home to Himself.
Once he spared the life of my daughter.
Once I said, “No! God, I’ve waited too long.”
Once I said, “Lord, I want to say yes, but I don’t know that I can. I do know you will help me open my hands if the time comes.”
Once I said, “Yes, Lord. She’s yours.”
Father, you know my hands are open to you. She is your baby. I know you will do what is good. But could you please spare her and protect her?
In His mercy and grace, He did. We had eleven more weeks of countless doctor visits, two more occasions of bleeding, multiple inpatient stays, multiple outpatient hospital trips, along with medications, steroid shots, preterm labor, and contractions for weeks and weeks. We made it to thirty-five weeks before my water broke.
Now she’s a vibrant, precocious three-year-old with a love of marker tattoos and stickers. Still, I open my hands to God. She is still yours. They are all still yours.
I opened my hands and God protected her.
But let me also be extremely clear. Open hands do not guarantee healing in this life.
I opened my hands when my first husband, Jon, lay motionless under the weight of chest compressions, his airway intubated. I prayed the same prayer. My hands are open. He is yours. But please God, spare him. Nothing is too hard for you.
Yet, much sooner than I ever dreamed, God didn’t heal (in this life, anyway).
God was still good, though. Romans 8:28 assures that He works all things together for our good and His glory. He designs the course of history in ways I cannot understand, but ultimately I trust His providence, “His wise and purposeful sovereignty.”1
A common thread between life and death stitches the words “open hands” over and over. Motherhood, grief, all of life—they are studies in having open hands. None of these things follow the well-ordered designs we create in our minds.
The Savior’s Answer
Sometimes God’s will feels crushing, His mercies too severe. And we cling to our plans as a child clutches a grubby penny though he’s offered far more. But Jesus opened His hands. He opened them wide, and they were nailed to a cross.
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me—nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42)
In agony Jesus pleaded that there might be any other way for humanity to be rescued. As He looked into the metaphorical cup, all He saw was wrath brimming and boiling over. He anticipated a depth of suffering that is incomprehensible to us. Yet He lay down His own will, opening His hands to the Father’s perfect plans.
With open hands, He held out far more than we have ever been asked to give. For the first time He knew separation from the Father. He held out His identity, His authority, His riches, His unity, and His holiness. He would become sin personified (2 Cor. 5:21).
When we lay down our lives, we find true life.
If Jesus has truly accomplished redemption and if God is truly who He says He is, then we can hold our hands open to Him. Again and again, we can surrender our plans because His will is better. He does know all things and is in control of all things. When we lay down our lives, we find true life (Matt. 10:39).
And when holding life with open hands feels too big, He meets us with lavish grace. For me it was grace to face the valley of the shadow of death. For me it was also grace to walk through a pregnancy full of complications and the gift of humble submission regarding the timing and circumstances of my daughter’s birth.
It’s strange that it’s almost easier to open our hands in the defining, life-altering moments. But surrender is also daily. It’s the mundane plans that are sometimes hardest to hold out with open hands—the days when a long awaited nap doesn’t happen, when teething keeps us all awake, or when a toddler expresses his big emotions through hitting and biting.
I have yet to decide what is more life altering, the death of a husband or being a mom. Right now they seem neck and neck. I did them in reverse order, so for me motherhood is sometimes colored by loss. My first husband died when I was thirty, and I became a mother at thirty-five.
Of course, there are radical differences between the two. The death of a spouse is like being hit by a freight train. Being a new mom is sometimes like hanging on to the freight train for dear life, and sometimes like sitting at a crossroads that is blocked by what seems like a never-moving train. However, being Mama is also full of precious delight.
But the similarities between motherhood and grief are striking.
Both have the potential to crush us.
Both bring us to the end of ourselves.
Both cause us to evaluate our identities.
Both aren’t always what is expected.
Both teach us to hold out our hands, palms open.
Whether in birth, death, or all the in-betweens, God is accomplishing so much more than we can see. And grace empowers our responses.
I realized that the deepest spiritual lessons are not learned by his letting us have our way in the end, but by his making us wait, bearing with us in love and patience until we are able honestly to pray what he taught his disciples to pray: Thy will be done.2 —Elisabeth Elliot
1John Piper, “Are God’s Providence and God’s Sovereignty the Same?,” Desiring God, October 20, 2022, https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/are-gods-providence-and-gods-sovereignty-the-same.
2Elisabeth Elliot, Passion and Purity: Learning to Bring Your Love Life under Christ’s Control (Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2013). Ebook edition accessed at https://www.google.com/books/edition/Passion_and_Purity/rTATEAAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&pg=PP1&printsec=frontcover.