From the very fabric of heartbreak, God weaves the wonder of hope - as we learn to "show up" in the lives of those around us. Read on as Natasha Sistrunk Robinson leads us along the way.
Showing Up for Life
By Natasha Sistrunk Robinson
Five months into my pregnancy with my son, I bought some outfits from Old Navy and a cuddly teddy bear, starting to anticipate his arrival. My husband and I wanted our child to have a strong biblical name, so we named him Elijah after the prophet and after my maternal grandfather, whom we had recently lost.
On the morning of Elijah's death, I rose from bed like any other day during this uneventful, healthy pregnancy. My husband and I were visiting our godparents at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. We went to a restaurant for breakfast and were preparing to drive home, but something did not feel right. Without any pain at all, I sensed that the baby had dropped.
When we went to the emergency room, the nurse affirmed our deepest fear. I would deliver Elijah, and he was not going to make it. I took the drugs. They minimized the pain so it did not feel like I was having a real labor, and they caused me to sleep directly afterward. In my weakness and heartbreak, I could not even muster the strength to look at my stillborn son, but my godmother held him in her arms and bore witness to his presence in this world.
I took my weak and vulnerable self from that cold hospital room to the loving hospitability of my godmother's home and couch, where I remained for several days. God's grace to me was the safety and shelter of that home.
A dear friend came to the house after a long day's work to sit with me. After a lengthy silence, she said, "You know, it's okay to cry."
I lifted my head from the pillow, took my eyes off the Meerkat Manor show I had been binge watching all day, and informed her, "I'm all cried out. Been crying all day. Don't feel like crying right now. If you want to cry, go right ahead." But this Marine Corps officer, my sister, responded by holding back her tears. God's grace to me was that she came, she sat, she bore witness, and she loved me with her presence, her silence, and her hidden tears.
Then there was my friend Lisa, who lifted me from my bed to minister her old-school remedy of using cabbage to dry up my milk because my breasts hurt. She cracked jokes as she packed my bra full of cabbage, and I cried through that laughter.
Only a few years later, some of these same women were in the room to hold my hands and feet and to cheer me on as I delivered our beautiful baby girl. They had also been present in my life during a long season of losses that preceded the painful loss of Elijah.
Life. New births. Funerals. Deaths. Disappointments. These are things that we don't have any control over. When life happens, the best we can do is show up for it and be fully present. This is a spiritual discipline that I have specifically learned from black women. We consistently show up to comfort, to sustain, to grieve, to celebrate, and to start something new. When times get hard and threaten to take us out, God in his magnificent grace provides people who will show up for us to make our tragic lives bearable.
I suspect that you have witnessed this grace at work in your own life. The many ways that we experience God's grace - both big and small - are common to all of us. As we grow in age and maturity, we realize that things aren't always as they should be, and our lives may not be as we had hoped. You see, strong women and leaders are not superhuman. We all have personal struggles.
It is in this reality that we come to better understand our true selves and our commonalities, and it is here that we come face-to-face with God. God's common grace is in the blessings of loving mothers (either biological, adopted, or self-appointed), aunts who show us how to hold on and when to let go, and friends who know how to laugh, cry, or sit in silence. We all need each other. Our human lives require interdependency. Having someone show up at the opportune time is a means of God's grace to us.
Natasha Sistrunk Robinson is an international speaker, leadership consultant, diversity and mentoring coach with nearly 20 years of leadership experience in the military, federal government, church, seminary, and nonprofit sectors. She is the author of A Sojourner's Truth: Choosing Freedom and Courage in a Divided World, Mentor for Life, and the Hope for Us (Nicene Creed) Bible Study. She is the Visionary Founder and Chairperson of the nonprofit, Leadership LINKS, Inc. A graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary Charlotte (cum laude, M.A. Christian Leadership) and the U.S. Naval Academy, Natasha has served as a Marine Corps officer and employee at the Department of Homeland Security.