Suffering and grace are some of the most powerful words in our lexicon. It’s so easy to have life’s seasons take us on the roller-coaster of circumstances, guiding our need for hope with the ebb and flow of each. The pull of darkness as we push against suffering and lift of grace just as we’ve lost sight of the horizon. I’ve spent many an hour thinking about the process we go through in trials and tribulations that whittle our character towards strength and bravery. It’s not an easy process.
Why so much suffering? I, of course, don’t have the answer but what if there is another kind of refinement happening right alongside? Refinement by grace. The shaping that comes when our faith has been shaken, when peace beyond understanding hovers in times we feel weak, when just as we are giving up God whispers “At the right time, I, the Lord, will make it happen” – Isaiah 60:22.
For my friend Julianne Hess, her path to motherhood wasn’t the easy road she hoped for. I met Julianne many years ago while we were working as professional vocalists in Indianapolis and became coworkers at the same booking agency. I knew right away that she was going to be a friend. Her warmth is the first sip of fresh morning coffee and gentleness like honey on a piece of toast.
Shortly after our friendship began, she met a wonderful man, became a step mother and dreamed of becoming a mother to her own children. While her path to motherhood, like many, didn’t come as easily as hoped, she eventually received her first miracle and welcomed Ivy Laine into this world in 2013. A prayer answered.
Then, in 2016 she was surprised and filled with joy to find out she was expecting again. “I was so excited that Ivy was going to be a big sister and it didn’t take long for me to start planning and dreaming about the new baby. I was certain it was a girl and we would name her, Annie.” she explains.
Several weeks later, she was rushed to the hospital. “I experienced the most fierce, persistent pain of my life. I truly thought I was going to die.”
When she woke from surgery, the doctors explained she had an ectopic pregnancy and significant internal bleeding. They had removed the damaged fallopian tube and discovered her other was “so full of scar tissue, it was effectively dead.” She went home with a broken heart and certain she’d never have another baby.
The shift was life-changing and a closed door. Her experience bears witness to the complexities of suffering and grace we all experience. The shift from yearning to trust, in order to accept loss.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” Psalm 23:1-6
Three years later—sick, tired and certain she couldn’t be pregnant, Julianne searched for any possible explanation to her illness. Ultimately, for the sake of simply moving on, she took a pregnancy test and found herself in complete shock. How could it possibly be? She was going to have a baby at the age of 42 years old.
“I’m not proud of this,” she shares, “but I tend to live my life as if the bottom is going to drop out. I’ve experienced some big disappointments over the years and I sort of expect the next one to be waiting around the corner. In the nine months I was pregnant, our country literally locked down due to a pandemic. Every health scare was a real and present danger. Our home became the classroom for our kids because school was closed. My husband and I bought a business when the economy was at its most unpredictable. I had anemia and gestational diabetes. I pricked my finger 4 times a day and went to every doctor appointment by myself. Every single day I wondered why God chose me and this moment in time for this baby.”
In the midst of it all, that tiny heart kept beating. Jovi Lynn Hess was born on July 21, 2020. There was nothing planned, scripted, prepared or predicted about that. But it was most certainly divine.
“I think about the baby I lost often. I wonder how our life would be different. I wonder what she would’ve become. Our bedroom walls are green. I’ve never particularly loved the color green, but the paint sample jumped out at me; it’s serene and peaceful and gives me an easy feeling. It wasn’t until I brought the paint home that I saw the name on the label: ‘Sweet Annie,’” she shares.
We will never fully be able to understand why things happen as they do. The hardship and losses can feel like a clock frozen in time. When I think of Julianne and others praying a mother’s prayer not yet fulfilled, I am challenged to think about what grace and the gospel really mean. I used to live with a faith that jumped from one warm fuzzy to the next seeing grace only in happy endings. Now, the older I get, and the more trials I endure, the more I see tattered faith as unshakable. One that has weathered storms, accepted disappointment, reached for hope in the lowest moments. Heaven colliding with hell. Grace through suffering. It stands because of the rock it stands on. That is the gospel: unshakable hope.
“I pray every day for my sisters waiting to become mamas. I don’t have any answers but I do have proof that miracles exist and there’s beauty in the ashes.”
Writing the Book of Hope
We’ve been writing the Book of Hope together for 30 weeks now, but it’s never too late to join us! Here’s all you need to get started.
Join me in a very special conversation with Julianne Hess today on Reasons to Hope, live on Root & Vine’s Instagram at 3pm ET. We’ll archive our chat on IGTV for those of you who can’t make it.
Leave us a comment on Instagram or Facebook, how do you relate to Julianne’s story? Have you or someone you love experienced an act of unexplainable grace? We’d love to know. Comment with the hashtag #reasonstohope and we’ll encourage one another as we grow in faith and gratitude.