Having just experienced the miracle birth of my daughter, followed by the devastating blow of her death, I found myself unable to pray.  Prayer had sustained me during the difficult pregnancy wrought with uncertainties.  Early in the pregnancy, we discovered that our baby had a fatal chromosomal defect known as trisomy 18.  Reeling at the devastating news, I clung to God like never before.

“Lord, please let me hold my baby alive,” I pleaded.  “Please give me peace and strength to endure the journey ahead.”

Prayer after prayer I lifted to the Father.  And day after day He lifted me.  As I asked for peace, he responded.  As I prayed for strength, He again delivered.  I experienced God in amazing ways throughout my pregnancy and praised Him for His faithfulness in answering my pleas.

For two-and-a-half days, I got to experience the precious life God created.  I got to hold her, sing to her, rock her, touch her soft dark hair and caress her satin skin.  I got to be her mother.

However, the celebration of Ashlynn’s arrival ended much too soon. As she took her last breath, I released her to the heavens.  Lord, thank you for granting me this time. I now give her back to you.

Then came the silence.  Deafening silence.  Her life on earth was forever gone.  No breath or life remained in her small fragile body.  Broken hearted and with empty arms, what was there to say? How could I even pray?

A flood of emotions overtook me and the raging war within my mind began.  Thoughts crashing into each other shattered every sense of who I was and what I believed about God.  Surely He’d made a mistake.  Or worse yet, did God even love me?  He could have healed her, yet instead He reached down and lifted her spirit from my arms taking a piece of me with her.

More silence… more raging thoughts… then silence again.  I was emotionally and spiritually drained as I tried to sift through the ruins of my grief. My spinning head and hurting heart knew that I needed to be praying now more than ever.  I had experienced the power of prayer in abundance, yet I remained speechless towards God.

Thankfully, I shared my prayer dilemma with a godly friend and asked her to pray for me.  My request: “Please ask God to restore my desire to pray and to seek His word and will.”  I was lost and needed to be rescued.  I knew that He was capable of setting me back on the right path, but I couldn’t even ask.

Thankfully, He answered my friend’s prayers swiftly and I re-engaged.  My dialogue with God began and although healing would surely be slow, it indeed followed.

Five weeks after my daughter’s brief life, I was still trying to climb out from beneath the rubble that threatened to overtake me. I was scheduled to go to a Christian woman’s conference with a group from my church.  I had continued to wrestle with my thoughts and feelings and felt distant from God.  I had been so close to Him during my pregnancy but now felt light years apart.  I wanted to be reunited with the same fervor and love I’d had for Him, but struggled to muster the courage to expose my battered heart and soul.

I tried to withdraw from the trip at the last minute, but my husband insisted I go.  During the first session my breath was snatched from me as I discovered that the topic for the weekend was, “God’s immeasurable love for me.”

Could that really be?  I would be confronted with truth to answer the very question I had been wrestling with – does God really love me?  Surely this wasn’t coincidence.  Maybe my recent feelings weren’t an actual portrayal of truth after all.  Maybe my feelings of grief had clouded the truth I’d once believed.

As the speaker taught, my eyes were opened.  I still struggled to fully accept it, but what she was saying made sense.  Throughout the Bible, God gives many detailed accounts of specific measurements. Yet, when He refers to His love for us, He tells us it cannot be measured – His love is too great.  It is not bound by human limits or definitions.

After more sessions, the words began to break the barrier of my head and penetrate my heart.  But God, I need to know it’s real.

During the break, the speaker indicated that the arena would become a sanctuary of prayer for anyone desiring to stay.  As I sat in my seat, I began sobbing and praying to God.  I missed Ashlynn so much that it physically hurt.  My gaping heart had a seemingly irreparable hole.  With my face in my hands and body trembling, I finally let down the façade and invited God back into my deepest, darkest wounds.

Lord, I need to feel your presence right now in an unmistakable way.  I want to feel your arms around me.  Comfort me, I beg you.

Within seconds, a woman appeared from nowhere and approached me from behind my seat.  She wrapped her arms tightly around me and began to pray.  My tension dissolved as I nearly became limp. God was touching me through this woman, whoever she was.

My sobs of grief and pain became sobs of joy and hope.  The words she prayed were exactly what I needed to hear – that God loved me and chose me.  As the woman finished praying and gave one last squeeze, she disappeared as quickly back into the crowd as she had appeared moments earlier.  I was dumbfounded as I tried to comprehend what had just happened.

God answered my prayer and revealed Himself in such a way that I knew it was Him without a doubt.  My spirit was renewed and refreshed in that very moment because God heard my simple prayer and chose to remind me of His powerful, unfailing love.  He demonstrated His goodness and grace to me once again.  And my encounter, which still brings tears, is forever etched into my soul.

Cindy Shufflebarger 2011

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Cindy Shufflebarger

Cindy Shuffelbarger is the author of Dancing in the Rain: Finding Joy in the Midst of the Storm and speaks to women’s groups on various topics related to grief, joy, and faith. She experienced the death of her infant daughter in 2006. In addition to writing and speaking, Cindy enjoys photography, traveling, scrapbooking and quiet walks in the park. A registered dietitian with degrees from Virginia Commonwealth University and James Madison University, she now runs a women’s ministry to encourage others in their journey of faith. Cindy resides with her husband and children in the suburbs of Richmond, VA and finds her greatest challenge and reward as a homeschooling mom of three.

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