Knowing our son’s fatal diagnosis destroyed us. But we somehow had to reassemble ourselves from the ruin and face the decision that was before us: terminate the pregnancy or carry to term. Having a choice in all of this haunted our souls, thrusting us deeper into the nightmare that was devouring us. But despite the agony of the decision, the opportunity to choose our son is something I have come to cherish as Eli’s father.
On Sunday night, August 12, we stumbled into Joel and Jen’s home, exhausted from the first two days of torment. We had seen family and friends throughout the weekend for comfort in our grief, but we were now desperate for guidance in the decision, unable to think clearly on our own. As our close friends and coworkers, they had graciously counseled us through many situations over the years, and we knew we could lean into them for help in our despair.
They sat with us. They cried with us. And with compassion and courage, they emboldened us. As they listened to our pain and paralysis, they said two things over the course of the evening that will stay with me forever: Jesus knows what it’s like. Choose what would honor the Lord.
“Jesus knows what it’s like.”
Though we had two options, there was one cruel and unavoidable outcome: our son’s death, a horror that would scar us forever. Both paths felt impossible and terrifying, but Joel and Jen reminded us that Jesus knows what it’s like to walk in sorrow towards inevitable destruction. He agonized over his choice, too, asking the Father for another option as he stared into the immobilizing darkness. Jesus is a Savior who suffered, a King who commiserates with us. We were not alone.
“Choose what would honor the Lord.”
One might think that a decision with such profound pain requires complex counsel, but they reminded us of our simple call, even in the midst of horrible circumstances: honor the Lord. While we had been disoriented by our devastation, their words cut through the darkness with the clarity we needed. Although the future still haunted us, we now had a framework to make the decision out of faith, not fear.
Ironically, the freedom to choose had been enslaving us, but what Joel and Jen said that night freed us up to make our decision. And not being able to decide had shackled us with guilt, but how they spoke to us released us from our shame. There were no undertones beneath their words, no allusions or critique, no surprise at our paralysis. They listened with understanding and gently helped us to a place that we could move forward from.
We had been drowning, but Joel and Jen pulled us back up to the surface. We were still barely able to tread water, but now we could at least see, breathe, think.
Our meeting at Maternal Fetal Medicine the next day gave us the last ounce of confidence we needed to make our decision. There was a whole team of specialists, counselors, and doctors devoted to walking with couples through this painful process. Their tenderness towards us made it clear that they knew what we were going through, having helped many others who had been in our same situation. Despite the terror of carrying to term, we knew we could step forward with others around us to help us in our journey.
We sat in the car afterwards, knowing what we were going to do. We were going to continue the pregnancy. For a brief moment, relief outweighed the terror, as we had been released from the chains of choice. Our hearts still trembled, but we were no longer paralyzed.
That evening, we solidified our decision with Joel and Jen’s counsel in mind – how does this honor the Lord? We each had a different reason that made the top of our list. Jillian answered the question by directing our gaze to God’s sovereignty. “We normally do everything we can to run away from suffering. But it’s clear in the Bible that God uses suffering, and we don’t have to run from it.” We could step forward with faith in God’s promise to use even the painful things for his glory and our good. My response focused our hearts on God’s grace. Choosing to carry our son to term would imitate the way God has loved us. He endured suffering on our behalf, loving us before we knew him, knowing we would not be able to reciprocate. We could extend that same grace to our son.
Our decision was fortified on these two pillars: trusting God’s sovereignty over suffering and reflecting God’s grace to our child.
In all the confusion of our misery and anguish, one thing is clear: we chose our son.
As we crawl closer to his death with terrible sadness, we anticipate his birth with these three immeasurably valuable words: We chose you. I long to hold him in my arms and whisper in his ear, We chose you, Eli. Despite your condition, despite what you lack, despite the frailty of your life.
We chose you.
“My soul is very sorrowful, even to death…
My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.
Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”