Wednesday’s Life-Giving Woman: My Sister-in-Law

In honor of my sister-in-law, Cheryl, remembering sweet William Steven.

In honor of my sister-in-law, Cheryl, remembering sweet William Steven.

“He didn’t make it.”

The sting of those words scattered my thoughts. They’re the words my brother used when he called Mom late that Friday night, five years ago yesterday. The birth of his son, William Steven Stanley, had come a month too soon.

He separated from his life source. No warning. No shout from his cozy growing space. His active body simply stopped.

No one knows why.

But we know the sting is real. Losing life hurts. When life ends, grief grows toward a season of sorrow. And sorrow mingles among the tears of the living, weaving its way through a family, a community.

When God set loose His breath within this tiny human form and provided parents for his nurturing and protection, He intended for good.

God intends every life for good.

My brother grappled for understanding as he attempted to dismantle the beginnings of a nursery. “Robin, we saw the baby clap his hands. The nurse doing the ultrasound said that maybe he would grow up to be a gospel singer. No matter what she did, he just kept clapping.” His voice trailed off. “Now I can’t get this . . . this crib thing apart. I just put it together . . . you’d think I could figure it out.”

I felt his hurt, his struggle with the finite nature of the human body, his frustration with not being able to make things better.

As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t make his hurt go away. I sat with him in his sorrow and celebrated with him the short life of his stillborn son. I was unable to sit with him and his wife in person, so I wrote a blog post, the beginning of which I reposted above. (Read the full post from my previous blog here.)

While I never met William Steven, I sometimes miss him.

I didn’t remember that yesterday was William’s birthday or the five-year anniversary of his death until I read my sister-in-law’s facebook post.

It took all of Wednesday for these words to surface on my lips:

Cheryl, I’m sorry.

I can’t begin to understand the depth of your pain, but I don’t want it to go unnoticed. I don’t want you to go unnoticed. I see you, and because of you, I see William. The poem you posted about him was beautiful and full of life.

Thinking about the strength with which you walked through giving William life, even in his death, upended me last night. You’re the one God chose to mother William, the wonder, and you mother him well.

You rise up with courage to speak of your sorrow. In doing so, you sing William’s lullaby. You honor and perpetuate his life by blessing those around you with your strength. Strength, not to hold life in, but to live it.

I pray you see yourself the way I see you today, as a woman with much life to give. Thank you for loving my brother, for being his partner, his lover, his friend. Thank you for being an example of a woman of valor — someone who blesses her family through her strength and creativity — even through hard times.

It may seem strange that I would write a note such as this to my sister-in-law and post it in a public place. I believe we should honor each other publicly, call life out in each other. It speaks to deep places in our spirits — the places that tend to bend us low and keep us low. 

I’ll be honest, I don’t know all of Cheryl’s story. I don’t have to. I know what I see, and I’m seeing her rise up to be the life-giver she was born to be.

Whatever your story, you can too. Rise up, sweet friend, and receive this truth: You were born for life. To live it, and to give it.

When we lay the soil of our hard lives open to the rain of grace and let joy penetrate our cracked and dry places, let joy soak into our broken skin and deep crevices, life grows. —Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

If these words resonate with you, and you’re hurting, know we’re praying for you. If you have words of encouragement to share please leave a note in the comments. Your words have the power to comfort and to heal, speak life and remind that we’re not on this journey alone.

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9 responses to “Wednesday’s Life-Giving Woman: My Sister-in-Law

  1. Robin Stanley, this is achingly beautiful. The pain is one I am not familiar with but in prayer I will share this burden. My mom heart breaks.

  2. Robin, thanks for your words. I have deleted multiple replies here…words are difficult to write through tears. I’ve experienced such grief and the years don’t seem to ease the wishes or dreams or desires. Oh there is healing, but the “what ifs” and “if onlys” continue to surround my life. Thanks again…and keep loving on your sister-in-law and brother. Grace, Donna

    • Donna, thank you for sharing your life-giving heart and encouraging love. I’m so sorry for your loss. May the Comforter wrap you in His arms today . . . and again tomorrow. Grace, indeed.

  3. Robin,
    Thank you for honoring your nephew and his parents with your loving words. I see these families too. WE are one on those families. Many years ago, my brother and his wife lost a baby, born a bit prematurely. They named him Stephen. A few years later as we awaited the birth of our first child, I asked my brother how he would feel if we used the name Stephen for our baby if he was a boy. I couldn’t imagine doing so if it was too difficult for him. He and his wife agreed, and felt honored that we would ask. God blessed by giving him a wonderful relationship with his nephew, Stephen. They share a love of the outdoors, hunting and fishing and talking about guns. It’s so great to see in some way, my Stephen blessed my brother’s life.
    Eleven years ago, my daughter lost a baby at eight days old. For several years she marked his heavenly journey by releasing balloons at the beach. Some years are harder than others. We remember baby Sean. His life was so short, but we will never forget. We trust his life and my daughter’s loss will help others who walk through that valley. We see them and we ache for them, but we carry a hope and peace that passes understanding from the life giver.

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