To Till the Ground

Post Author: Collette Broady Grund

It was Sunday morning, eight weeks from my last menstrual period, three weeks since the first faintly pink positive result appeared, ten days since the darkened line confirmed it, and a measly 24 hours until my first prenatal appointment. It was Sunday morning, and I was bleeding.

Marrett and I had been trying for this new baby since May, a mere eight months into our marriage (the second for both of us). We have four children between us, his two girls aged 14 and 11, and a boy for each of us, his newly 6 and mine 5-and-a-half. Though the six of us together have blended into a big happy family, Marrett and I want one more, a baby that will be ours together. And since we are 37 and 42, we were relieved to be pregnant after two months of trying.

As the bleeding darkened and increased throughout that interminable day, it became clear that this hoped-for little life was not going to be. By the time the doctor confirmed it Monday morning, the miscarriage was in full swing, and Marrett was already grieving.

I felt nothing but stunned and helpless, not only about my body’s decision but also about the work schedule I was facing. It was the week of Vacation Bible School and I was acting as VBS director, in addition to the fact that I was the only pastor at the church that week, as my colleague was on sabbatical.

I could have told people I was sick and taken time to rest and to feel, but the idea of telling anyone anything or securing coverage for all the details of that week was simply too much. It would be easier to just get through it, and to take the days I had already planned to be away afterward. It was a long week, as VBS week always is, but those hours I spent with the kids were well worth it, as they always are.

Marrett served as one of the VBS teachers and his girls helped, while the boys (mine and his) attended. By Friday morning, the bleeding had nearly stopped, and I was ready to write and pray and process. After a couple bouts of sobbing, pages of journaling, and enough sleep, I felt better. I felt so much better, in fact, that I thought I was getting off easy with this trauma.

The following Monday, eight days after the miscarriage began, I realized it wasn’t over. It started with one of those innocent questions all young clergy women get asked about our reproductive plans. The council president pulled me aside as our weekly meeting ended to whisper, “Is it too early for congratulations?” It honestly took me a minute to understand what she meant, and I stammered, “What? No! I’m not pregnant,” while inwardly panicking.

I had spoken with her months earlier, when discussing the church’s maternity leave policy, about needing to use it myself as Marrett and I were planning to try for a baby. It turned out that other women from church had also been speculating about the state of my womb the previous morning because I was wearing a loose-fitting shift dress. Of course, they had no idea that even as they spoke, I was shedding the remains of the possibility that was the object of their chatter.

For the rest of the week that followed, the tiniest irritation had me fuming, unbidden tears sprang to my eyes, and I found all of social media, which I normally love, maddening.

By today, two weeks into this miscarriage journey, I was keenly aware that I needed to slow down and emotionally dig deeper before I could return to health. So I put my son, Ollie, to bed early and sat down with a book I’ve been winding my way through, an assignment for a continuing education group.

The book is Christine Paintner’s Soul of a Pilgrim, and each chapter contains opportunities for reflection. The one that met me when I opened the book tonight was Lectio Divina on Genesis 3:23-24. “So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.” Paintner instructed me to find a word or phrase that shimmered, something begging for my attention, and the phrase came to me immediately. “To till the ground from which he was taken….”

The words quickly became personal as I spoke them silently to myself: to till the ground from which I was taken. I felt the unfairness of the “being taken” without choice, both originally from the ground when the Lord scooped up the dust and breathed it into being, and then from the garden, the only home they had ever known. I felt Adam and Eve’s loss as I felt my own, the loss of a newly created hope they’d barely had time to understand. I groaned inwardly at the irony of having to till the very ground from which you’d been created. And yet, what choice did they have? Just as they kept the garden God had given them in joy, they would now till the earth given them in God’s grief.

And what choice do I have? This piece of ground, my life, sprouting with both joy and grief, is given by God for the tilling, for the keeping, for the production of fruit and the strengthening of faith. Surely I could refuse to till it, but I know what would happen then. Like the garden plot left us by the previous owners of our new house, if not tilled deeply and thoroughly, this ground will spring up with crabgrass so dense it chokes out the tender, life-giving things we want to grow. In the hot sun, it will crack and the driving rain will run in those cracks until they erode in to chasms.

It is tempting to turn just a few pieces of this tragedy over in my heart, and then rake the mess smooth as though it was never there. But I’ve done that before, and the experience of others warns me off that path, as well. No, the only way through, with this miscarriage, or any loss in life, is to dig in. We must till this piece of earth until all the hidden rocks have turned up, all the hard clods break apart, and all the manure is thoroughly mixed. There is no other way to prepare for the springing new life that is promised.

So today, once again, I sink my fingers into the dirty mess that is all around me, into the dark depths of this grounding loss, and I commit to the tilling. I will turn emotional handful after handful, watering with my own tears, trusting that the Ground from which I was created will make my work fruitful.

Rev. Collette Broady Grund lives in Mankato, Minnesota with her husband, their four children, and two dogs. She serves Bethlehem Lutheran Church (ELCA), and blogs at The Broady Bunch.

Image by: Adam Bindslev
Used with permission
5 replies
  1. Lucien Maverick
    Lucien Maverick says:

    I’ll never know what a miscarriage is like. Part of me is glad that that’s the case. I don’t know what I would do in that situation where it happened. But I will say that the point about tilling the ground does make some sense, to me. But for different reasons. I am not a religious man. Never was, really. Even as a kid, I never really believed. Was always an annoying little skeptic who asked questions and didn’t pay attention when the pastor spoke. Funny that I ended up doing the scripture readings at the church I grew up in. I guess it was fun just to be in front of people and speaking. Honing my public communication skills that I am trying to start a career with. But I have never truly believed in God. Doubt I ever will. It’s just not in my nature.

    But I do have a point. When I was 14, I smashed my skull open. I was dead in every way that mattered. Pulled back to life by medical technology, and kept alive by machines for the weeks that I was in a coma. That coma was the happiest that I have ever been. In that place, there was no pain. No fear. Wherever I was, I was happy there. Then I got pulled out, dragged into life again. Like being pulled out of Heaven and thrown into Hell. But I have kept going. Kept trying. To me, your tilling of the ground is a metaphor for moving forward. To take that step down the path, even though you can see just how long the path is. With each step, you get further from where you started. Sometimes the road is dark, sometimes it is beautiful. But we all keep walking down the path, toward that inevitable goal that is happiness. Part of me believes that I will find it, one day. I don’t know where, when, or how, but I do believe that I can find a place where I belong. That is my belief. Take it for what you will.

    • Collette
      Collette says:

      E, thank you for writing that. Tilling takes courage, which is something you have in abundance. I hope you know that your story, even in its darkest times, is redeemable because it inspires others to have courage in the face of their grounding losses.

      • Lucien Maverick
        Lucien Maverick says:

        I don’t think that I’m brave. I don’t think that I have faced down the darkness well. So few people know the demons that I have following me around. Darkness that has become so second-nature to me. But I press on, because it’s all I can do.. There is no other option. My own field is a little barren, so I moved on and am walking the long road, to see if there are greener pastures somewhere else. I know where my road ends. Just have no idea how I’ll get there…


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