“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12 NLT
One of my favorite people on the planet has a child who will turn five in a month or so. This friend is the type of person who makes you glad to know that God created someone like that and then blessed them with a child to carry on all their best qualities. I found out that my friend and his wife were expecting their now soon-to-be five-year-old not long after I found out about my first pregnancy, and I couldn’t have been more excited to know that we would be parents within a few months of each other. Even after we lost our baby, I loved keeping up with my friend and his baby through the old college grapevine and then through Facebook. Every picture I see of his family is a little snapshot that tells the ongoing story of his dream fulfilled. Every post about the cute things his almost five-year-old says tells me that he is the amazing dad I knew he would be, and his wife is probably one of the coolest people in the world.
A recent post about the impending birthday was both fantastic and jarring – fantastic that they are celebrating five years of life with their little one, and jarring to realize that my first baby would have been five in April. I know we’ve been deferring our hope for a while, but I tend to think of our waiting through the losses in terms of just a few years, not half a decade. We have waited and mourned through five years to reach this point. We have lived with the sick and heavy heart of hope deferred. In that time I have learned that hope deferred really does make your heart sick – no matter how healthy it was to begin with, no matter how well you cope, no matter how much you heal – and a piece of that sickness will stay with you for the rest of your earthly life.
No matter how much joy our daughter’s existence brings – it is after all our dream fulfilled – it will never erase the past or undo all the heartache. Her life is a new tree of life in our lives, both figuratively and literally, and that new joy is all the richer and deeper because of our deferred hope. I have never been a fan of the replacement baby mentality – when people have a baby immediately on the heels of a loss to replace the pregnancy or child they lost – because it isn’t a healthy way to deal with the loss. There are moments when I feel our daughter moving around or hiccuping, and I feel overwhelmed by grief that I never felt any of our other babies do the same thing. What we lost over the last five years can never be replaced on earth; what we are gaining will not erase that pain, but we will appreciate our tree of life all the more because of it.
At first glance, you might think the proverb I opened with implies that hope deferred brings sadness while a dream fulfilled replaces that sadness with joy and a tree of life. Maybe superficially that’s true, but in reality, we aren’t really wired that way. I’d rather think of the hope deferred as fertilizer for the dreams that do get fulfilled. It takes a lot of manure to make the prettiest flowers.