In My Weakness, He Is Strong

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Told by: Phillip

My daughter Zoe Elizabeth was born still–you can read more about her story from my wife’s perspective here.

There are just so many different dimensions to the pain and grief I felt when she died.

First of all, just that she died. My daughter.

Secondly, that I never got to see her alive before she left.

Hope, my wife, had to begin to deal with the idea that somehow she was defective as a mother; that her body could not do what it was intended to do, namely bring a new life safely into this world. A dispassionate, objective third party would point out that bad things happen and it’s not always our fault. But tell that to a mother who has just lost her baby. The sadness and pain and guilt from the loss of your own baby goes so much deeper than any reason or logic can ever touch. Because it’s an instinct, isn’t it? Women know, deep inside their guts and hearts, that their job is to nurture this little life to fruition, to protect this little person with their own bodies. Not to do so is a failure of the deepest and largest kind.

Men have a similar instinct. There is something so primal about conceiving, bearing, and raising a child. We just know, in our innermost being, that we have a sacred responsibility to protect our wives and our children, to keep them from harm, to keep evil and darkness and death away from our homes. And so when my daughter Zoe died, I got hit with a double whammy of instinctive failure and weakness. I was powerless to protect and defend my tiny little girl, and I was equally powerless to protect my wife from the pain and grief of losing our child. All the logic, reason, and fact in the world cannot take away those feelings of weakness and inadequacy. Feelings that directly attack the very core of how we identify ourselves as men.

The logically reasoned facts state that neither I nor Hope could have changed Zoe’s fate. And even if we had known about Hope’s blood clotting disorders, and she had been taking the right medications, any number of things could have happened. We were truly powerless and without guilt in the face of our daughter’s death. But facts don’t work against instinct and primal emotion. Not for a long time, at least.

Walter Bradford Cannon spoke of the “fight or flight” response to threats. As a man, husband, and father, I felt powerless, inadequate, unable to fight. So it’s not surprising to note that I chose flight as my response in the aftermath of Zoe’s death.

We men choose to flee so much more often than we choose to fight for the right things, don’t we? I chose flight; I fled to the realm of denial and fantasy. There are so many different places we can flee to these days, some harmless in and of themselves, and some less harmless. Anything that offers the illusion of control and power is an option, from books and video games to alcohol, drugs, pornography, et cetera. I fled because I felt powerless to save my wife from the grief, because I was a bad father to my daughter Zoe. Because I felt like I had to, somehow, maintain some illusion of normalcy and strength for my family, when inside myself there was anything but strength and normalcy.

It has taken me a long time to stop fleeing. In some ways, I am still tempted to flee from what I feel inadequate to fix, solve, or control. But I am finally learning that I can face the senseless chaos of a fallen world, and fight, even though I am truly weak and without power to make things right. Now that is truly an illogical response: to fight even though I have no power. But “the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.” (1 Corinthians 3:19)

I can stand and fight because, in the wisdom of God, which makes no sense by the standards of a godless world, when I am weak, Christ’s strength is made to shine; it becomes larger than life!

The apostle Paul: [The Lord] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.(2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

The weakness that is part of our fallen human condition becomes the path God bids us follow; it leads straight to Him. When I acknowledge my weakness, and I humbly ask my God to help me act like He is God, He pours His strength all over my and my situation, and I finally understand what true strength is. I was never meant to be an island. I was never made to have strength and power on my own. Instead, I was made to serve as a way and a means for God to pour His strength, power, love, wisdom, and every other quality, into this world. That is true reality. As I learn to let God use me in the way I was made to serve, He is showing me that I am not broken anymore. He has fixed me, and is fixing me. In my weakness, He is strong, and His strength makes me strong in the way I was meant to be. That’s what it means to be a man.

[You can click here to view a photo of Zoe Elizabeth]

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  1. So beautiful to hear from a dad! My husband read the post on your blog and really appreciated it.
    You and Hope have done a beautiful job of remembering your children and spreading hope to others.

  2. Phillip,

    I’ve just read Hope’s story… I am so very sorry for the loss of your little girl. Thank you for having the courage to speak up about what loss is like from a father’s perspective… I was so touched by your deep understanding of a woman’s desire to nuture her children and your likening men’s desire to protect their home from harm really resonates with me… Again, thank you…

    I encourage you- as you are able- to continue speaking about pregnancy/childloss from the father’s perspective. While mothers are just beginning to find a voice when it comes to loss, I fear fathers are still mostly silent… I am going to forward your post to my husband. I know he will be touched- by you and by sweet Zoe’s life…



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