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Issue 06

Weathering the Storm

Jesska Herfst

Justin and Jesska Herfst live in St Augustine, Florida. Jesska is an organizational therapist. Photographs by Justin, who is a freelance writer and photographer.

The weather is impartial. It’s not personal. Perfect sunny days and cataclysmic events alike are part of a global system that has nothing to do with me. I know this cognitively, and yet the weather’s harsher aspects can feel so personal. In the fall of 2022, the powerful hurricane Ian hit the state of Florida where we live. One month later hurricane Nicole followed. And in between those two storms, during the full moon of October, my husband and I lost our first child through stillbirth. 

When we learned we were pregnant, we did all the things. I read the books, took the courses, ate right, exercised, had perfect blood work; we prepared for the baby in every way we could. When we heard about the hurricane evacuation notices, we did all the things. We asked neighbours for advice, looked at the official recommendations, prepped the house, checked maps for proper relocation, prepared water supplies and took safety measures – all the right actions and things still went awry.

I’m no theologian, but I’ve been a student of the Word since childhood. I started reading my Bible daily in the 5th grade. I wrote my first theological paper in the 7th grade. I ran ministries, served in other countries, got certifications, collected degrees – I did all the things. My questions from an early age lay in that space between the goodness of God revealed in Christ and the darkest moments of human experience. Despite all the studying and doing all the things, when the darkest moment was upon me, the old paradigm of personalizing the weather of life faced me down. When we lost Leo, I felt pinned between two impossible ideas: God was responsible or I was responsible. 

A cycle of deep, blinding, shock-like pain that feels like I could go crazy followed by the deepest, warmest sense of light, love and comfort filling my being with moments of clarity started when we lost Leo and continued ever so slowly, with gently decreasing intensity. In the moments of light, there was a strange sense of stillness and a clarity I’ve craved most of my life: I could clearly see and feel a third option that was beyond theology, beyond denominational thought, beyond needing explanation. There was a perspective so beautiful it was hard to grasp; an experience of love that did not condemn or blame but truly set us free.

In those moments I had the freeing realization that the three-dimensional world we live in is like the weather; it’s not personal. There are things we can do to prepare for “bad” weather and “bad” life events. But in the end, we live in a wild world with an impartial system. God, however, is not impartial. He is love. And when the wild events of life cause loss at the deepest level, I’ve found the reality of his other-worldly love there, in that space between all that makes sense and all that does not yet make sense.

Our child, Leopold Jackson Herfst, crossed that thin veil and made it to the other side, pain-free, on October 10th. On October 11th, after being released from the hospital, my husband Justin and I went back to our home in our little beach town. As the sun set that evening, we walked through the hurricane debris on the beach, sat down in silence and watched the moon rise. We were tired. We could barely talk. With the waves crashing on the shore, we looked at each other and I asked: “Do you want to praise God with me?” And so together, under the impartial moon and facing the wild waves, we went through our loop of deep love and deep pain, and we praised God.