Are You Suffering? How to Trust God Even In Your Pain
This blog post is from a podcast interview that our founder (Bridget's mom), Ashley Opliger, had with Merritt Onsa on the Devoted Dreamers Podcast. This episode was released on February 10, 2021. You can listen on the player or by clicking the links below:
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When you are hurting, it can be difficult to believe that God would use your pain for good. In early 2014, Ashley Opliger was struggling with her faith, worrying about her unborn child, and wondering why she was not seeing answers to her constant prayers. Ultimately, her baby girl, Bridget, was stillborn at 24 weeks gestation.
Ashley’s mother brought a hand-knit cradle to the hospital, made specifically for holding such a tiny baby, and God used it to shift Ashley’s trust in Him even in the wake of her deepest loss.
In the year following their loss, Ashley realized there was a need for hospitals and bereaved families to have a dignified, functional way to hold tiny babies born into heaven in the second trimester. She left her career as a speech-language pathologist and started the ministry of Bridget’s Cradles in her daughter’s empty nursery.
Today, Ashley is the President and Executive Director of Bridget’s Cradles, a 501c3 nonprofit organization based in Wichita, Kansas. Bridget’s Cradles serves hospitals in all 50 states and comforts more than 26,000 bereaved families each year. Ashley’s God-shaped dream is for women to find faith to embrace a beautiful, broken life.
Bridget’s Cradles not only provides tens of thousands of volunteer-knit or crocheted cradles for bereaved families each year but also offers support groups and resources for families grieving the loss of a baby.
Listen as Ashley talks about how God used her suffering in order that other moms and families like hers can also be comforted in their loss.
Other lessons to glean from this conversation with Ashley:
Trust not in your own wisdom,
There is no need to worry about the outcomes of your dream,
God doesn’t waste anything we go through, and
Our job is to serve Him through small acts of obedience.
You can listen wherever you podcast or find the full episode transcript below.
CONNECT WITH THE HOST
Merritt Onsa is the host of the Devoted Dreamers Podcast and a dream coach. She is passionate about helping women pursue their God-shaped dreams.
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This podcast helps you step over whatever is holding you back from pursuing your God-shaped dreams. Each week we’ll talk about the fears and challenges that threaten our dreams and the joy, courage, and confidence that comes from taking the next step anyway! Don’t wait until you feel ready or you’ll never get started.
CONNECT WITH ASHLEY
Ashley Opliger is the Executive Director of Bridget's Cradles, a nonprofit organization based in Wichita, Kansas that donates cradles to over 1,100 hospitals in all 50 states and comforts over 26,000 bereaved families a year.
Ashley is married to Matt and they have three children: Bridget (in Heaven), and two sons. She is a follower of Christ who desires to share the hope of Heaven with families grieving the loss of a baby.
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Devoted Dreamers Podcast
Episode 187: Are You Suffering? How to Trust God Even in the Pain with Ashley Opliger
Merritt Onsa: [00:00:00] You are listening to the Devoted Dreamers podcast and I'm your host, Merritt Onsa. I believe God has an unfolding plan for your life, a God-shaped dream just for you, but so much gets in the way. Right? Fear, comparison, imposter syndrome. “What if I mess this up?” You are not alone in those feelings and I'm so glad you're here for season eight.
Keep listening to gain some transformational tools that will help you release the lies so that you can freely show up in the world, offering your gifts, leaning on God in your weaknesses, and serving His Kingdom with the dream He's given you.
Hey dreamers, this is episode 187 and before we begin, I have a trigger warning and just wanted to let you know if you are someone who has suffered loss or you are currently grieving, especially a pregnancy loss, I wanted to give you a heads up that is the topic of today's episode. Our guest is Ashley Opliger. She and her husband have a story of loss that no one would write for themselves.
I will, of course, allow her to share the details of that story because I want you to hear them straight from her, but by way of introduction, I will share a bit about her. She is the President and Executive Director of a non-profit organization called Bridget’s Cradles, which God inspired out of Ashley's own pain and loss.
Now more than five years old, Bridget's Cradles serves hospitals in all 50 states and comforts more than 26,000 bereaved families every year. Ashley's dream is for women to find faith, to embrace a beautiful broken life, as I'm sure maybe you've even experienced, a lot of our dreams are birthed out of hardship, loss, and lessons learned. And of course, this one is no different, but Ashley's story is absolutely one of redemption and God using suffering and pain for good.
I hope you'll listen today not just to the story and the details within it, but also for the hope that Ashley shares and the reminders to, number one, not trust in your own wisdom, number two, that we don't really need to worry about the outcomes of our dream. I'll say this is my biggest takeaway from today's episode, number three, that God doesn't waste anything we go through, He is trustworthy and faithful, and number four, that our job is to serve Him through whatever small acts of obedience He calls us to.
Thank you so much for being here today. Let's go to the interview now. Here is Ashley Opliger and her beautiful story of creating Bridget’s Cradles from what God did in their lives.
Hello, Devoted Dreamers. I have Ashley Opliger today and she is here with us from the non-profit that she founded in 2015, Bridget’s Cradles. Ashley, welcome to the podcast.
Ashley Opliger: [00:03:27] Thank you so much. I'm glad to be here.
Merritt Onsa: [00:03:34] Ashley, will you take us back to the part of your story where you began questioning how God could use probably the most difficult thing that's happened in your life for good. Tell us a little bit of your back story and how He's used that in your life.
Ashley Opliger: [00:03:52] My husband and I were married in 2014, and shortly after our wedding, we conceived and had a daughter on the way. And it started out as a normal, healthy pregnancy. Obviously, being a first-time mom I wasn't thinking about the possibility of loss and was just thinking about what nursery colors we were going to pick out and all of those happy things of welcoming a baby into your family.
And it was around 13 weeks that I started experiencing heavy bleeding and was rushed to the emergency room and was told that I had what's called a subchorionic hemorrhage, which is when there's bleeding around the womb. And at that point, she still had a heartbeat. And they said, “At this point, the best thing to do would be to go home and be on bed rest. Take leave from work and just try to rest and give your body time to maybe heal the hemorrhage.”
And they said, “There's about a 50% chance that you'll miscarry, but we're just going to hope for the best.” And so both of our families were praying so hard that everything would heal and that she would grow full term and be healthy and everything. I ended up being on bed rest for 11 weeks, and having her at 24 weeks, five days, and during those 11 weeks, every single time I would go to the doctor's office, we were given more and more bad news that the hemorrhage was growing, that it was abrupting behind the placenta, her growth was restricted, issues with the cord.
There were so many things that we were told that were just so overwhelming and heartbreaking, and we were really struggling with, “God, how can this be Your story for our daughter and for us?”
And truthfully, even though I was a follower of Christ and believed in Jesus my whole life, I was really struggling with my faith during that time, with questioning how a good God could allow me to be enduring this and allow my daughter to be struggling inside my womb and the potential that she would not be able to survive and we wouldn't be able to raise her on earth, and just all of those unanswered prayers and all of those doubts and questions, and obviously a lot of anxiety and fear about what was going to happen.
And I remember one day I was at home by myself, my husband was going to work and I was just at home in bed, and I remember one day I got up to go to the bathroom, because that's really the only place I would get up and go to and change my pad. And I know that's TMI, but that was my life. I was just bleeding so much every single day. And every time, I'd just be like, “How are You letting this happen to me? This is so much physical suffering and so much worry for my daughter.”
And I remember standing up in my dark bedroom, that felt like this prison for me, and I said out loud, “Nothing good will ever come from this.” And it was almost like I needed to tell God, “I can't even believe You're letting this happen.” And I know that sounds like a strange thing to say, but I was in such a dark and hopeless place of feeling, “God, I don't understand this and this is just about the worst thing a human can possibly go through. And I don't believe there could be anything good from this.”
And I tell that story because now, six years later, I'm able to see God's faithfulness and how much good He has brought from her life and from her death and her going to be with Jesus in Heaven that I'm amazed to think that there was a time that I felt that way.
And that's really given me perspective for anything I've walked through that seems dark and hopeless, that God is faithful and He is working behind the scenes at that moment. And even when we question and we doubt Him and we can't see any light at the end of the tunnel, the tunnel is there and He is always there and we can trust Him with our grief and our suffering.
And so that was the beginning of my story, but obviously so much more has happened since then, but that was the start for me of questioning God and then slowly but surely over time, as I surrendered to Him my grief and my suffering, seeing Him restore joy to my heart and comfort me through such a dark time, and give me peace and turn something that was so sad and difficult and heartbreaking into something beautiful.
Merritt Onsa: [00:08:45] Yeah, so tell us about the something beautiful. Tell us about Bridget's Cradles.
Ashley Opliger: [00:08:46] The week before she was born, which was October 22nd of 2014, I had been hospitalized again and was bleeding a lot and going through more complications. I started contracting and becoming dilated. And at that point, they actually brought in the NICU doctors and they said, “We don't really think your body's going to hold on much longer with how much you're bleeding and how everything's happening. And so if she is born early, because she's measuring about four weeks behind where she should be, she's going to be too small to survive and we don't have IVs that can fit into her tiny veins.”
And they were preparing us for these really grim prognoses and grim outcomes. And we obviously left that hospital visit completely heartbroken and just praying and praying and praying. “Lord, please, we need a miracle. Help my body stay pregnant. Help her continue to grow.”
But really, we felt so helpless. There was nothing that I could do to change anything except to pray, and so we just continued praying. And behind the scenes, my mom, who’s an amazing grandma and she is actually a postpartum nurse at that hospital and she knits, she went home and said, “I'm going to make something for my granddaughter. If she's going to be born early, I want to have a special little blanket for her.”
And that's what she set out to do is make this little blanket. But once she made the blanket, she started thinking about swaddling a really small baby in this blanket. And she just called it a God moment where God said, “You're going to knit the sides up and make it into this little cradle.”
And as simple as that sounds, it had not been done before. And that was the seed that God planted in her heart of something she could do for her granddaughter. She had no idea at that moment what it would become, but it was an act of love. And she actually packed it in her bag and was praying that we wouldn't need it.
And she didn't tell me that she made it. She didn't want to worry me about what the situation could be. And so the next week when I did go into labor and my placenta completely abrupted, when I got to the hospital, within 30 minutes Bridget was born and she was born already in Heaven. She was with Jesus. Her heart wasn't beating.
And going through the chaos and the overwhelming grief of, “This is really happening,” I immediately felt this feeling of peace, which doesn't really make sense at that moment. But it was this feeling of, “Okay, she's with You now, God. And I know that she's in Heaven and I have this peace that I don't have to worry about her anymore because she's with You.”
And I think one of the parts that really led me to feel that peace was the cradle, because when they first handed her to us, they had her in this huge regular hospital blanket and she was 13 ounces. So she was so small, but so perfect and completely formed, beautiful little girl, and we could barely see her in this blanket and we could barely feel her. And so when my mom placed her in this little cradle that was made with such love, it changed everything for us. And we could pick her up and kiss her and hold her close to our chest. And both of our families were there and they all got to hold her.
And truthfully, the cradle just gave us so much peace and allowed us to love on her and be with her for those 24 hours that we had. And so as heartbreaking as that day was, and how much sadness we experienced and how many tears we cried, the dominant feeling that I felt that day was love, and trying to soak up every single moment, and trying to force my brain to freeze these moments in time because this was my only time to love on my daughter on this current earth. Obviously, I have the hope that I'll get to see her again in Heaven and again on the New Earth when Jesus comes back, but that was the start of how the cradle came to be.
And then really from there, it's such an incredible story and there's so much to it. But to summarize, the hospital reached out to my mom and said, “We don't have anything like this to hold these tiny babies that are born in the second trimester. We're putting them in wash cloths. We're putting them in these large blankets. This is not honoring to these babies and to these families who want to spend this precious time with their babies holding them and loving on them.”
So that's when my mom started making more for this local hospital. And I went home and was grieving so heavily and crying so hard in her empty nursery, and crying out to God, “I don't understand why You're letting this happen to me.
And I don't understand why this is part of my story and part of Bridget's life story that she has spent so little time on this earth, only in my womb and then went straight to be with You. But I do believe that You are who You say You are and that You did defeat death and that You did overcome the grave. And because I have that hope in Jesus, that You are who You say You are, and I have this salvation and this hope to see my daughter forever, I want to do anything that I can for You.”
Because like I told you, I had been walking with Jesus before, but I think it wasn't until this moment that my faith became so real to me, because my flesh is in Heaven with Him and I have gone through burying a child. And then my own mortality became real to me. And I was like, “I am all in for You, God.”
And so that was the birth, I think for me, of that surrendering of grief. And it wasn't like my grief was gone. I was still so heartbroken and so sad, but that for me was the start for God to say, “Okay, I'm going to turn this into good because you are surrendered and you’re obedient to Me.”
And from there, God-opened doors where we had national news media exposure and hospitals all across the country were saying, “We need these too.” And knitters and crocheters all over the country and even the world were saying, “We want to help you do this.” And quickly we realized there was a need for this and families needed a special way to hold their babies.
So we started the non-profit that next year in 2015. And I resigned from my job as a Speech Pathologist that I’d gone to get my Bachelor's and Master's degrees for. I let my licensure go and said, “Okay, God, I'm all in. I'll do ministry full-time.” That's where my heart was. And from that moment on until now, we are now donating these little cradles to over a thousand hospitals in all 50 states.
Merritt Onsa: [00:16:30] That's just incredible. There's so many pieces of this one seemingly small thing, this choice that your mom made. And as you're telling the story, I'm like, “It had to be part of the miracle, too, that she knew what size to make it, because not very many people could; maybe because of her career experience, but to know how much Bridget was going to weigh, what size she was going to be when she was born. And for this to be such a beautiful comfort to you all. And then, oh, I always want to remember the citation of that verse. Oh, there it is. It’s so beautiful.
Ashley Opliger: [00:17:11] I know. I'm showing you, but this is a little replica of her cradle because we had chosen to bury her in her original cradle, that gave us comfort, inside her casket. And so my mom had made this little one out of the exact same yarn so that I could have it with me.
And a lot of families do choose to do that, either have their baby buried with the cradle or to have it to hold onto. Some moms will tell me that they sleep with their little cradle because it was the only thing their baby touched on earth. They didn't get to hold their baby in the blankets that they bought or put a onesie on them or the little dresses or anything.
And so this becomes a physical attachment and a lot of times we'll make little shadow boxes with their babies’ little items that they had bought for them. And it's so sweet.
Merritt Onsa: [00:18:03] Yeah, and it makes me think of that verse that we’ll comfort other others with the comfort with which we have been comforted. You probably have that one memorized.
Ashley Opliger: [00:18:16] Yes. 2 Corinthians, I believe. Yeah.
Merritt Onsa: [00:18:18] Yeah. I knew it was in Corinthians somewhere.
Ashley Opliger: [00:18:21] Yes. That's really our mission and that's why we do what we do is that God has comforted us and we want to comfort other people with that same comfort. And then hopefully then, when they've been comforted, they'll want to comfort other people as well.
Merritt Onsa: [00:18:39] Sure. Yeah, no one goes into a pregnancy expecting this to be the outcome. And for such a tender, vulnerable moment in their lives, for you all to come around them, strangers to these women, these families that are receiving these cradles. And so I'm grateful for your story. I'm grateful that the Lord saw fit to redeem it in this way.
And so six years and your non-profit is thriving and you have some other dreams, if there's any that you're willing to share.
Ashley Opliger: [00:19:21] Yeah, so many. I think 2020, with COVID and so many things changing, we had to change a lot of our operations here at our headquarters, because normally, we would gather all of our volunteers here at these big work nights every month and fill the room with people. And we can't do that anymore because it's not safe.
And so we had to change our operations there and have our volunteers take things home to work on and bring back, and drive up to our building and exchange things. But then more so from our support group ministry, which is called Hope Gatherings, we were doing a lot of in-person events.
We are doing a monthly Christ-centered support group in person where we did the traditional support group, but also had the moms serve in the ministry, which was a really big healing part for them and for myself. And so giving them the opportunity to serve alongside other bereaved moms, to comfort other bereaved moms, that's a huge part of healing. And so we were doing that.
And then we also had these craft nights we called Create and Remember, and we would make little things in memory of our babies and have some sort of business come in and teach us how to do watercolor brush lettering, or string art, and jewelry making, and ornament making, and all these things in memory of our babies. And really, that time was focused on fellowship with other women and sitting side by side, and linking arms, and sharing our hearts, and our stories, and our grief with each other.
And so when COVID hit, so many of those things, we continued to do some of them in person but we had to limit how many people could come in because we had to spread out in the room. And that really gave us the idea to try to share this message of hope more online.
And we started Hope Gatherings Online, which is a support group every month on Zoom. And we're still doing that, so if you have any listeners, no matter where they are in the country or the world, they can find the information on our website and we do that monthly. That's something that I lead.
And we've now had women all across the country have received cradles that are the hospitals that have joined us for these online support groups. And it's been a blessing to get to know more women and be able to comfort more families across the country in that regard.
But recently I've been pursuing both wanting to start a podcast and writing a book, really any way that I can share the message of the hope of Heaven and through the Gospel that God can restore our joy and use our grief for good, and that we do have this hope to see our babies again forever. That's the hope and the comfort that God has given me and I want to give other people, so sharing my story, my testimony, and what God has done through my life, but also through so many other women that I get to serve alongside.
I have met so many bereaved moms that serve here in the ministry with me and they've become my best friends. And we've all been just committed to sharing this message to the world and to people and to comfort people because it truly is one of the most devastating, heartbreaking experiences a person and a mother can experience.