Eleven Days in February
- 2003 27 Jan
Ice blanketed the cars on that February dawn in 2000. I sat alone with my thoughts in a hospital just north of Dallas, Texas. The hospital had become a "second home" for our family, especially for our third child, Jonathan, and me.
Jonathan's birth gave us no indication of what was to come. Following a normal pregnancy and quick delivery, I never expected to travel down the painful path of countless hospital stays, tubes and needles, blood draws and breathing treatments. In his first year of life, Jonathan had 15 ear infections, three bouts with a respiratory virus leaving scar tissue on his lungs, viruses that cleaned out his intestinal track, and fevers that soared to 105 degrees without warning.
With our first two children, Ashley and Austin, we struggled with the normal challenges of two young children born 18 months apart. We battled reflux, colic, ear infections, allergies, and infant milk intolerance, but we made it through the sleepless nights and routine doctor appointments without much alarm. I didn't think I would make it through those 11 days in February.
By that icy morning in February, Jonathan was 15 months old, had his fifth bout with RSV (respiratory virus), Roto (intestinal) virus, allergies, severe asthma which required breathing treatments around the clock every three hours, and a systemic infection (blood illness sending disease throughout his entire body). For those 11 days, the doctors drew Jonathan's blood every day at 6 and 7 a.m. His IV sites were so infected we spent 40 minutes trying to find a vein that would administer medication and fluid to attempt to keep his shell of a body alive. In addition, he was on eight separate medications needed to help him survive. I had no idea if Jonathan would make it through that day. The doctors and nurses prayed that things would turn around for our little guy.
Jonathan did make it. I thought we had seen the worst of it. Shortly after that stay, the immunologist said, "Your son will require the work of 10 children. Are you ready for this?" How does one answer such a question when there is no option but to press on? I wondered where God was in all this. The best physicians we could contact only shook their heads in bewilderment at Jonathan's continually deteriorating condition. At times I pounded the air with my fists wondering where God was and why my pleas fell short of heaven's help.
Three months after that 11-day stay in the hospital, Jonathan fell out of his crib and broke his left arm. As I rushed off to our "second home," Mark took Ashley and Austin to school. Silence spoke of the children's worries. Ashley asked Mark, "Daddy, how come Jesus helps everybody else's family, but He doesn't help our family?" How do you answer such a question from your child? Better yet, how do you answer the question for yourself - "Where are you, God? How come You seem to answer others' cries for help, and my cry goes on and on and on? You promise You will be there in times of need, yet my hope runs thin."
C.S. Lewis wrote shortly after the death of his wife, Joy, in the book A Grief Observed, "When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing him . . . you will be - or so it feels - welcomed with open arms. But go to him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face." Another book that has meant a great deal to me during this struggle has been Making Sense out of Suffering. In it, the author writes these very candid words: The strongest case against God comes from the apparently pointless suffering. It is not just that the suffering is not deserved; it is that it seems so random and pointless, distributed according to no rhyme or reason but mere chance, working no good, no end. For everyone who becomes a hero and a saint through suffering, there are ten who seem to become dehumanized, depressed, or despairing.
A Lifelong Journey
The challenges did not end with the broken arm or the hospital stays. Shortly into his third year, Jonathan was diagnosed with Pervasive Development Disorder/Not otherwise specified (PDD, NOS), a category in the Autistic Spectrum Disorders. That's a fancy way for saying there is not a specific diagnosis, just a conglomeration of developmental delays, challenges, behaviors, and symptoms that we have yet to fully understand. By Christmas of 2001, we received the news that Jonathan would probably struggle with this for the rest of his life. In addition, by 2002, our oldest son, Austin, had been diagnosed with ADHD and language-processing issues.
Five years ago Jonathan joined our family. The news that you have a child with lifelong special needs is a storm that can sink anyone's soul. It is an immense challenge that affects almost all areas of your life. But as one who is surviving, I have found four foundational truths that anchor the soul when the storms rage. Whether you have a special-needs child or you are beset with other afflictions, I encourage you to integrate these anchors into each moment of your day.
Anchor Yourself to His Word
The first anchor I secure myself to is the timeless, changeless, applicable Word of God. When mourning, I turn to the Psalms and read the Laments - the funeral songs - to find comfort and hope in Him. When alone, wondering where God is, I turn to the end of Genesis and read how God was with Joseph in the dark passages of his life. When seeking wisdom for practical living, I go to Proverbs and James. When weary, unable to plod on, I turn to Isaiah 40, Job 38 - 41, and Matthew 6 for reassurance that God will lift me when the burden is great. There is not a challenge in life where God is absent or unable to bring light to my dark path. So please, go to the first and most fundamental anchor in life, the Word of God. It restores hope and brings peace in the midst of storms.
Anchor Yourself in His Character
Second, just as God's Word is an anchor, so is knowing God's character. Only in Him do we find absolute strength, peace, joy, satisfaction, hope, trust, unconditional love, and so much more. When the raging winds blow, anchor yourself to the rock-solid character of God. He desires to be our strength in weak moments, our peace in the midst of pain, and our refuge in stormy seas. He will never leave us nor forsake us. In a fallen world, we will experience and endure countless hardships. Only in heaven will life be perfect, but He offers us an opportunity to cling to His perfect character in our imperfect world.
in His Sovereign Hand
Third, I have learned to place my trust in the unquestionable, sovereign hand of God. God is not partially sovereign. He is not in control only when we have it good and then out of the picture when it's tough. As Job stated to his struggling wife, "Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" (Job 2:10 niv). How easy it is to shout from the rooftops that God is sovereign when we like our lives. But what about when we lose everything? Our long-standing faith is usually replaced with lingering doubt.
I do not know what the future holds for Jonathan or for others in my life that I hold so dear to my heart. But I do know that my faithful God is in complete control, and I accept the good and the tough as both being within His sovereign grasp. When life gets difficult, I am comforted by God's presence. When life brings blessing, I am comforted that God owns it all, and I am only a caretaker of His property. It is all His. Letting go brings such freedom. The last anchor will show how letting go is possible.
Anchor Yourself to His Goodness
For the final anchor, I have found that meditating on the goodness of God closes the gap when my faith is failing. We are reminded in Hebrews 11 that faith is what we hope for but cannot see. There have been weeks and months when I did not see the evidence of my faith, when it appeared that God was not the least bit interested in my struggles. By meditating on the fact that God is a good God and desires good for my life, I held on.
You may ask, "What good can come from my circumstances? They're deplorable, and I find nothing good in this." It's true - bad things happen. Yet that is not the issue. The issue is how God transforms our weakness into His strength. In allowing Him to do so, you and I will watch God take the bad things of life and bring good things out of them. It will result in changing you as a mother or father. Perhaps there are selfishness issues, trust issues, areas of pride, selfish ambition, or self-seeking motives that surface in these difficult times. He will take what we are, burn out the bad, and purify our faith to be as pure gold. That is good! That is what happens as we walk the lonely roads of heartache and sorrow. I will not ever label heartache as good in itself. It's tough. But what comes from it is good, and that is what God takes delight in doing and seeing in every one of His children. A Closing Prayer
By God's grace, we made it through those 11 days in February. Holding fast to those four anchors, we've made it through days far worse since that time. This is where I am in the journey. I'm not sure where you are. If you're on the journey, you know quick fixes don't exist. But there is God. God supplies us with His inspired Word, His perfect character, His sovereign hand, and His incredible goodness. My prayer for you is that when the waves buffet your soul, or when the winds rage against your hope, you, too, may find security in these four anchors.