Monday, May 30, 2011

Looking back - the year that was: Staph infection/sepsis/hospitalizations (Part 3

(There's a little part of me that cringes a little at writing all of this down.  I fear that people will think I'm complaining, or being ungrateful, or "not letting go," or trying to get too much attention out of something that is long finished or even that I will bore those who already know what happened.  Well, I continue writing in spite of those worries, because those aren't the reasons for writing it all down.  Mostly, this is for the kids. 

There's no doubt that many individuals and families have suffered and endured and held it together through much tougher times than we did.  Our situation wasn't special, although it was tough.  If you have read here for any length of time you know that things turned out okay for us - you know the end result.  The process and the day-to-day was important, though,  and we are still thinking it through and realizing powerful lessons from the year that was.  As you read, remember that it gets worse before it gets better.  Sometimes we don't grasp what is happening until it is over.  So much good and so much growth came out of some really hard times and some very bad days.)

This portion of the story is hard to write.  Some of it is not very pretty.  I hope that I do okay.  :)

(Part 1 is here, part 2 is here.  This part of the story picks up while Jeff is in surgery.)

I grabbed a cup of coffee and sat down in the waiting room, right below a huge, framed cross-stitched prayer.  A simple note attached to the frame said that the doctors at this hospital met every morning to pray for their patients before surgeries began.  At any other time, my skepticism might have kicked into gear.  I'm sure I would have been doubtful.  Now?  With my beloved being taken apart - sinew separated from muscle and bone - I fervently believed.  I wanted to believe with all of my heart that the surgeon humbled himself before God and while he worked with all of his skill, he asked for guidance for himself and healing for the man he worked on.  I wondered who had taken the time to stitch this canvas.  (I can't stop my mind from wondering strange things.)  I was so grateful to be at a Catholic hospital, a place where the wonders of science and human know-how were humbly balanced with spiritual things.

I moved tables and plugged in my laptop.  I had a decent grip on myself at this point, so communicated with the kids at home to see how things were going.  I decided that I'd better begin to evaluate how we would hold up financially should this be a long term thing.  I assumed that Jeff had some sort of short-term disability/medical coverage through his work.  I didn't really know anything, hadn't considered what I'd do if this situation ever arose.  We had life insurance - Jeff had made sure of that throughout the years.   I didn't want to think about the need for that, of course, but what about interim?  One of the last things Jeff had expressed to me in a moment of clarity was worry over how we would make it if he could not work for a long time.

I sent out a plea on facebook.  "What do I need to be doing, what do I need to be thinking about?  Are there any papers I need to fill out or any offices to contact?"

Some friends replied and told me to check with Jeff's workplace.  (Jeff worked for a private social services agency at the time.  He was a family counselor and mentor.)  Many assured me that there was likely "something" by way of provision through his work.  I knew that Jeff did not think his company even offered short term disability or health insurance.

There were others, though, that chided me for my lack of faith, for my worry.  "You have nothing to worry about," they said.  Others were praising God, putting on a happy face for my sake.  Some sent me notes telling me that everything would be fine.  I know that people were just trying to help, trying to keep me from worrying.  Knowing what I knew, though, it was tough to take.  I have stood beside wives who have buried husbands, mothers who have buried babies.  I forever love and trust our Father God - but I am a realist, too.  Sometimes, life is just plain hard.  Bad things *do* happen.  Daddies do die.  My pretending otherwise and refusing to fill out paperwork wouldn't change that.

If nothing else, through this trial, we examined faith.  In many ways, I would say that my concept of faith was redefined.  I used to think that faith meant that if I believed that all would be well, then God would reward me and it would indeed be so.  I've also been guilty of thinking that faith meant if I believed hard enough that God was bound to do it.  The tearful, sweaty moments of life demand an examination of that belief, though - because what would that make God?  A Master Puppet, for whom we pull the strings and He is bound to act as we declare?   Just this week, I saw a sign which read "Faith means believing that God WILL do it."  Believe enough, pray enough, praise enough....and God will do what we want.

No, when deeply challenged, I found that I don't believe that is what faith is at all.  Not in the slightest.

Faith *is,* I believe,  trusting God when He doesn't come thru like we think he should, when we can't see where He is going with something. It is making the choice to love Him, anyway, when our lives are inexplicably hard, when we go thru tough times, when we can't see the purpose nor the plan.  Faith is believing when God seems distant, not when he feels close.  Faith is not demanding a certain outcome.  Faith is saying, "I will love you and trust you no matter what the outcome."  Faith says, "I will love you and follow you when I don't understand you and just maybe, you don't seem to make sense to me."  Faith is born when there is absolutely nothing underneath, when God is all you have, when you look at life without God and know that it is not a place you want to be.

A short while ago, I gave Jeff my latest definition of faith:  "Faith is like being pinned to a clothesline simply by your goosepimples.  There's nothing below you and the connection doesn't feel all that sturdy.  But still, you believe that you are being held."

Faith  - born of trial - ain't easy.  It's not trivial, it's not trite, it doesn't spout easy answers to difficult situations.  Faith - thru loss and devastation - is hard won; and when it comes it will last and it will mature.  I think God loves that kind of faith and that it honors Him to be trusted against all human reason.  Faith *is* confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.  (Hebrews 11:1)

I learned, once again, in deeper and more personal fashion what *not* to say to a suffering friend and how to encourage an individual who is going through a difficult time.  Trite, easy answers are out.  So is downplaying the situation.  Mostly, it helps to simply let the individual know that you care about them, that you are praying for them, that you are available to help out if so needed.  (And thankfully, there were plenty of people who did just that.  God blessed us with so many friends - new and old - who came out of the woodwork to love on us and care for us.  I'll write more about that later.)  But there are always a few, in every difficult situation, who simply don't know what to say nor how to handle their words.  Never, never, never (please,) chide a friend for seeming to falter in their faith when their husband or child is on the verge of death.  I still have one person who feels I did not handle my faith well while sitting in that waiting room - she felt I should have trusted more and believed more and not considered how to take care of my children without a paycheck.  I grieve that the relationship still has not been restored.  She has not spoken to me about it, even a year from the situation - but I refused to demand a specific outcome from the Lord.  I did not feel that I had the right to demand that God keep Jeff alive.  I asked this of God, to be sure,  but I could not demand and then expect that He would act, then call that "faith."  Faith - in that hard place - came to mean to me that I would accept what God decided.

Acceptance does not mean a lack of emotion.  God can handle our questions.  He can handle our anger.  He can handle our fears and our lack of comprehension thru the tough times - but He does want us to trust that He operates from a core character of love for us and that He can be trusted in the big picture of life.  



  1. Beautiful post on faith. Thank you.

  2. I know that it's hard to write about difficulties in life b/c you don't want to sound whiny or complaining. I think you did a good job, and it will be something to look back on for you and your kids.
    I have found that I learn more intensely about God, myself, and my relationship with Him and others during difficult times. I wish that I didn't need "trials" or "problems" to draw this out of me, but it seems to work that way.

    I agree that faith involves not demanding a certain outcome. Sometimes I have had to come to the point where I say, "I know that God is good, and I know that he is in control. I will believe this even if I never see the good from this situation."

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on faith. They really resonated with me, as I am in a time of asking some questions right now. :)

  3. Very beautifully put, Holly. Looking at the Object of our faith rather than at faith itself is the key here. As we look into the face of the One who gave up His Son so we could live, the One who promised to never leave us or forsake us, the One who works ALL things together for good, somehow the difficult circumstances become blessings that just seal the reality of His great love to us.

  4. Beautiful, Holly. And profound.

    Some ten plus years ago the baby of a friend died. Long story short, though repaired somewhat, his heart (with a congenital defect) couldn't handle the RSV he contracted, and he succumbed to complications at five months of age. People all over the globe were praying for this baby. I doubt we'll ever know just how many.

    Several months later I was "working out my faith" in the aftermath and in speaking to a friend about it, she assured me that N. had only died because someone who was praying for him didn't have faith. There were estimates that thousands - and probably tens of thousands - were praying for this babe. When I countered with that, she affirmed that all it would take was *one* of those thousands to not have faith and that is why he died. Wow.

    It took me more than a decade (and many more such happenings) to come to the place of being able to firmly be able to comprehend and articulate just how wrong that kind of faith is.

    What you wrote here - this sums it all up so well:

    " Faith is not demanding a certain outcome. Faith is saying, "I will love you and trust you no matter what the outcome." Faith says, "I will love you and follow you when I don't understand you and just maybe, you don't seem to make sense to me." Faith is born when there is absolutely nothing underneath, when God is all you have, when you look at life without God and know that it is not a place you want to be."


  5. Holly - Thank you for writing all this out. It is good for your kids, but it's good for lots of us to be reminded that life can be very hard and we can come through with our faith intact.
    Thank you, too, for sharing this while it was happening. Praying for you was a highlight of a difficult time for me (that sounds weird, but you know what I mean) - thank you for allowing me to do that.

  6. So beautiful Holly, and so brave. I don't think I could ever tell my story as you have, with so much tenderheartedness.

    Faith gets grubby sometimes, doesn't it? It took me a long time to figure out that one man's faith was actually fulfilled on the Cross, and as a result of that, His steadfastness and obedience through hardship, we are saved. Much good came out of that dark moment, that terrible event. If He had "faithed it away," we'd still be doomed to Hell. And while our events are not quite so terrible as His, much good can come out of them too - who knows what God will accomplish because of our darkest moments, that would otherwise be lost?

    I saw a verse and knew I had to share it with you. :) It reminded me so much of you and this part of your life you've been chronicling.

    Jeremiah 17:7-8

    7 “But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD,
    whose confidence is in him.
    8 They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
    It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
    It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.”

    Heat and drought still come, but the tree - and you - stay strong.

    Maybe that's why you were named after a tree? :)

    *hugs* And thank you for sharing this part of yourself.

  7. Holly,
    wow. Thank you for sharing this again, but in this format. I did not pick up on any whining at all;o) Just honesty. And, we need that. Also, I can't agree with you more about faith.....oh, what I have finally learned this past year. I will forever be changed and am genuinely thankful. Faith "is" just like you said. Beautifully and sincerely put.

  8. As I make my way through your story, there are so many moments or familiarity. Although our story is different, the realizations about God and faith, and the feelings you felt in the darkest times, mirror so much of what I went through. Thanks for sharing, Holly. I journaled the whole year our son fought cancer, and I still go back 10 years later, and remember God's power, and the lessons I learned during that time.

  9. I completely agree with you about not demanding God do things a certain way and then calling it faith. Hard, but true.

  10. Very well put. I experienced a health crisis several years ago and had the presence of mind to gather my older children around me to tell them how much I loved them and to never doubt God's plan even when it doesn't feel good. When they left the hospital, I honestly didn't know if I would see them again. I wasn't about to pretend this was a fairy tale and not have a last word for them. Something for them to cling to if I didn't come home. To not do so would have been heartless and irresponsible. No one understands until they have been there.